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Chapter 1: Overview
Nancy E. Vettorello, The University of Michigan Law School; Steven M. Gray, National Employment Law Project; Rachael Kohl, University of Michigan Law School; Samir R. Hanna, Harvard Law School Harvard Legal Aid Bureau

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Program
Types of UI Benefits for Michigan Claimants
Underemployed Individuals
Defined Terms

I.   Introduction

§1.1   Unemployment benefits provide a safeguard against the impact, burden, and suffering that stems from the sudden loss of income due to unemployment. The right to such benefits is governed by the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA), MCL 421.1 et seq., which is administered through the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (Agency or UIA).

To receive unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, the claimant must both be qualified (meaning that the claimant was involuntarily separated from the position) and meet certain eligibility requirements. Benefits may also be available to those who experience an unwanted reduction in employment hours, resulting in underemployment. Determinations of qualification and eligibility are based on facts and circumstances that occur before or at separation as well as after separation, and this book is organized accordingly. Chapter 2 discusses eligibility and qualification issues that depend on facts that arose before or at the point of separation. Chapter 3 covers eligibility requirements from the point of applying for benefits and forward. Chapter 4 outlines the adjudication process through the Agency, on appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Appellate Commission (UIAC), and on further appeal through the Michigan court system. Chapter 5 focuses on instances when a claimant might have to pay back benefits already conveyed, including when a claimant is accused of fraudulently obtaining benefits.

This book outlines the substantive and procedural issues that face current UI claimants and references current statutes and caselaw. It assumes a basic understanding of law and the legal system. The book combines existing law and the experience of practitioners of UI law. Although it attempts to touch on as many facets of UI law as possible, the information in these chapters is not exhaustive. It does not cover every UI issue and case, but rather guides advocates through the most important and most common elements of the UI process. The book is not a replacement for independent legal research or the advice of a licensed attorney.

II.   The Michigan Employment Security Act and UI Caselaw

§1.2   The State of Michigan recognizes that involuntary unemployment is a “serious menace to the health, morals, and welfare of the people of this state” and designed the program as a means to alleviate the negative impact that economic insecurity has on the unemployed individual, their family, the community, and the state. MCL 421.2. Given its purpose, the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) is liberally construed in favor of the claimant, and its disqualification provisions are narrowly construed. In other words, any interpretation of MESA that is required by the court should favor the claimant. Courts have consistently recognized this point. See, e.g., Empire Iron Mining P’ship v Orhanen, 455 Mich 410, 416, 565 NW2d 844 (1997); Godsol v Michigan Unemployment Comp Comm’n, 302 Mich 652, 5 NW2d 519 (1942); Wohlert Special Prods, Inc v Michigan Emp’t Sec Comm’n, 202 Mich App 419, 509 NW2d 825 (1993), vacated in part, 447 Mich 1022, 527 NW2d 514 (1994); Johnides v St Lawrence Hosp, 184 Mich App 172, 457 NW2d 123 (1990).

Not many UI cases reach the Michigan Supreme Court or Michigan Court of Appeals, and even those that do may not result in published opinions. Accordingly, the majority of the UI cases that exist are from the circuit court level or even from the UIAC (formerly the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission and, before that, the Michigan Employment Security Board of Review). Any interested party may appeal, as of right, the decision of an administrative law judge to the UIAC.

Because these unreported decisions are not readily available, the University of Michigan Law School’s Unemployment Insurance Clinic created the MiUI Digest. The MiUI Digest publishes both summaries and the full opinion of many unreported UI cases, and it is searchable. Although these unreported opinions are not binding precedent, they may prove useful and are sometimes cited by judges and the UIAC. Much of the content was provided by the UIAC. More information about the UIAC, including the form needed to file an appeal, is available on the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Commission website. See chapter 4 for more information about the appeals process.

MESA was changed significantly in 2011 to add more eligibility requirements and again in 2017 to reform Agency practices in the wake of the false fraud scandal discussed more fully in chapter 5. Consult MESA first, rather than rely on UI caselaw. Keep in mind that most of the changes in UI law apply only to claims with benefit years that begin after the law goes into effect. If you are dealing with a case that has an older benefit year, you should research what the law was at the time of your client’s claim.