At the 16 April 2015 Advisory Council meeting, the Labor and Industry Review Commission provided memoranda regarding potential legal problems with the Department of Workforce Development’s proposed legal changes.
My post yesterday discussed the Commission’s memorandum regarding the Department’s SSDI proposals. Today, the issue is the Department’s push to label everyday mistakes as concealment, previously noted in these posts regarding employees and employers.
Along with the cover letter explaining why these memoranda were drafted, the Commission presented to council members a memorandum regarding the Department’s latest concealment proposal, D15-08. The Commission’s memorandum is a thorough debunking of the Department’s rationale and alleged scope for its proposed changes to concealment.
But, before reviewing this memorandum, it is important to understand what is going on here between the Commission and the Department. Luckily, the Department provided the Advisory Council with some data on this subject.
|Year||Total||ATD found fraud; LIRC reversed||ATD found fraud; LIRC affirmed||ATD found no fraud; LIRC affirmed||Remand for add’l evidence|
|2015 data only from January through 12 April 2015|
These numbers reveal that two big shifts in concealment cases took place in 2014. First, the number of cases where appeal tribunals found no fraud declined markedly from 2013 to 2014 — going from 34 cases to only 6 — even though the total number of concealment cases increased. Second, the number of concealment cases being reversed by the Commission jumped significantly in 2014. In 2013, the Commission only reversed 25 appeal tribunals who found concealment. But, in 2014 nearly five times as many determinations — 123 — were reversed by the Commission. Now, this huge increase is partially explained by the fact that concealment cases usually involve multiple determinations. So, when the Commission reverses a concealment case, two to three initial determinations are usually at issue in that concealment case.
But, these numbers also show that in 2014 appeal tribunals were moving in the opposite direction to the Commission. The Department and the administrative law judges who issue appeal tribunal decisions seem to be finding concealment in circumstances that everyone agreed in 2013 was not concealment. Indeed, as the Commission’s decisions in 2014 reveal (see these posts), the Department and appeal tribunals are finding concealment in circumstances where only honest mistakes are being made.
The Department has not acknowledged this change in direction. Indeed, as described by the Commission in its memorandum, the Department has actively attempted to pretend that no change in concealment law has even occurred and has even implied to the Advisory Council that it is winning circuit court cases in reviewing the Commission’s concealment decisions. At the 19 March 2015 council meeting, for instance, the Department informed council members that a Dane County circuit court had already reversed one concealment decision by the Commission. As a result, the Commission’s memorandum also seeks to set the record straight to council members about what is actually happening with all of these concealment court challenges by the Department.
As described in the memorandum reviewing the history of unemployment concealment in Wisconsin, the Commission notes that five 2014 cases appealed by the Department have already led to courts affirming the Commission decisions at issue. See Commission concealment memorandum at 4. And, the Dane County case previously described by the Department as a reversal of a Commission decision was actually a remand because an “unnecessary” factual scenario, according to the judge, was not addressed in the Commission decision and the Department chose remand to address that issue rather than have the decision simply affirmed. See id. at n.9.
Understandably, the Department was not happy to have this memorandum in the hands of council members, and at the April 16th meeting Janell Knutson lashed out at the Commission for providing political analysis in place of legal reasoning. In addition, Scott Manley, WMC vice-president, publicly endorsed this view. As a result, the Commission’s memorandum may not lead to changes or a rejection of the Department’s proposed new definition of concealment. Even if the council takes no action on the Department’s proposed changes to concealment, this change may end up being added to the current budget bill just as the Department’s proposed substantial fault standard was added to the state budget after being rejected by the Advisory Council. See this prior post.
Still, the Commission’s memorandum is an excellent introduction to the issue of unemployment concealment and fraud. The memorandum not only details the flaws in the Department’s proposal — how the proposal mis-characterizes Commission decisions, mis-states the original intent of the concealment definition, runs contrary to information given to claimants and adjudicators, conflicts with federal fraud measures and standards, leads to fraud penalties for honest mistakes, and does nothing to stop improper payments before they occur — but it also offers an excellent description of the history of how the concealment definition was developed and applied. Anyone interested in unemployment law should read the Commission’s memorandum.