The Colorado Department of Labor is both judge and jury when it comes to repayment demands, allegations of fraudulent reporting, and audits of employers. Our experience has been that the Unemployment Insurance Integrity, Benefit Payment Control section assumes everyone is a liar and cheat. The section will not talk to you, or negotiate repayments, once it decides that you have been overpaid. I have represented more than one claimant who was wrongly advised how to report income by a clerk at the Department of Labor, but the collectors working for Colorado refuse to acknowledge that is possible. They tell you if you don’t like their determination you should appeal. So, appeal. There is some hope.
Last week we overturned a determination by the section that a woman should repay two years of benefits, plus penalties. Our client’s father gave her money to meet her expenses while she was unemployed and simultaneously receiving unemployment benefits. The Benefit Payment Control section treated the gifts by her father as wages, like she had a job. It demanded that she repay the State her benefits, plus a 50% penalty. It took persistence, and the hearing officer at the first stage ignored our evidence, but the Industrial Claims Appeals Office finally recognized what a mistake the Benefit Payment Control people had made.
Two weeks ago we had a demand for repayment completely overturned. Benefit Payment Control somehow confused our client with another person, and that other person’s wages were considered evidence that our client had a job while receiving unemployment. The State was stubbornly wrong. The State refused to respond to our client’s attempts by phone and letter to correct the error. Had our client appealed on time, we could have fixed the problem quickly. But, instead of appealing, he wrote letters. By the time we got the case, the State was arguing that all appeals rights had been waived. It was going to force our client to repay benefits based on some stranger’s wages. We got this fixed by going over the heads of the collectors, but were forced to file a lawsuit against the Department of Labor first. The lesson: Don’t assume the Department will treat you right because you are in the right. Assert your right to appeal, on time.