News & Press

Wisconsin Woman Receives Unemployment After Discharge for Transaction Errors

In a unanimous decision reached last Thursday, the State Supreme Court has ruled that a terminated employee of a Wisconsin Walgreens store is eligible to receive unemployment benefits in spite of evidence of major transaction errors. Although there were eight errors having to do with undercharging and accepting unapproved forms of payment, there was no proof that her errors were intentional and thereby could not be qualified as “substantial fault”, a concept that became a part of the state’s unemployment law in 2014.

Read more about this ruling here: http://www.wpr.org/state-supreme-court-sides-worker-unemployment-case

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Definition of “Simple Misconduct” Determined to be Unclear

New Jersey – The state’s terminology for categorizing the various types of employee misconduct was recently examined by a court. Currently, there are three levels of misconduct indicated in the New Jersey Unemployment Compensation Act, each having their own terms of disqualification; gross misconduct, severe misconduct and simple misconduct. For an act to fall under one of these categories, it must be proven to be a deliberate act and not an act of simple negligence.

Through this proceeding, the definition of “simple misconduct” was determined to be unclear and ineffective. This is primarily due to the fact that the line between simple misconduct and simple negligence is not clearly defined in its description. As no determination could be made at the time, the department has been given 180 days to provide a clear definition of the term.

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The End of Ski Season Brings an Increase in Initial Claims

Vermont – According to the state’s Department of Compensation, initial claim filings were up by 495 last week. Many believe the end of the ski season has caused this recent spike in unemployment claims. Compared to last year though, initial filings remain lower and the state unemployment rate held at 3% as the labor force and total employment increased.

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What Furloughed Federal Employees Can Expect

With the most recent threat of a government shutdown averted by an emergency funding bill passed late Sunday, many are still left wondering what could have happened if the government had actually shut down, especially the government employees who would have been furloughed from work.

Based on guidance from the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM), federal agencies are required to pay employees deemed essential or exempt from the shutdown, although that money won’t be paid until after the government reopens. In addition, while furloughed federal employees may be eligible for unemployment compensation in some states, they may be required to repay the benefits they received if Congress approves their back pay.

Read more about the government’s policies for furloughed federal employees here: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/furlough-guidance/guidance-for-shutdown-furloughs.pdf

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Voluntary Quits & Unemployment Benefits

Workers who quit voluntarily usually are not eligible for unemployment benefits, unless they can show they had a “necessitous and compelling” reason for leaving their employment, as was the case in a recent claim filed by a former employee of AT&T.

The claimant quit her job after she repeatedly informed management that she was being sexually harassed. She even called the police on several occasions to report that one harasser was following her and making racial slurs.

While the employer fought the claim, arguing that the claimant had not filed complaints with several offices within the company or with the union and so had not made a true effort to preserve her job, a Pennsylvania court found that the claimant was eligible for benefits because she put up with a lot while making reasonable attempts to get her bosses to address the problem before submitting her resignation.

Read more about the case here: http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/04/woman_who_quit_over_sexual_har.html

 

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Comprehensive Employee Handbooks Help Fight Unemployment Claims

If employers are to minimize the disbursement of unemployment benefits, it is imperative that they form a solid employee policy, free of potentially confusing language and unnecessary or outdated information. It is essential that the handbook outline all company policies, expectations and consequences of any violations, in clear simplified terms that do not allow for any misunderstandings. Any oversight in this area may create loopholes and misinterpretations ultimately leading to unnecessary allocations of unemployment benefits.

The ability to prove each employee has signed the company handbook is just as important as the policy itself. This is imperative, as former employees are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits if it is proven that they knowingly violated a company policy.

This was the case in a recent unemployment claim filed by an employee of Game Stop. He had been suspended and eventually fired for violating the company’s  Employee Transactions and Return policies. He applied for unemployment compensation, arguing that he didn’t know about the policy. The employer provided evidence showing the claimant’s signature on the handbook receipt and records showing that return policies had been covered in required training. As a result, he was denied benefits.

