Illinois Appellate Decision May Require Employers to Retain Attorneys for Unemployment Hearings

Although employment lawyers handle unemployment hearings as a matter of course, it has been a common practice for larger companies to have non-attorneys representing them in administrative hearings, including at the Illinois Department of Employment Security (unemployment hearings.) An opinion from the Illinois Appellate Court in Chicago may change that.

While individuals are permitted to represent themselves in court, corporate entities, including LLC’s can only appear by a licensed attorney. It has not been clear whether companies are similarly restricted in administrative hearings. That is the question addressed by Stone Street Partners, LLC v. City of Chicago Department of Administrative Hearings, 2014 IL App (1st) 123654.. but the Court reaffirmed and gave legal force to the Illinois State Bar Associations’ 1994 Advisory Opinion “holding that the pervasive practice of nonattorneys giving legal advice, preparing evidence for presentation and examining witnesses and otherwise participating at unemployment administrative hearings constituted the unauthorized practice of law.” The Court concluded “that representation of corporations at administrative hearings—particularly those which involve testimony from sworn witnesses, interpretation of laws and ordinances, and can result in the imposition of punitive fines—must be made by a licensed attorney at law.”

As a result of this decision an employer should reconsider its unemployment hearing practices. If an employer is not represented by a lawyer at the administrative hearing, decisions of IDES hearing referees in the employer’s favor may be subject to reversal on appeal simply because the employer did not have a legally authorized (i.e. licensed attorney) representative.

The Lawyers at Maduff & Maduff have handled numerous unemployment hearings for both employers and employees. Contact us today to discuss your options with an experienced employment lawyer.