TRENTON – By a vote of 37 to 1, the full Senate approved a bill on Thursday which would institute efficiencies in the unemployment insurance (UI) system intended to benefit laid-off workers and employers alike, while also protecting those in dire financial circumstances from certain abuses that have recently come to light.
Sponsors said the bill (S-1968) was prompted, in part, by an April report in the New York Times highlighting the deceptive and deliberately protracted practices employed by the Talx Corporation, 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 company marketing materials, Talx claims to deliver greater “winning percentages” for employers looking to fight unemployment claims. Acting as an agent on behalf of an employer, Talx has been accused of commonly delaying unemployment proceedings, failing to respond under the timeframe prescribed by law, leaving information incomplete or blank in order to delay a ruling, and filing “appeals regardless of merits” to discourage laid-off workers seeking benefits. Talx is also known to use numerous representatives on each case, making the company relatively anonymous to claimants and creating further confusion and headache. In one case involving a former employee of Countrywide Financial, a judge even ruled that Talx had committed an outright fraud.
In order to limit the ability of companies to operate under the radar and cause headaches for laid-off workers, the bill would require authorized agents to register with the Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
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 UI 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 bill now heads to the General Assembly for approval.
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