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Administrative Law Judges serve an important role for the state agency that administers unemployment insurance, the Indiana Department of Workforce Development, as well as for the state’s residents and businesses. Each case that an ALJ rules on impacts claimant eligibility and employer tax liability.
ALJs conduct unemployment insurance appeals hearings for pending regular unemployment insurance benefits disputes. And, at the present time, ALJs are conducting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Appeals from the federal PUA program.
As might be expected, the amount and frequency of appeals hearings have increased substantially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of UI claims and appeals hearings have reached all-time record numbers over the past two years. However, not every case leads to a hearing.
The goal of appeals hearings is to ensure that all Indiana claimants are treated fairly and equally. The ALJs who hear the cases must be licensed attorneys in the State of Indiana. Hearings are short in nature and decisions are required to be issued the same week in which the case is heard.
All decisions issued by ALJs must be written decisions that are provided to the parties involved, and those decisions include findings of fact and conclusions of law. Although no burden of proof is needed, an ALJ’s decision is reviewed to ensure that quality and Department of Labor standards are met. Another key aspect of appeals is the confidentiality of both claimants and employers.
ALJs can work in the DWD office or remotely, but safeguards are in place for protecting both printed documents and virtual files. Clerical staff assists with the scheduling and processing of appeals cases. The number of cases that each ALJ is assigned is based in part on whether the ALJ is working part-time or full-time.
To that end, the hearing schedule is balanced to allow for time to write decisions during the week the hearing is held. Judges are asked to provide their availability three weeks in advance so that efficient scheduling can occur.
Tiffany Guthrie, a Fraud Administrative Law Judge since 2021, conducts nonbiased hearings each day. She takes testimony from witnesses and ask questions.
“I write decisions according to the guidelines that have been established, including submitting them in a timely manner,” said Guthrie. “I also complete the docket notes and exhibit sheets in each case.“
Guthrie likes that she gets to make nonbiased decisions using the information she can get from the parties. She also likes that those decisions can make a difference.
“I base all my decisions on the law and guidelines that have been established. This can be hard, but the laws are there for a reason,” she added.
“It is important to clearly write your decisions so that the parties can understand what you have decided and how you arrived at that decision,” said Guthrie.
ALJs work in a fast-paced team environment and, as a team, they help each other out when needed. This happens in cases of illness or other issues that may impact the ability of any particular ALJ to conduct his or her assigned hearing.
“My job is to conduct hearings about appeals and make decisions about those appeals,” said Ernani Magalhaes, an ALJ since 2021. When people file for unemployment, an initial decision is made about eligibility. The decision might grant or deny benefits. In either case, someone can appeal the decision,” said Magalhaes. “My service to the State of Indiana is simple: making sure I apply the law fairly and in accordance with the facts.
Added Magalhaes: “A decision is written with two different audiences in mind. One is the group of people you might expect know the law. Another is the group of people who may well not know the law. It’s essential that you write clearly so both groups understand what you’ve said.”
Communication among judges and staff often occurs via Microsoft Teams or phone, but the hearings themselves are conducted through a computer-based telephone system.
Both part-time and full-time positions are available and remote work is offered, so ALJs can be based out-of-state. Training is required, but both training and work hours are paid.
Judges case schedules gradually increase to account for training. The salary for ALJs starts at $47,476, but extra compensation is offered for additional work experience. ALJs are also paid for their set work schedule even if a case ends up being cancelled, dismissed, or withdrawn.
DWD is actively recruiting for new Administrative Law Judges. Any Indiana-licensed attorneys who are interested are encouraged to send an email expressing their interest to [email protected]. The hiring process includes a phone interview, a Teams interview, a writing test, and background checks.
Prospective ALJs do not need any prior experience in unemployment insurance to be successful in this role. The training provides the necessary information to ensure that all incoming ALJs learn and feel comfortable with the law, so that they are prepared to rule on their decisions.