Knoxville woman battles with state unemployment office

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A Knoxville woman eligible for unemployment benefits has battled the state's labor office since last summer. After losing her job in August 2016, she's faced a series of obstacles trying to obtain an unemployment check.

In Tennessee, people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own are eligible for unemployment compensation if they meet certain guidelines. Once you apply, you must be physically able to work at the time you file your claim for benefits. You must also document your work search activity each week.

Since August, Jennifer Olson says she's spent hours online with the Tennessee Department of Labor trying to settle an ongoing issue with her unemployment compensation. She lost her job with an insurance company in early August and within days she filed for unemployment benefits.

"You go online. You fill out these forms about why you left your job, how long you worked there, what your skills are," she said.

Olson received bad news in late August: The state wrote that her claim was turned down.

"That I was fired for misconduct, which was not why I was let go. I have the official letter," said Olson, who immediately appealed.

Then, good news came at the end of September.

"After I had my hearing over the phone, their decision was reversed and I was eligible for my benefits, which was a very happy day," Olson said.

The state's letter said she was eligible for unemployment.

"So I thought, great now I get my money, I can pay my bills and look for a job," she said.

Eventually, she got a check for $1,900, but her ordeal with the Department of Labor was just beginning. She received a letter on October 31 saying she had been overpaid from August 20 to September 24 due to "claimant error."

"My error, but they wouldn't tell me what the error was," said Olson.

That letter said she was at fault for the overpayment and would had to repay the state $1,925. Again, she appealed. This time the news wasn't good.

"I get the big one with all caps. They're going to come after me for collections if I don't pay them. And I don't want any more money, don't want anymore benefits. I'm working. I've got a full time job, I'm happy. I just want them to go away," Olson said.

WATE 6 On Your Side wrote to the state presenting the timeline in Olson's case - how her request for benefits was first rejected, then accepted, then rejected again. WATE 6 On Your Side also sent some of documents she had kept, which is smart to do. Within a few days, she received a response from the Department of Labor.

"I got a call that it was all a big mistake and that I don't owe them any money at all and everything is closed," she said. "Very big relief. Very happy."

The letter sent to WATE said the team discovered she had filed a second claim in September using a different employer and that sent up a red flag. Olson said that red flag apparently was about a temporary job she had for three weeks.

"I had gone back into update my file. It was giving me trouble, so I gave up on it. But apparently, that triggered something at the Department of Labor that I was filing a second claim," Olson said.

That request for a second claim sparked a review by the state and the claim she was overpaid. As Olson said, she was unable to update her file that second time and gave up, but it was enough to trigger that review and lead to a lot of confusion.

"Document everything, follow up with everything, and don't give up. I wasn't going to pay money that I didn't owe them," Olson said.

The state has switched to a new computer system that allows users to stay on top of their unemployment claims step by step and agents won't have to do things manually. A new ticketing system is supposed to eliminate duplicate processing and allow agents to respond in three to five days of being contacted.

The state said some people had problems receiving their unemployment benefits and that agents have been working overtime to help people get it straightened out.

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