Lost in news headlines about the Governor’s meeting last spring with unemployment hearing officers was a finding by the U.S. Department of Labor that Appeals Hearings need improvement.
For example, USDOL said that hearing officers are unduly restrictive in excluding hearsay testimony even if the hearsay is reliable.
Hearing officers were also found to disallow evidence they deem repetitive even if that evidence corroborates the testimony of a prior witness – and then rule against the party whose witnesses were excluded, for lack of evidence.
Sometimes hearing officers would exclude documents solely because they were not submitted in advance of a hearing even when the need for the document only became apparent during the hearing. Sometimes evidence about events after a separation would be excluded even when the evidence supports the party’s argument about the reason for the party’s reason for the separation.
Hearing officers were also found to ignore decisions of the Maine Unemployment Commission that set precedent for the interpretation of an unemployment law or regulation. In fact, hearing officers were found to not even discuss those Commission decisions.
The current and prior commissioners of the Labor Department were found to have gone too far in questioning hearing officers about cases that had been decided.
“Our fact-finding revealed that labor commissioners have, on occasion, become directly involved in DAH [Department of Administrative Hearings] decision-making, such as interviewing staff-level hearing officers and/or their supervisors about specific rulings. The level and nature of this participation has, at times, exceeded the normal management prerogative of managing the day-to-day operations of DAH and could be perceived as an attempt to influence the sappeals decision-making process in favor of employers.”
Of Governor LePage, the USDOL said:
“When added to this internal MDOL pressure, the Governor’s direct intervention could be interpreted as an attempt to intimidate or direct hearing officers to view employers more sympathetically.”
Here is a link to the full 8-page USDOL letter.