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N.J. unemployment: Help on the way for laid-off workers and employers

unemploylogo_optLegislation which would attempt to institute efficiencies in the unemployment insurance system that would benefit laid-off workers and employers alike, while protecting those in dire financial circumstances from abuses that have recently come to light, was approved by the state Senate Labor Committee Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) said the bill (S-1968) was prompted, in part, by a recent report in the New York Times highlighting the deceptive and deliberately protracted practices employed by the Talx Corp., which handles roughly 30 percent of the nation's jobless claims, including many of the largest employers, such as Wal-Mart, AT&T, Tyson's Foods, Marriot and McDonald's. The company has been accused of intentionally trying to prevent the unemployed from collecting benefits.

"In this economy, unemployment benefits are the only thing keeping many people from financial ruin," Buono said. "It's truly disturbing to hear about games being played with people's lives. Losing a job is devastating enough, but to then lose the safety net that you have paid into for years is even more devastating. If somebody has to fight endless appeals for their benefits, it could mean the difference between staying in their home or losing their house; paying the utility bill or going without heat; feeding their children or going to bed hungry."

"Talx has a significant presence in New Jersey and that will only increase if the governor moves forward with his plans to lay off 1,300 state workers next year, Sen. Fred H. Madden (D-Camden) said. " It's important that we pull these agents out from the shadows and make them more accountable. Unemployment, in and of itself, takes a deep toll on laid off workers. The last thing someone in this situation needs is the additional anguish caused by the intentional denying or delaying of their benefits."

Buono and Madden are the bill's sponsors.

TALX currently represents 5,536 New Jersey private employers on unemployment insurance matters, almost half of all of New Jersey employers represented by such companies.

Furthermore, Buono said she recently discovered that Talx is contracted by the state to collect wage data on state employees, monitor unemployment insurance claim charges and assist the state in hearings regarding disputed claims. The arrangement is stipulated by budget language, which requires that a third party administrator be contracted to manage unemployment insurance benefit claims.

In order to limit the ability of companies like Talx to operate under the radar and cause headaches for laid-off workers, the bill would require authorized agents to register with the state Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance.. The bill also sets forth regulations for the division to carry out that will more clearly define the steps involved in the appeals process and curb abusive delays. The bill would also double the amount of time that both employers and claimants have to appeal determinations, extending the window from 10 to 20 days. This extension would give both parties involved more time to assess determinations and less of a need to seek delays.

Lastly, the bill would grant laid-off workers a waiver from repaying any overpayment in benefits that was found to be of no fault of their own. In many cases, an employer or their authorized agent fails to submit information required under the unemployment insurance law and then appeals only after a benefit determination is made, sometimes a full year or more after benefit payments commenced, meaning a laid-off worker could owe sizeable back wages through no fault of their own.

The bill would make New Jersey just the fourth state to enact similar legislation to curb abuses in the UI system. At least two other states have also taken administrative action against TALX.

The measure moves to the full Senate for approval.

— TOM HESTER SR., NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

 
Comments (1)
1 Thursday, 03 June 2010 11:50
Cynthia DeMarco
Although I am all for unemployment and the rights of those who are no longer employed, why is this bill even going before the senate? Why don't we just hand out bags of money once folks lose or quit their jobs and don't bother with process at all. You're kidding right? We are going to let laid-off workers not pay back overpayments? Who cares if it's their fault or not, the bottom line is this just gives new incentives to those who have become masters at bilking the system!

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