News & Press

Paying for Permanent Vacations?

Rested :    Relaxed :   Returned to Work

With the arrival of summer, most of us are enjoying the sunshine, flowers, cool breezes, picnics and those much-anticipated vacations. As employers, we balance the day to day operation around staff rotating through their vacation schedules and manage the coverage gaps accordingly. Unfortunately, at the same time, employers often see a higher incidence of issues with some employees who do not manage vacation periods well. This includes more issues with absenteeism, quitting their jobs, no call/no shows, not returning on time from a vacation (including leaves) or other types of work attendance or schedule compliance problems. This frequently occurs when individuals are unable, or unwilling, to return from a personal leave, an FMLA period, vacation or other kind of leave. While ever more frequent during warm sunny months, it does occur year-round, but we traditionally note an uptick in these types of claims during the summer. If not managed properly, these issues can contribute to unwarranted and increased unemployment costs.

The unemployment statutes and regulations governing each state are separate and distinct from individual state maternity laws, the FMLA (federal), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), discrimination laws, wrongful discharge case law and various ever-expanding statutory mandates and regulations currently in existence. Although an employer may be compliant with one or more legal obligations under any number of laws, that does not necessarily or often relate to a strong unemployment compensation case. In fact, there are numerous laws actually in conflict with unemployment standards or other laws. Dealing with the same set of facts may result in differing consequences and determinations, both pro and con, when applied to each individual law. This has been an issue when addressing unemployment laws when it comes to an employee’s ability to return to work following an approved leave of absence or vacation.

A common scenario occurs when an employee is on an approved leave (or vacation) from the employer. The company has complied with all their legal requirements and have held the employee’s job, pay, etc. open and available for the employee upon the expiration of the leave. The employee however tells the employer they are still unavailable to return from the leave. The employer calls their labor attorney who advises management the company has fulfilled all of their legal requirements under the law, so they can let the employee go. Confident in the attorney’s advice, the employer terminates the employee accordingly. The employee then files for unemployment compensation, submitting a letter from the employer to the local UI agency saying they were let go because they were “unable to return from a leave of absence”. The company thinks they have an open and shut winner but are shocked to receive a determination awarding benefits to the former employee. What happened?

While each state varies slightly, when an employer initiates a separation of employment, as they did in the example cited, it must be for misconduct. Someone’s inability to return from a leave is not misconduct or a violation of policy. Good ways to improve the case to defend against unwarranted charges and assist the employee in maintaining their employment are as follows:

  • Make sure to offer the claimant some other job, within any possible light duty restrictions a doctor may have imposed
  • Offer an extension to the leave to a given date (closed end). Speak with the employee to determine a realistic and workable date and request additional documentation as necessary
  • Require the employee to undergo an IME (independent medical exam)
  • Consider laying them off subject to recall if the circumstances are appropriate

It is important to remember, just because the individual may not be able to return to the full time work they previously performed for your organization, does not mean they are not “able and available for full time work” in another job capacity. It only means they weren’t able to return to their previous full-time job with your organization. Unfortunately, we do see claimants “venue shopping” in terms of claiming availability and fitness for duty, where unemployment is concerned but making opposite assertions where disability or workers’ compensation is sought. Where statements conflict and they are available to the employer, it is prudent to obtain these documents for use to contest unemployment claims.

Leaving Lines Open

The most effective tools to safeguard an employer from unjustified claim payments is to keep good records and lines of communication open. We have seen employees take three-week vacations, when they were approved for only two and argue they “thought” they had three weeks. All return to work dates should be in writing. Beginning and end dates should be communicated. There should be a written and enforced requirement for notifying the employer if something unforeseen happens while out on vacation. If it is a leave period, employers should include language, prior to the beginning of the leave, setting forth the employee’s responsibilities if they are unable to return (HR notification, doctor certification, management communication, etc.).

Sun isn’t shining on your current UI process? Want to talk through a tricky leave or  employee getaway gone awry? Forego the message in a bottle, just reach us  here. We promise to leave out the vacation puns.
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You Can’t Quit, You’re Fired!

