Are Non-English-Speaking Claimants Served by Unemployment Compensation Programs? The Need for Bilingual Services

This Article examines the need for interpreters and translated written materials in unemployment compensation programs for those claimants who do not read, understand, or speak English well or at all. Thousands of employable persons in the United States do not read, understand, or speak English. These persons may be unable to receive unemployment compensation benefits or may receive delayed benefits solely because they are unable to comprehend English. The authors examine how ten states with substantial populations of limited-English-proficient speakers have provided these persons access to their state’s unemployment compensation programs. The authors find varying practices among the states in serving the limited-English-proficient population. They suggest that the failure of state unemployment compensation agencies to serve limited-English-proficient persons is a violation of federal civil rights laws and federal unemployment insurance laws and may be a violation of constitutional guarantees to due process. Courts generally have not been receptive to due process challenges to a state agency’s failure to provide bilingual services. The authors posit, however, that almost all of these cases rely on a poorly reasoned California state court decision that should be reexamined in light of several critical factors that have emerged in the last twenty-five years. In conclusion, the authors propose a model program for state unemployment compensation agencies designed to ensure that limited-English-proficient persons have equal access to unemployment compensation programs.