UI Phone Hearings and Coronavirus – Temporary or New Norm?

Unemployment Covid-19

We’ve seen state unemployment agencies transition to phone hearings as opposed to “live” or in-person hearings, for some time now. Amidst the COVID-19 scare and social distancing guidelines, states such as Massachusetts have limited the format to telephone-only. While moves like these may be a temporary response, telephonic unemployment hearings might become the new norm for states that previously allowed for “live” format. It’s never been more crucial to brush up on telephonic hearing preparedness than it is right now.

One differentiation of telephonic hearings is the documentation and presentation of evidence. As the witness is not there in person, documentary evidence cannot be provided directly to the Judge (Referee, Examiner, etc.) as the hearing is being conducted. It is imperative you send new documentation not previously submitted at the Determination level, in advance to both the state agency and the claimant. Judges can exclude written, relevant evidence if that individual state’s procedures are not followed and/or the claimant has not been provided access to such evidence.

A key disadvantage to the telephone hearing is that the Judge does not have the ability to observe witnesses. Lacking are cues from the claimant’s face, body language, movements, demeanor etc. These factors are substantial when it comes to determining the credibility of witnesses. Thus, the Judge will be making their determination regarding witness credibility in less than ideal circumstances. In addition, it is well known through various studies, people are more likely to lie when they are not confronted face-to-face.

Important Dos & Don’ts for Phone Hearings:

  • Be sure to follow the registration or notification process as outlined by the state agency. Some states may provide a number to call to connect, while others require advanced registration requirements to provide numbers so the judge can contact you. Failing to follow these steps may leave you in default or delay the process and get you off on the wrong foot!


  • Presentation skills must be adjusted in this setting. A well-modulated voice, which conveys confidence, quick, direct, firm answers to questions as well as the ability to reference a document efficiently without scrambling through a file, can do much to create an impression of credibility.


  • Witnesses must provide crisp, clear and professional testimony. UTCA assists clients to be prepared and know the case facts. As witnesses cannot be observed thoughtfully considering a response—too long a pause can appear slow and uncertain. An inadequate response may be looked upon as unfavorable or that a witness is ad-libbing.


  • Remember to speak audibly! And, if anyone cannot hear another party during the hearing, quickly let this be known. This is a procedural option and not a violation of protocol. Do not wait until midway through the proceeding to make the Judge aware of this detriment.


  • Multiple witnesses: It is always best to have them in the same room, on the same speakerphone if possible. Given the current state of quarantining and social distancing this might not be possible. Multiple lines or locations often irritate Judges and increase the chance of technical failures, but under current circumstances this may be the safest option for most employers.


  • Always have the case file paperwork available, directly in front of you. Please review it prior to the hearing one last time.


  • Judges often become very annoyed if they hear a phone ring, a ping of an arriving text or some other avoidable sound. In addition, all other devices, computers, faxes etc., should be turned off. All environmental noises should also be eliminated.


  • Stay on the Judge’s good side! Remember, they are the decision maker and assess credibility. Be at your phone at the start of the hearing, waiting for the call to come in. Judges get audibly annoyed being put on hold for witnesses to be located. This is similar to being “late” for a live hearing. Use direct dial numbers if available to avoid transfers and disconnects.


  • DO NOT talk while somebody else is testifying. While this is also true for a “live” hearing, it is more important for a telephone hearing as the Judge may not be able to distinguish who is or isn’t speaking.


  • DO NOT cross talk with other employer witnesses. If you are heard whispering to another person during the hearing, it gives the appearance you are looking for assistance in answering a question, and may be providing less than truthful testimony.


Nervous about your next hearing or deliberating an appeal?  Contact us here!