When an employee has signed a clearly defined company policy, it is difficult to later claim they misunderstood the terms of their employment. For this reason, it is also necessary to keep the handbook up to date with any alterations to company policies made as soon as they are implemented, signed by all employees.

Read the court’s decision here: https://casetext.com/case/lahn-v-gamestop-inc

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New Law Allows Drug Testing of Unemployment Claimants

A Joint Resolution supported by U.S. Representative Kevin Brady and Senator Ted Cruz, regarding drug testing and unemployment eligibility, has officially been signed into law by President Trump. With this new Resolution in place, the collection of unemployment benefits will be dependent on the ability of Claimants to pass state drug tests. This new law repeals a regulation finalized by the Obama Administration that only allowed drug testing of unemployment claimants if an applicant lost employment because of illegal drug use or when an applicant is seeking employment in an occupation that regularly conducts drug testing for job applicants and employees, such as professions requiring the use of firearms or air traffic controllers.

The new law does not make provisions for medical marijuana in drug testing procedures, even if a patient is in full compliance with state law.

While some groups have voiced their concerns over this new restriction, saying it will cost more in drug testing than it will save in unemployment funds, others have praised the law. According to Rep. Brady, “After 5 years of battling with the Obama Department of Labor, states like Texas will now be allowed to drug tests folks for unemployment to ensure they are job ready from day one. This is a win for families, workers, job creators, and local economies.”

It is yet to be seen how many states will implement this new federal law, but it is predicted that this development will lead to further changes concerning drug use in the work force.

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Massachusetts Millionaires Collected Over $1Million in Unemployment Benefits

Massachusetts – According to a report published by Greg Ryan, Law & Money Reporter for the Boston Business Journal, nearly 160 millionaires collected approximately $1.6 million in unemployment benefits in 2014.

In Massachusetts, and many other states, there are not income restrictions in place for collecting unemployment benefits. Any person who has paid into the system can take advantage of the benefits when needed, as long as the details surrounding their separation from employment meet the state’s qualifications for receiving such benefits.

All attempts to bar millionaires from collecting unemployment benefits, at the federal level, have failed to survive Congress.

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New Bill Brings Back Laid Off Workers

Pennsylvania – On March 20th, a bill was passed allocating $15 million to the Department of Labor, which due to lack of funding, has undergone hundreds of layoffs and three office closings in the past year. The bill would enable the Department of Labor to bring back many of the 500 employees who were laid off, resulting in several major departmental slowdowns.

As stated by the Department of Labor, “The department, along with the governor, would prefer a long-term solution for this funding, but this is a good step toward that goal…However, a short-term fix alone could force the system into chaos again, and so the department will continue to work with the General Assembly to enact a long-term fix that stabilizes the (unemployment compensation) system and does not create a crisis.”

Although this is not a permanent solution, it will enable the Department of Labor to maximize effectiveness while devising a long term plan to maintain funds and success.

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Suspended Lawyers Can’t Represent UI Claimants

Pennsylvania – On March 28th, the State Supreme Court ruled that those with suspended law licenses cannot represent claimants before the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review. This ruling reverses a previous one from the Commonwealth Court, which determined that the Board did not have the authority to bar suspended attorneys from representing litigants.

According to Justice Kevin Dougherty, suspended attorneys should be considered in a different category than a non-attorney representative since they are individuals who have been sanctioned by the court for violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct and thereby are prohibited from appearing on behalf of a client. In his ruling Justice Dougherty wrote, “Our decision is informed by an understanding that the purpose of the attorney disciplinary process, including proceedings which may result in this court’s issuance of suspension or disbarment orders, is to determine whether an attorney is fit to act as an advocate in legal and law-related activities and proceedings. Orders of suspension or disbarment are designed to protect the public from attorneys who have been deemed unfit and to maintain the public’s regard for a profession imbued with its trust.”

The claimant will have another chance to find a suitable person to represent him before the Board of Review.

Read more about this case here: http://www.thelegalintelligencer.com/id=1202782691154/Suspended-Lawyers-Cant-Represent-Unemployment-Comp-Claimants?mcode=1202615493110&curindex=2&slreturn=20170304093538

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