On February 3, 2005, the Commonwealth Court in Harkness v. UCBR issued a decision that changed the general rule in Pennsylvania with respect to non-lawyers representing corporate employers. In that decision, the Commonwealth Court held that a corporation may only appear and be represented by a person authorized to practice law in unemployment compensation proceedings. The basis for that decision was that proceedings before Unemployment Compensation Referees and Board are legal proceedings and only attorneys can admit evidence, examine witnesses, and otherwise engage in the practice of law on behalf of a corporate entity.
In reaction to the Commonwealth Court's decision, on June 15, 2005, Governor Rendell signed Senate Bill 464. The new law provides that any party, including a corporate employer, that appears before an Unemployment Compensation Referee or the Unemployment Compensation Board may be represented by an attorney or a non-attorney representative.
The result of the new law is a return to the general rule that existed prior to the Harkness v. UCBR decision. The practical effect is that corporate employers are no longer required to have attorney representation at unemployment compensation proceedings.The new law, however, may not be the last word on whether corporate employers require attorney representation. This is because the Harkness v. UCBR decision remains on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court could hold the new law unconstitutional on the basis that only the Court can regulate the practice of law.