 

Winning Unemployment Quit or Discharge Claims

Every state unemployment agency has the enviable job of determining which separation standard applies when an unemployment claim is filed. Seems like a layup (a little March Madness nod), but often it isn’t so clear.

Adjudicators must determine whether a claimant was:

1.) Discharged from their employment

2.) Quit their job

3.) Are still employed

They must decide who initiated the separation of employment to apply the proper section of law. If the separation appears to have been initiated by the employer, the discharge statute then controls whether that individual is eligible for UI benefits and the legal burden of proof is on the employing unit. If it appears the employee initiated the separation, the voluntary quit statute is applied. This burden of proof falls on the claimant.

Straightforward right? Not so much.

Some separations can be confusing to employer and claimant alike, particularly where there was little or no proper communication.  Here’s a couple head scratching (but not uncommon) scenarios you seasoned HR professionals or management leaders may have experienced:

The “act like nothing ever happened” employee

If an employee is a “3-day no call no show” and the employer’s policy states that is considered a “job abandonment or voluntary quit”, what happens if the employee shows up to work on day four?

Do you fire that person?

Are they still considered a quit?

What if the employee says they don’t want to quit and never intended to do so?

A few things to consider are the claimant’s “state of mind”, during the period of absence. As all state adjudication make exception for this (more on that later). Other considerations like whether they were able to notify their supervisor can also blur the lines. Throwing another curveball, the employer may fire the employee for violating a no-call, no-show policy, only to have the claimant tell the unemployment office they quit.

Ultimately, the unemployment adjudicator must make that determination. However, an employer’s best line of defense is ensuring clear, well-written policies are provided plainly outlining an obligation to communicate with them in the event of an absence.  This safeguard employers as much as possible should the burden of proof shift from the claimant (a resignation) to the employer (discharge for policy violation).

The “heat of the moment” employee

“That’s it, I’m leaving, I can’t take it anymore, I quit!”. The employee storms out of the workplace. As their blood goes from boil to simmer, in hindsight, the employee reflects on their actions and can’t believe they quit. Their job is necessary to support their family. They realize daytime TV is awful, and their significant others have found a whole host of projects for them to take on.

Oops.

Returning to work the following day, they apologize for their outburst and tell their manager they didn’t mean to quit, acted rashly and want to get back to work. They state they were frustrated due to personal issues, which left them short-tempered and thus thinking unclearly. The manager at this point is confused as to what to do, and actually relieved to see this employee exit on their own terms.

 What happens now?

 Is it still a quit? Is it a discharge?

How will it impact unemployment?

Can the company say, “We already accepted your resignation”?

For unemployment purposes, most states recognize a “cooling-off” period and focus on the individual’s state of mind at the time. If in the heat of an exchange, as a reaction to something in the workplace (or outside) an employee quits and subsequently “cools off”, indicating they didn’t mean to quit, most states expect employers to rescind the hasty resignation. Particularly, where the employee attempts to rescind in short order. If an employer decides not to do so, it will be considered a discharge. The question then becomes why would you not allow the employee to return to work, if you had no plans to separate them? There is no specific length of time limiting the cool down period, but usually the more time that goes by the less likely an employer will be required to accept the claimant’s request.

Obtaining detailed written documentation of the event, like witness statements, will help tremendously. Even though the employer may be required to recognize an employee’s request to preserve their job, employers may still decide to discharge the employee for their actions (i.e. abandoning the shift, using profanity, insubordination, etc.).  Once again, that old “state of mind” will still factor into the state’s decision, as they determine if those actions are deliberate, willful or intentional.

Safe bets

We are continually amazed by all the twists, turns and monkey wrenches thrown into what look like clear separations. As always, your best practices will strengthen any separation particularly when you strive to apply them uniformly. Where “good cause” reasons exist to rescind a hasty resignation, with an otherwise quality employee, doing so can be prudent.  After all, the best way to avoid a risky unemployment claim is doing everything you can to make sure it’s never filed.

Looking to share a war story, get a bit of insight or learn a bit more about managing unemployment? Drop us a line here. We don’t bite.
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Formal warnings result in huge overpayments

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released their study examining unemployment overpayments on a national level. The study took a very targeted view of states in which claimants are issued formal “warnings” for not meeting their work search requirements. The results were staggering, as it was found that $1.6 billion (of $3.9B total)  in over overpaid unemployment benefits in 2016 were made to claimants that were in violation of their requirement to actively search for work.

