HR professionals (and non-lawyers) rejoice! On August 9, 2007, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that non-attorneys may represent an employer in unemployment compensation proceedings.
For the past two years, SHRM has led the effort to uphold the right of employers to use non-attorney representation in unemployment compensation proceedings in Pennsylvania.
In response to a strong lobbying effort by Pennsylvania SHRM members and others, the state legislature amended Pennsylvania's unemployment compensation law in 2005 to allow non-attorneys to represent either employees or employers. Four attorneys challenged the constitutionality of the new law (in what became known as Piunti v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), arguing that the law infringes upon the authority of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law.
SHRM argued that the long-standing practice of non-lawyer representation in informal unemployment compensation proceedings is constitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution. Unemployment proceedings are not judicial proceedings, and therefore not regulated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
SHRM has been diligent about this issue. The Society filed an amicus brief in another employment compensation case known as Harkness v. Unemployment Compensation Review Board, which was closely related to the Piunti case. In April 2007, prior to the court's decision in the Piunti case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its opinion in Harkness, saying that non-attorneys may represent employers in unemployment compensation proceedings.