DWD/Evers emergency order issued

Wisconsin released an emergency order late last night. The order does quite a lot.

  1. Availability for work exists even when suspected of being sick or in quarantine.
  2. Suspected of being sick or in quarantine constitutes good cause for missing an eligibility review (a typo in the order mistakenly refers to section 2 when it should state section 1).
  3. Absences from work do not legally exist while a public health emergency is declared if the absences are connected to quarantine.
  4. There are no job search requirements during the public health emergency, retroactive to March 12th (the date a public health emergency was declared).

There is nothing yet about those losing work because they are caring for ill family members or who cannot work because kids are no longer in school or childcare.

Note: There are statutory exceptions already which allow benefits for these circumstances, but the Department has been extremely tough in applying these exceptions. It is important for the Department to indicate it will acknowledge and apply these provisions of unemployment law to allow unemployment benefits in light of what this pandemic is doing and the public health emergency it is creating.

It also appears that there is a loophole in how the Department will be applying this emergency order. The order only mentions those who are suspected of being ill or who are in quarantine for perceived or possible symptoms. If a person is actually ill, it appears that unemployment benefits will be denied because the person is not able to work in light of his or her actual illness. So, do not get sick during this public health emergency if you want to receive unemployment benefits.

In any case, the emergency order is a good start. These changes apply for the duration of the public health emergency.

Note: the waiting week for unemployment benefits remains in place until legislators convene and pass a new law temporarily (or permanently) removing the waiting week. Gov. Evers has requested that the waiting week be temporarily lifted.

As far as the Department’s other eligibility requirements, they all remain in place. The Department’s corona virus FAQ has been updated with additional information, for instance:

All Re-Employment Services sessions scheduled after Friday, March 20, 2020 will be conducted over the phone as “tele-sessions.” What participants should know:

  • After registering on JCW and creating a resume, individuals may be asked to view an online orientation and take an assessment
  • At the end of the assessment, participants will be informed if they must participate in the Re-Employment Services program
  • Participants will asked to sign up for a three-hour window for the “tele-session”
  • The participant will be called at some point during the three-hour window they have selected
  • A presentation will be emailed to the participant prior to the phone call for reference
  • The participant must be available and answer the phone when called by the Re-Employment Services facilitator
  • The facilitator will call twice
  • Failure to answer the phone after the two attempts could result in a loss of UI benefits
  • The incoming call may be from an “unknown” or “blocked” caller

It is up the to the participant to ensure their contact information is correct. Contact information can be reviewed on JobCenterofWisconsin.com under “My Account” on the top right of the screen.

As indicated here, creating a resume on JobCenterofWisconsin.com remains a requirement. For those in their homes with only a smart phone for Internet access, good luck on creating that resume and meeting these requirements.

Update (20 Mar. 2020): Here is the Department’s initial internal guidance about how to apply the emergency order:

  • Work Search — The work search is satisfied during the COVID-19 emergency beginning last week, the week ending 03/14/2020.
  • Work Registration (done on JCW) — If notified of requirement, claimants must register as required. Unless good cause for failing to register, benefits will be denied.
  • Re-employment Services — If selected, claimants will be scheduled to participate by telephone. Unless good cause for failing to participate is determined, benefits will be denied.
  • Able and Available — Federal requirements require the claimant to be able and available for suitable work. However, if claimant is prevented from returning to work by the employer due to perceived symptoms of COVID-19 or is quarantined AND either of the of the following apply the claimant may be able and available for work:
    • Employer instructs to return and claimant intends to return OR
    • Would be able and available for work with another employer except for those same reasons.

Quarantine must be by a medical professional or Government direction or guidance.

  • Work Available — If the claimant is prevented by the employer from returning to working due to perceived COVID-19 symptoms or quarantined, there is no work actually available.

 

States’ unemployment responses to the pandemic

Update 2 (17 Mar. 2020): At a video presser this afternoon, Gov. Evers announced that he would be proposing legislation to end the waiting week on unemployment benefits, waiving job search requirements for those quarantined, and making further changes to able and available status. There were no details or a written press release that I can locate. Gov. Evers indicated that the proposals would be released tomorrow, March 18th.

Update 1 (17 Mar. 2020): Slate reports that state unemployment websites and systems are crashing throughout the nation given the unprecedented number of people being laid off from jobs and filing unemployment claims.

As previously noted, Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development has offered a misleading, contradictory, and unsympathetic response so far to the pandemic.

Here are a few examples. In the FAQ provided to employees and employers, the following information is offered:

Q: I am required to attend a re-employment services session. I don’t want to go to a public location until the coronavirus has run its course. What will happen if I miss my session?

A: If you fail to attend your mandatory session, you will be denied unemployment benefits unless it is determined you had good cause for missing the session.

DWD could be stating here that being quarantined is good cause. Even better, DWD could say that these requirements are being suspended for all claimants for the time being because of the pandemic and the need to keep large gatherings of people to a minimum. Instead, in this response DWD is not doing anything that makes unemployment benefits actually useful and accessible during this pandemic.

Q: If an employee is in mandatory quarantine because of suspicion of having the coronavirus, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits?

A: They might meet the initial eligibility criteria but not the ongoing federal eligibility criteria, which require them to be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking suitable work.

Able and available — the unemployment issue in play here — is required by federal law in a general sense but is specifically defined and applied under state law. So, California is already allowing benefits under its own definitions and application of what able and available means.

In this FAQ, Wisconsin makes no mention at all of how its cumbersome work search and registration requirements will be massaged in light of a pandemic that is leading businesses across the board to shut down. Why should anyone be required to do four job searches a week, for instance, when work is disappearing faster than a squirrel chased by a cat or dog?

