Harkness v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review

Pennsylvania employers must be represented by an attorney at Unemployment Compensation hearings. On February 3, 2005, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in Harkness v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, held that employers cannot have non-lawyers representing them at Unemployment Compensation proceedings. See 2005Pa. Commw. LEXIS 48 (Feb. 3, 2005). At the hearing, the employer was represented by a third-party company that provides “representation” to employers at Unemployment Compensation hearings.

This representative was a tax consultant rather than an attorney. At the hearing, the representative cross-examined the former employee, offered exhibits into evidence and gave a closing statement. The Commonwealth Court, however, found that this tax consultant improperly engaged in the practice of law. The Court rejected the argument that since an individual claimant may be represented by a non-attorney pursuant to the Pennsylvania Code, the employer should be afforded those same privileges.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry announced that it was appealing the Harkness decision to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In the meantime, employers cannot use non-lawyers to represent them in unemployment compensation hearings. As a result, employers must change its practices relating to such hearings and determine whether it makes financial sense to dispute unemployment claims.

Stark & Stark attorneys can advise and represent your Company regarding Pennsylvania unemployment issues.