READ THE FULL STUDY HERE

The Department of Labor clearly affirms and acknowledged these findings, and is working to draft guidance for state agencies. However, they cite the challenges they have in efficiently implementing a timely system to identify and allow claimant recourse before suspending payments.

As UTCA has always endeavored to protect employers from unwarranted UI costs at all levels, this study is troubling. Any overpayment  an employer incurs can impact an experience rating or direct payments made to a state UI agency. Although UTCA actively tracks any and all charges to our employers, and diligently protests erroneous charges, there is no direct insight into the agencies tracking of a claimant’s requirement to search for work. The costly inefficiencies identified in the study lie within the state agencies. We will continue to track the developments as the Department of Labor looks to find a unified solution to this daunting overpayment issue.

What does this newly-quantified study mean to employers? The GAO’s study tells us it is  more crucial than ever before for employers to be aware and pro-active in their approach to managing the unemployment. Creating a system to ensure you are minimizing your UI cost factors within every means you can control is the key.

If you are an employer unsure of the efficiency of your current UI program, or want the peace of mind to know they are taking advantage of all their opportunities to control cost, contact us today. There is never a fee for your initial assessment.

 

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Major system reform looming for PA unemployment

 

 

 

Pennsylvania’s unemployment has been a hot topic of discussion in recent weeks. Not in the broad, glowing sense that we are seeing cheery unemployment news covered nationally. While PA is enjoying a decline in their rates of unemployment (4.7 percent as of October) , they are still a tick higher than the current U.S. average (4.1 percent). The real news is coming from Harrisburg, as recently passed legislation will fuel major changes in the state’s administration of unemployment services.

After effective legislation in 2016, several state UC service centers  were closed and the PA Dept. of Labor staff was depleted by 500 workers. In tandem with reliance on antiquated technology, the productivity and responses within the unemployment compensation program have suffered. The performance issues are well documented here. Fast forward to this past week, the PA House has officially passed resultant legislation to not only return employees to the ranks, but finally push through the online system conversions that have been in play for years. Rejoice!

With most UI news being centralized around claimants and the relation to state and federal economy, the employer’s experience is often lost. Shocker.  Fortunately, even amidst service strain at the PA Department of Labor, UTCA experienced little disruption to the employer-based response and adjudication process. Our established agent presence, reputation and relationships at the state allowed us to continue working efficiently to advocate for our employers.

So what does the change legislation change mean for employers?

The increased workforce at the Pennsylvania  unemployment compensation service centers can only mean good things for employers and claimants alike.

Likewise, in our experience, the conversion to online-based claims systems ultimately benefit everyone.

But pump the breaks.

The transition process can be a bit challenging as states and their employees roll out the platform. Employers managing their UI programs should remain hyper vigilant of any communication from the state when the system gets closer to implementation. Many system launches have left employers ill-informed while eliminating paper claims, without knowing they are responsible for registering and regularly monitoring the new web-based platforms. This lack of awareness can lead to a serious risk in increased charge activity for missed claims, and benefit integrity compliance penalties. We have engaged several prospective employers over the last five years that thought their claim activity had pleasantly (and magically) disappeared. When in reality, they were never made aware of the “switch” and had been incurring copious claims and charges. For Pennsylvania employers already struggling to manage unemployment, be “on-guard” as the online system develops further. UTCA will continue to actively engage the PA Dept. of Labor to stay abreast of new developments, while continuing to champion our employers through whatever hiccups new technology may pose!

As always, if you are an employer challenged by managing unemployment (or an inefficient UI vendor), don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re here to listen, not push.

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Knowledge is power- Don’t miss EANE’s Employment Law Conference on 11/2!

Please join us for The Employers Association of the Northeast (EANE) Employment Law Conference  on November 2nd at The Sheraton in Springfield MA! 

