Even in seemingly open-and-shut cases involving unemployment claims, your case can be overturned on a technicality. Find out where to get legal counsel to guide you through the laborious process to keep your benefits coming.

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When job stresses become too much to bear, and all attempts at remedying the situation are exhausted, it’s best to make a clean break and move on. Sometimes, the break is not as clean as it first appears.

This was true for a friend of mine – I’ll call her “Alice.” An executive at a large retail operation, Alice had decided the early mornings, late nights and hopelessly dysfunctional management had taken their toll. She was losing sleep and suffering from anxiety attacks and migraines over the stress, yet her employer ignored her pleas for a change. She decided enough was enough.

After resigning last spring and launching a new job search, Alice applied for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits through the Employment Security Department (ESD). ESD agreed that her case constituted a medical hardship and began sending her weekly payments. Sadly, this was just the beginning of her struggle.

For some reason, Alice’s former employer challenged her ESD claims, saying the parting of ways was voluntary. Thinking she had ESD on her side, Alice went to an appeals hearing and was surprised to see her case overturned. She was ordered to pay back the several thousand dollars she already had been paid.

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Alice learned the hard way that the UI claims process is no trivial matter. If you are in a similar situation, here is some quick advice before you appeal:

1). Establish a paper trail. Just telling your story is not enough. Get everything in writing. Search through your emails, texts, bills and correspondences with doctors or supervisors for anything that supports your case. “This process is not about emotions,” Alice says. “It’s very legally driven.”

2). Review the appeal process carefully. On the ESD’s website, there is a Benefit Denials and Appeals page describing everything you must do to appeal an ESD decision, including some very strict rules that must be followed to the letter. For instance, while Alice had documentation supporting her case, she didn’t realize she had to send it all to ESD before the hearing, not during it, rendering some evidence inadmissible.

3). Don’t go it alone. If you have a dispute with a corporation, its HR department will likely form a legal team to work against you. Fortunately, you have some no-cost or low-cost defense options to help lower your chances of being tripped up on a technicality. One of these services is the Unemployment Law Project, a nonprofit group that provides legal representation for claimants who have a dispute with ESD. Others include Washington Law Help, which provides a wide range of legal services, and the Washington State Bar Association.

Currently, with guidance from the Unemployment Law Project, Alice’s case is being appealed again as she goes through the laborious process of clearing her name. “But if my story can help someone else out,” she says, “hopefully some good will come of it.”

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.