Written by attorney Nicholas M. McLeod

Guidelines and Tips for Testifying at Unemployment Insurance Hearings

Your only goal is to tell the truth. Your credibility is your case.

DO NOT allow yourself to be led into giving answers that aren’t 100% correct by the other lawyer, representative, or even the Judge. They are not always interested in the truth, and they may want you to say what they want you to say. Be careful of the words “would it be fair to say…" or “let me see if I understand what you are saying…" If that’s not what you were saying, speak up.

LISTEN CAREFULLY to each question, and answer only the question. Focus on the first word of each question. If it’s a “who?" question, name a person…a “when?" question, name a time…a “where?" question, name a location. If you can answer a question with a “yes" or “no", do that and wait for the next question.

Do not volunteer information. Your attorney will always have the opportunity to ask you the follow up questions, if necessary. Silence is your friend once you’ve answered the pending question.

Be certain you understand the question before answering. If you misunderstand the question, you will not be able to answer truthfully or accurately. You may ask for questions to be repeated or rephrased.

You don’t get points for fast answers. Not only is it important to understand the questions, but part of your attorney’s job is to object to questions that are unfair, irrelevant, compound, vague, or confusing. If you answer questions too quickly, you may limit your attorney’s usefulness.

Under no circumstances should you speculate or guess as to an answer. You will be sworn to tell the truth, so if you don’t know an answer, just say “I don’t know". By the same token, you should know the facts of your case and be prepared to answer questions about your case on the record.

There is a big difference between what you know personally or what you know from past experience and what you have learned by other means. If you attempt to present hearsay information (rumors, gossip, stories) as firsthand observation, it will hurt your credibility.

Control your emotions. Do not get angry or upset during your hearing.

Be cognizant of attorney tactics. Some lawyers may use the silent treatment, bullying, or even illusory friendliness to serve the interests of their client during your testimony. Ignore the other representative’s demeanor, attitude, and tone of voice.

Do not hedge or equivocate about answers when you’re certain as to the answers. Words like “to the best of my recollection" or “as best as I can remember" may appear evasive or may suggest that you doubt your credibility or ability to recall facts.

Do not try to figure out where the questioner is going. It is your job to answer questions.

Look the Judge and/or the questioner in the eye when you are testifying. If you look at your attorney before answering questions other people ask you, it will appear that you have something to hide.

Do not try to conform your testimony to what other people say under oath just to appear to be in agreement with them. If your memory is different from what someone else said, that is fine, provided you are confident that you are correct.

Listen carefully to objections. The Judge will rule on the objections by saying whether it is sustained or overruled. If it is overruled, you must answer, but keep in mind that there is a reason for your attorney’s objection. You may want to ask for the question to be rephrased or repeated if you can’t remember the question or do not know how to answer.

Documents will be introduced at your hearing. Share any exhibits with your attorney, and read every document carefully before answering questions about it. Specifically, note the date, letterhead, subject, and who prepared it.

If you are asked a hypothetical question and asked to respond to a question based on an assumption, restate what assumptions you are making and make it clear that you do not agree that those facts actually occurred.

Do not use phrases like “truthfully", “honestly", or “to be honest with you". You will be sworn in, and it is presumed that you are telling the truth. If you use any of these phrases in everyday speaking, try to leave them out of the hearing.

Do not speak in absolutes. Never say never (or always). If you say you never did something, you might find yourself squirming if the opposing attorney produces evidence showing an exception to your absolute declaration. Instead, it is better to say “not that I can recall", or use terms like “seldom/usually/typically", to “leave the door open" for yourself.

Don’t be too defensive. Some things you must admit or concede.

Humor, jokes, and sarcasm have no place in the hearing. The Judge may be friendly and even banter or joke before the hearing. Once the record is open, it’s all business.

Do not think out loud when you are testifying.

Sit up straight, and keep your hands in your lap.

Remember, you’re testifying for the record, not just the people in the room.

Do not question or disrespect the person asking you questions. Address the Judge as “Sir", Ma’am", “Judge", or “Your Honor". Address the opposing attorney or representative with respect as well.

You will know when it’s your turn to testify. Do not interrupt anyone else’s testimony during your hearing.

Protect your credibility.

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