Unemployment Compensation

PLA helps clients who are experiencing problems collecting unemployment compensation. If you have applied for benefits and been denied through a Notice of Determination, a Referee Decision, or an Unemployment Compensation Board of Review decision, we may be able to provide assistance. We also help clients who were awarded unemployment compensation, but whose former employers have appealed the decision.

We provide advice and counsel to every client who qualifies for our services. We focus on providing representation for clients at Referee Hearings.

In addition, we may be able to assist clients with appeals to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review and the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

PLA also supervises the Employment Advocacy Project (EAP), a law student pro bono project with student volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, the Kline School of Law at Drexel University, and the Beasley School of Law at Temple University. EAP advocates can also provide representation for clients at Referee Hearings and in appeals to the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review.

You can seek assistance from the Penn Law Employment Advocacy Project during the school yearHowever, please do not go through intake at both PLA and EAPPLA supervises EAP and only one advocate can be assigned to your case.  For assistance by EAP, you can call their telephone intake at 215.746.1457 and leave a message with your information.  You will then receive a callback from a student intake coordinator.

How to get help with Unemployment Compensation

The following departments at PLA provide legal assistance with Unemployment Compensation:

Intake Procedure:

Applicants may come to walk-in intake or call the telephone intake line.  Applicants may also apply online.

Self-Help Resources

10 Important Tips about Unemployment Compensation
  1. Ask for help when you need it. That's what Philadelphia Legal Assistance is here for!
  2. Always file your appeals before the deadline.
  3. Make sure you file biweekly claims.
  4. Make sure you report all hours worked and earnings (even if not yet paid) in each biweekly claim
  5. Always check your mail for letters from Unemployment
  6. Be truthful and accurate in your conversations with Unemployment. However, you are not required to provide more information than they ask of you. When you have been fired from a job, it is the employer's burden to prove you did something wrong. Don't do it for them.
  7. Provide documentation supporting your case
  8. You only have to be able to do some type of work (for instance, light duty work) in order to qualify for unemployment. Even if you left your previous job for health reasons, if you are cleared for some type of work then it is important to let Unemployment know that you are "able and available" for work.
  9. Review the Unemployment Compensation Handbook
  10. You must register for JobGateway within 30 days of filing for benefits. If you have been denied benefits because you did not register for JobGateway, you can register immediately and your benefits will be turned back on.
Applying for Unemployment

You can apply for unemployment compensation through the Department of Labor and Industry.  You can apply by telephone, internet, or mail.  The Department has a helpful web page about how to file an initial claim.

Appeals of Decisions that Deny Benefits

If you receive a decision from unemployment that finds you ineligible for benefits, it is very important that you appeal the decision within 15 days.  Unemployment takes appeal deadlines seriously and will almost always deny your appeal if it is late.

You can appeal the decision by mail, by fax, or online.  We strongly recommend you go to the nearest CareerLink Office and have them fax the appeal – they will give you a stamped receipt of the appeal.

You can find more information about how to apply on the Department’s website.

If you do not understand the decision or you are not sure whether you need to appeal, we strongly recommend you appeal immediately instead of waiting for clarification from the Department.  It may take a long time for you to get through to an Unemployment Compensation Representative on the phone, and it is possible that person will not have your full case file in front of them.  To protect your right to benefits, always appeal

If you miss an appeal deadline and you believe you have a good reason for missing the deadline, you can still appeal.  You will then have a Referee (similar to a judge) hearing to present your reasons for the late appeal.  If the Referee finds that you had good cause for the late appeal, then the Referee will consider your eligibility.  If the Referee finds that you do not have good cause, then the Referee will dismiss the appeal as untimely.  Some Referees allow claimants to present evidence about the eligibility issue (the denial you appealed) at the hearing before deciding whether the appeal is timely.  Go to the hearing prepared to discuss both why your appeal was late and your eligibility for benefits.

