Unemployment Insurance with Rina Traub

On September 15, 2015, Rina Traub, Esq. was featured on “Know Your Rights NJ” in a program discussing unemployment insurance.  This program, which is available for viewing here, is produced by Princeton Community Television.  Ms. Traub described New Jersey’s unemployment insurance program in detail, including the basics of qualifying for benefits and appealing adverse determinations from the Department of Labor.

Know Your Rights New Jersey, 9 15 from Princeton Community Television on Vimeo.

 

If you have questions regarding your entitlement to unemployment insurance benefits, or have been denied benefits, contact a knowledgeable employment attorney to discuss your options.

Seattle Leads the Nation in Highest Minimum Wage

The City of Seattle, Washington, is currently leading the nation by mandating that businesses pay a minimum wage of $15 per hour. The wage increase, which will affect more than 100,000 employees, will be phased in over a number of years. Seattle residents are stating that the Seattle City Council’s historic vote to raise the minimum wage could change their lives. According to one young McDonald’s employee, the higher wage will mean she can move out of her parent’s house and go back to school.

As described in USA Today, “the plan, which includes a lower training wage aimed at teenagers, will phase in the higher, local minimum over three to seven years, depending on the size of the business and benefits they provide employees. Next April 1, when the plan takes effect, every worker will get at least a $1-an-hour raise.”

Business groups initially balked at the plan but were able to reach a compromise with the City Council. Said City Councilman Nick Licata: “Seattle, and other cities, are taking direct action to close our nation’s huge income gap because the federal and state governments have failed to do so. . . . By significantly raising the minimum wage, Seattle’s prosperity will be shared by more people and create a sustainable model for continued growth.”

NJ Court Issues Good Decision for the Unemployed

The New Jersey Appellate Division, in the case of Silver v. Board of Review, has ruled that in order for the Department of Labor to reach a finding of “severe misconduct,” which effectively disqualifies a claimant from eligibility for unemployment compensation benefits, it must find intentional, deliberate misconduct. Practitioners who represent workers in unemployment appeals have been anxiously awaiting this bright line standard. Prior to this, the Appeal Tribunal had been randomly and unjustifiably disqualifying workers from unemployment compensation benefits under this “severe misconduct” provision.

The severe misconduct category was added to New Jersey’s unemployment compensation law in 2010 and was intended to be an intermediate form of misconduct, requiring greater culpability than simple misconduct, but less than gross misconduct. The statute provides some examples of “severe misconduct” but does not define this term. Needless to say, this ambiguity has led to inconsistent and unfair denials of benefits to employees whose conduct could not reasonably be deemed to be severe. The misinterpretation of this new standard by the Department of Labor has had devastating effects. So many claimants were disqualified from benefits that the waiting time for an appeal before the Appeal Tribunal increased from three weeks to six months. Workers were completely denied due process when their benefits were denied without good cause, since they were not afforded a fair hearing for more than six months. This destroyed the entire purpose of having unemployment as a safety net. Some workers have had no choice but to declare bankruptcy while waiting to find out if they would be eligible for unemployment benefits.

In the Silver case, the claimant was a full-time teacher at the Middlesex County Youth Facility. The Facility had a rule limiting and accounting for the distribution of pens to students in order to avoid their use as a weapon. Over Ms. Silver’s nine years of employment at the Facility, she had been written up for six previous incidents of student theft. On the last day of her employment, she had handed pens out to each student and thought she had accounted for all of the pens at the end of class. Shortly after dismissing the students she realized that one pen was missing and she immediately reported the potential security breach. The Facility then terminated Ms. Silver for this “infraction.”

Ms. Silver applied for unemployment benefits, and was denied all benefits due to a finding of severe misconduct.

In its decision, the court emphasized that in order to be “severe misconduct”, an employee’s actions must at least rise to the established definition of “misconduct” under the statute. “Misconduct” requires an employee’s actions to be “intentional, deliberate, and malicious.” Therefore, simple negligence or absenteeism beyond the employee’s control can never be “severe misconduct” because it does not satisfy the definition of the lower tier “misconduct.”

There is currently before the New Jersey Senate a bill that I have written about in a previous blog post, which more clearly and fairly defines the tiers of disqualification for unemployment compensation benefits. Until this bill becomes law, the Appellate Division has provided a clear set of guidelines for future unemployment claims.

Young Veterans Facing High Unemployment

According to CBS News, younger veterans who served in the years following the Sept. 11 attacks are having a harder time finding work than their civilian peers. The unemployment rate for veterans between 18 and 24 exceeded 20 percent last year and was also in double digits for those 25-34. CBS News reports that the unemployment rate for both age groups was higher than for their non-veteran peers and much higher than the national average.

This persistent problem has continued despite a wide range of private and public efforts to address the situation. For example, Congress has approved tax credits for companies that hire veterans and federal agencies have stepped up their preferential hiring of vets. In the private sector, companies such as Wal-Mart, General Electric and many others have announced programs designed to hire more veterans.

In the legal realm, it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against persons based on their status as a veteran. If you are a veteran who has had difficulty finding or keeping a job because of your military service, consider getting advice from a competent employment lawyer regarding your particular situation.

N.J. Senate Committee Takes Step To Relieve Backlog of Unemployment Appeals

A New Jersey Senate Committee has finally taken action to prod the NJ Department of Labor to reduce a lengthy backlog of unemployment appeals. Currently, an unemployed individual who is appealing a denial of benefits can wait as long as 6 months for a hearing. This delay may cost the unemployed worker his or her home, car, health care coverage, or force them into a position where their credit rating is all but destroyed.

A bill sponsored by Senate Economic Growth Committee Chairman Raymond J. Lesniak and Senate Labor Committee Chairman Fred Madden would require the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development to rule on an unemployment insurance appeal within 60 days of receiving the appeal. If the Department does not make a determination on the appeal within 60 days, the claimant would be paid any withheld unemployment benefits and would begin receiving benefits as they would normally accrue under the unemployment compensation law. If the Department decides, after the 60 day deadline has passed, that the claimant is legitimately ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits, then the benefits may be modified or denied from that point forward, but any funds that were withheld and paid out resulting from the Department’s delay would not have to be repaid, unless funds were paid as a result of intentional fraud by the claimant.

We are pleased to report that this bill, S-2212, was approved by the Labor Committee by a vote of 3-0. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration. We will be tracking this bill closely so check our blog for any updates.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits Cannot be Denied Based on Unclear Evidence

The Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court recently reversed and remanded a decision from the Board of Review which upheld a denial of unemployment benefits. The Court, in Regis v. Board of Review, held that an employer did not present sufficient evidence to the Board of Review to justify a claim of “severe misconduct” after firing the employee for going to a funeral of a family member and thereby exceeding the number of unexcused absences allowed to employees. The employer contested the employee’s claim for benefits arguing that he did not present sufficient proof that a funeral he attended was for an immediate family member. The Court concluded that the relationship between the employee and the deceased was unclear, and that further testimony and evidence was required in order to deny the employee his benefits.