You’ll learn valuable best practices on a variety of current HR hot topics like creating a workplace violence prevention plan, collaborating with boomers on retirement and succession planning, stay interviews to improve retention and communicating with your team about high deductible insurance plans. UTCA will be a featured presenter providing attendees with valuable guidance to manage their unemployment programs more effectively. Early bird discount ends 10/13/17, so take advantage of this great resource. For more information on the program and registration click here !

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UTCA Celebrates 20th Annual Client Update!

This year marked a special milestone for UTCA: The 20th Annual Client Update! The event, held October 5th at the Sheraton Springfield, was an outstanding success with excellent turnout and a fun and educational program enjoyed by all. Employers from across the region gathered for the conference which included guest speakers and a year in review of UI legislative trends, projections, and employment law updates.

A perennial hit, UTCA staff performed their interactive game show  “Are You Smarter Than A Review Examiner?” The show was emceed by Director of Operations Meghan Avery and VP of Client Services Tim Phelan and even featured music from Disney’s Frozen.

In addition to the featured program content, attendees engaged with the key partners sponsoring this year’s update. Offering their own unique value and advice to the participants, these respected employer service providers added a new dimension to the event. The valued sponsors included Checkwriters Payroll, Employer’s Association of New England, Paragus Strategic IT, and Johnson & Hill Staffing Services.

Event speakers included Attorney Meghan Sullivan, a highly regarded employment law attorney from the firm Sullivan, Hayes, & Quinn. Atty. Sullivan closed the event with her annual Employment Law Update which featured insight on medical marijuana, the American’s with Disabilities Act, and evolving legal trends important for all employers.

UTCA would like to thank all who attended and hope to see you back for the 21st Annual Update next fall!

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UTCA Gives Thanks to 20th Annual Client Update Sponsors!

UTCA would like to pass along our sincere gratitude to all sponsors of the 20th Annual Client Update!

In preparation for the October 5th event, UTCA would like to give special thanks to Paragus Strategic ITCheckWriters Payroll, Johnson & Hill Staffing Services, and Employers Association of the NorthEast (EANE). These key partners, who provide widely-respected services or support to the employer community will have exhibitor tables set up at our update. Our exhibitors will be on hand to say “Hello” to many of our mutual clients and will be available to provide information to those interested in learning more about their organizations. Please take a few minutes to stop by their tables and chat!

If you have not already, please make sure to RSVP “Yes” to this years’ update! Please join us for our traditional program with a hot breakfast, networking with your peers, and in honor of our 20th Annual Conference new and updated prizes! Participants will have a chance to win Springfield Thunderbirds tickets, restaurant gift cards, and much more.

The event will be held at the Sheraton Springfield, Mahogany Room, 1 Monarch Place. Registration begins at 8:00am. The program begins at 9:00am and concludes at 12:30pm. As always, this is a free conference for UTCA clients. We hope to see you there!
         

 

 

 

 

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Arkansas’ Employers Could See Significant Reductions in Their Unemployment Taxes

Effective January 2018, most of the provisions in House Bill 1405 will take effect – one of those being the reduction of the unemployment insurance benefits claim period from five months to four months. The combined efforts of this provision and others noted in this bill plan to reduce Arkansas’ Employers’ insurance taxes by $50 million annually. The local Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce hopes that it will also encourage those drawing unemployment benefits to look for work faster.

Click here for a summary of HB 1405: https://openstates.org/ar/bills/2017/HB1405/ 

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Georgia’s Jobless Rate Decreases as Job Creation Rate Rises

The jobless rate in Georgia has fallen to its lowest levels in almost 10 years as the State’s Labor Industry is creating jobs and putting a record number of people back to work. In the month of June alone, over 27,000 jobs were created which is almost double the state’s normal job creation rate.

Read the full story here:  http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/opinion/article163369158.html

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Tennessee Sets Internal Unemployment Rate Record

The state of Tennessee’s Department of Labor is setting records within their unemployment compensation program. Not only did they announce an historically low unemployment rate of 3.6%, but they are also paying out approved unemployment claims at a record rate due to recent system upgrades. According to the Department of Labor, the majority of people waiting for benefits are receiving their first payment within 10 days.

Read more about this story here: http://www.wsmv.com/story/35935559/tn-unemployment-rate-lowest-in-history-system-paying-people-faster

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