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 Indiana residents and businesses. ‘State. Each case an ALJ adjudicates impacts the claimant’s eligibility and the employer’s tax liability.
ALJs conduct unemployment insurance appeal hearings for ongoing disputes regarding regular unemployment insurance benefits. And, right now, ALJs are conducting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance appeals under the federal PUA program.
As expected, the number and frequency of appeal hearings has increased significantly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of unemployment insurance claims and appeal hearings has reached an all-time high in the past two years. However, not all cases result in a hearing.
The purpose of appeal hearings is to ensure that all Indiana claimants are treated fairly and equitably. ALJs who hear cases must be attorneys licensed in the state of Indiana. Hearings are short and decisions must be made the same week the case is heard.
All decisions rendered by the ALJs must be written decisions that are provided to the parties involved, and these decisions include findings of fact and conclusions of law. Although no burden of proof is required, an ALJ’s decision is reviewed to ensure quality and Department of Labor standards are met. Another key aspect of appeals is the confidentiality of claimants and employers.
ALJs can work in the DWD office or remotely, but safeguards are in place to protect both printed materials and virtual files. Office staff assist in scheduling and handling appeal cases. The number of cases assigned to each ALJ depends in part on whether the ALJ works part-time or full-time.
To this end, the hearing schedule is balanced to allow time for writing decisions during the week of the hearing. Judges are requested to provide their availability three weeks in advance so that effective scheduling can take place.
Tiffany Guthrie, an administrative fraud judge since 2021, conducts unbiased hearings every day. She takes statements from witnesses and asks questions.
“I write decisions according to the guidelines that have been established, including submitting them in a timely manner,” Guthrie said. “I also complete role notes and play sheets in each case.”
Guthrie likes being able to make unbiased decisions using the information she can get from the parties. She also likes that these decisions can make a difference.
“I base all my decisions on the law and the guidelines that have been established. It can be difficult, but the laws are there for a reason,” she added.
“It’s important to write down your decisions clearly so the parties can understand what you decided and how you came to that decision,” Guthrie said.
ALJs work in a fast-paced, team environment, and as a team, they help each other when needed. This occurs when illness or other issues may impact a particular ALJ’s ability to conduct their assigned hearing.
“My job is to hold appeal hearings and make decisions about those appeals,” said Ernani Magalhaes, ALJ since 2021. When people file for unemployment, an initial decision is made about their eligibility. The decision may grant or deny benefits. Either way, someone can appeal the decision,” Magalhaes said. “My service to the State of Indiana is simple: to ensure that I apply the law fairly and according to the facts.
Magalhaes added: “A decision is written with two different audiences in mind. One is the group of people who can be expected to know the law. Another is the group of people who may not know the law. It is essential that you write clearly so that both groups understand what you have said.
Communication between judges and staff is often via Microsoft Teams or by telephone, but the hearings themselves are conducted via a computerized telephone system.
Part-time and full-time positions are available and remote work is offered, so ALJs can be based out of state. The training is compulsory, but the hours of training and work are remunerated.
Judges’ case schedules are gradually increasing to accommodate training. Salary for ALJs starts at $47,476, but additional compensation is offered for additional work experience. ALJs are also paid for their fixed work schedule even if a case ends up being canceled, dismissed or withdrawn.
DWD is actively recruiting new administrative law judges. All 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, Teams interview, writing test, and background check.
Prospective ALJs do not need any prior UI experience to be successful in this role. The training provides the information necessary to ensure that all incoming ALJs learn and feel comfortable with the law, so they are prepared to act on their decisions.