Biweekly Filings

In order to receive unemployment compensation, you must file biweekly claims for benefits.  If you are a claimant who is still partially or fully unemployed while an appeal concerning your eligibility is pending, continue to file your bi-weekly claims for benefits. If the appeal is decided in your favor, only benefits for the weeks you claimed will be released for payment.

Each time you file a biweekly claim you must report all work and gross wages earned during that week, regardless of when they are paid.  Unemployment also expects you to call back and update wages if it turns out later you earned more or less than the amount you reported.  Even if you early only a small amount of money, it is very important that you report your wages. 

If you fail to report wages, unemployment may later decide that you were not eligible for benefits and issue an overpayment requiring you to pay all of the money back.

Referee Hearings

When you appeal a Notice of Determination, or if your employer appeals a Notice of Determination, you will then get scheduled for a Referee Hearing.  The Referee hearing works like a mini-trial.  Both you and your employer will have an opportunity to testify and present evidence.  You should bring all relevant documentation (ex: termination letters, doctors notes, communications with supervisors) with you to the hearing.

We strongly advise that you seek legal representation for your hearing.  You have a much higher chance of winning when you attend the hearing with a representative.  You have a right to a representative in Unemployment Compensation Hearings.  If you have a hearing scheduled and would like representation or advice for the hearing, you can request a continuance of the hearing so that you can find legal representation.  You can email or fax a request for a continuance to the Referee office (fax number and email address should be on the Notice of Hearing you received).  You can call the phone number on your Notice of Hearing with questions.  The Referee office strongly prefers that you ask for a continuance more than 48 hours in advance – however, if you want a representative it is okay to ask for a continuance at any time, even during the hearing.

Philadelphia Legal Assistance provides free representation at Referee Hearings for clients who meet our eligibility and merit guidelines.

Busy signals and long wait times when calling the UC Service Centers

Due to funding cuts, the UC Service Centers are currently operating with 50% of their normal staff.  Claimants are experiencing busy signals and long wait times when they try to call the Service Center (888-313-7284).

How do I contact UC?

You can call the UC Service Center at 888-313-7284.  The Service Center only take calls on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  The least busiest time to call is towards the end of the day.  If you are still waiting on hold at 4 p.m., you will be asked to leave a message, and you should receive a call back that evening or the next day.  Due to a staff shortage at the Service Center, you may experience busy signals and/or long delays.

You can also go to CareerLink, which has direct telephone access to the Service Center.  If you are still waiting in line at CareerLink when the service centers close, you will be given a form to fill out and you should receive a call back.

There are two ways you can contact UC about your benefits claim online. 

First, you can send an email to UCCclaims@pa.gov with questions or information about your claim and eligibility.  You can also attach documents to your email (for example, a doctor’s note showing you have been released to perform light duty work).  The Department should respond to you within a few days. You can always request a callback.

Second, you can fill out the "Contact Us" form on the UC website.  There is a “Comments” section where you can provide updated information to UC or ask a question.  The Department should respond to you within a few days.  You can always request a callback.


How to get information about your benefits online

The Department of Labor and Industry has put together a brief guide on their website about all the ways you can use the internet to file claims for unemployment compensation benefits and get updates about your claim.  You can find their guide here.

Philadelphia's Paid Sick Time

Starting May 13, 2015, employees who work at least 40 hours a year within the City of Philadelphia limits will be eligible to earn paid/unpaid sick leave.

Unemployment Compensation Handbook

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry publishes the Unemployment Compensation Handbook, which explains how Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation system works.

You can view the Handbook on-line, or you can download the Handbook as a PDF file.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I check the status of my unemployment compensation claim?

You can call the UC Service Center at 888-313-7284.  The Service Center only take calls on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.  The least busiest time to call is towards the end of the day.  If you are still waiting on hold at 4 p.m., you will be asked to leave a message, and you should receive a call back that evening or the next day.  Due to a staff shortage at the Service Center, you may experience busy signals and/or long delays.


Michael Riccio - Paralegal
Julia Simon-Mishel - Attorney

Julia Simon-Mishel is the Supervising Attorney of the Unemployment Compensation Unit.

Aaron Sommer - Attorney