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Your Language Rights for Unemployment Insurance in California

January 19, 2024 Guides & Reports


Winifred Kao

Winifred Kao

Senior Counsel, Impact Litigation & Program Manager, Workers' Rights

Winifred Kao

Senior Counsel, Impact Litigation & Program Manager, Workers' Rights

Winifred Kao is Senior Counsel for Impact Litigation at ALC. She also leads ALC’s Workers’ Rights Program. She served as ALC’s Litigation Director from 2011 – 2020 during which time she helped provide direction and support on ALC’s impact litigation across program areas. Prior to coming to ALC, Winnie worked at a union-side labor and employment law firm where she primarily represented hotel, restaurant and food and commercial workers and unions in a wide variety of labor, employment, constitutional, and class-action cases. Winnie was previously a trial attorney for the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division where she litigated housing and public accommodation discrimination cases. She also served on detail as a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the Sex Offense and Domestic Violence Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC, and was an extern for the Honorable Gladys Kessler in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Winnie has worked as a community organizer for labor and civil rights groups. She is a graduate of Yale College and the University of Michigan Law School where she was a member of the Michigan Law Review.

She has won commendations and awards for her work from numerous organizations including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the University of Michigan Law School.

Losing your job is hard – and navigating the bureaucracy of unemployment if English isn’t your primary language makes it even more difficult.

California is one of the most linguistically diverse states in the country. Almost half of residents speak a language other than English at home, and 7 million individuals primarily use one of more than 200 languages.

In order for government services to be equally accessible to everyone, it is essential that interpretation and translation services are available. We have been fighting systemic language access barriers to ensure that state and local agencies are accountable to the needs of our diverse cultures and communities.

As a result of advocacy from ALC and our allies, if you are eligible for unemployment insurance in California and do not use English as your primary language, you can now access expanded language services through the Employment Development Department.

Below are four rights you have:

  1. You have the right to request and receive services in your preferred language on the phone and in person when you open an unemployment claim.
  2. You have the right to request any language you are most comfortable using. There are already dedicated phone lines in English, Armenian, Spanish, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese. If you speak a language not listed, you can call and request interpretation in your preferred language.
  3. You can request any documents be translated into your preferred language and have an interpreter read the documents aloud to you. Documents from the department will now be available in Arabic, Armenian, Cantonese, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer (Cambodian), Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.
  4. If interpreting is not possible at the time you are filing your unemployment claim, the Employment Development Department must contact you in your preferred language within five business days.

You are not alone. We worked collectively with our partner nonprofit organizations throughout the state on this victory for all of our communities. It can be scary to navigate these systems – remember that there are many organizations, including us, here to support you and make sure you know your rights. You should not pay anyone to handle your unemployment insurance claim for you. These private services will not result in faster payment and could put you at risk of fraud.

Below you will find fact sheets about your language rights that you can download and print. We encourage you to share these widely within your community.

If you have difficulty getting services in your preferred language, you can contact us or our partner organizations:

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