Even more troubling, the one Wisconsin program that directly addresses the economic slow-down created by this pandemic — work-share — was only mentioned in a FAQ for program partners, and that FAQ has since been removed from DWD’s website (a press release is still available).

The Department of Workforce Development has released a statement of scope for an emergency rule to modify DWD 127 — work search requirements and DWD 128 — able and available requirements. The only description of proposed changes in this document is:

The Department of Workforce Development proposes to amend DWD 127 to provide for an additional waiver of the work search requirement for the limited class of claimants who are job attached, otherwise eligible, and who are isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19. This will result in these claimants not being required to search for work during the isolation or quarantine period. The rule will also address work search actions for claimants.

The Department proposes to amend DWD 128 to provide for eligibility provisions related to the availability for work and work available requirements for claimants who are job attached, otherwise eligible, and who are isolated or quarantined due to COVID-19. These changes will provide that such claimants are considered available for work even though they are isolated or quarantined.

So, it is unclear what will happen to the numerous other requirements the Department maintains — like attending a job search seminar or registering on the job center of Wisconsin website — for claimants to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Other states have been both more decisive and less encumbered in responding to the pandemic. Here is a description of some of those efforts.

Massachusetts

The Department of Unemployment Assistance for Massachusetts has already issued policy guidance that declares individuals in quarantine to be able and available for work. A bill has also been introduced to waive the one-week waiting period for the duration of the pandemic. Finally, emergency regulations create a category of “standby status” for claimants that automatically makes them able and available for work, considers “suitable work” to include being in quarantine for numerous reasons, and indicates that the pandemic provides good cause for claimants and employers for missing numerous filing and appeal deadlines.

Ohio

Unlike in Wisconsin, the FAQ in Ohio provides simple and straightforward answers on eligibility issues. For instance:

Question 3: If an employer lays off employees due to the loss of production caused by the coronavirus, will the employees be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

Answer: Yes, if the employees are otherwise eligible. An executive order issued by Governor DeWine expands flexibility for Ohioans to receive unemployment benefits during Ohio’s emergency declaration period.

Question 4: If an employee receives unemployment benefits as a result of a coronavirus-related business shutdown, will the employer’s unemployment taxes increase?

Answer: For contributory employers, charges during Ohio’s emergency declaration period will be mutualized. Reimbursing employers will follow existing charging requirements under Ohio Revised Code Chapter 4141.

Links and phone numbers for filing an unemployment claim are even provided at the bottom of the FAQ. And, an executive order from Ohio’s governor indicates that:

  1. Unemployed workers will include individuals requested by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COV-19; and
  2. Individuals totally or partially unemployed, or who are participating in the Shared Work Ohio Program will not be required to serve a waiting period before receiving unemployment insurance or SharedWork benefits; and
  3. Any benefit paid on these unemployment claims shall not be charged to the account of the employer who otherwise would have been charged but instead shall be charged to the mutualized account, except reimbursing employers; and
  4. Waiver of work search requirements shall include those individuals requested by a medical professional,local health authority or employer to be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19 even if not actually diagnosed with COV-19; and
  5. Penalties for late reporting and payments will be waived for employers affected by COVID-19.

Washington

One of the states hit earliest in this pandemic, Washington has already issued emergency rules to expand coverage on a number of fronts. A chart is now available to explain when unemployment benefits can be offered:

Washington-Covid19 and unemployment benefits

Pennsylvania

Julia Simon-Mishel of Philadelphia Legal Assistance reports:

The PA Department of Labor and Industry has been very receptive to our recommendations and pro-active in addressing the public health crisis.

I have been in constant communication with the Deputy Secretary and the Appeals System Administrator. The Department has:

    • waived the waiting week
    • waived all work search requirements, including:
      • registration with the state job search website
      • weekly job searches
      • RESEA (all classes have been canceled)

       

 

Fortunately, our state law allows them to put a waiver in place and there was no hesitation to do that once the Governor declared a state of emergency.

PA UC law already provides coverage for workers who have quit jobs due to unsafe working conditions. There is also coverage for taking care of sick family members.

The Department is also working on language the will broaden who is considered “able and available” for work, as I have been concerned that people sent home for colds, or who have to watch their children because of school closings, would be considered ineligible. They have told us they will be as liberal as possible in granting benefits within the confines of DOL guidance.

At first we were told that all new PA UC Referee hearings will be scheduled as telephone hearings (ours are still typically in person). However, that was recently taken back by the administrator and we were informed they were cancelling hearings. We have launched strong objections to that and are hopefully that will not be the final decision.

One of our biggest concerns is that UC does not have the staffing to handle this crisis, especially if people need to work remotely. Unfortunately, our old mainframe computer system is not the most flexible, but they are working on a tool that would let them access it remotely, as well as setting up staff to field calls remotely. PA is currently in the middle of a benefits modernization project but our new system is not set to go live until October (if that even happens given the crisis). The Department will need to drastically ramp up staffing. The other major concern is that our web application is clunky and not mobile responsive. Workforce centers and libraries are closed, so people do not have access to computers outside their home. If folks cannot get through on the phones to file a claim, they will have no good way of filing. My organization is looking into ways to reallocate resources and pull in pro bono volunteers to help people file claims online during the crisis.

I am hearing non-stop from those working in the gig economy wanting to know if they can get benefits. In PA, that would be an uphill battle that would most likely end up in our state Supreme Court, as no earnings from gig companies are reported as wages. Therefore, unless a worker had enough separate W2 wages to qualify financially, they are shut out of this system. The other problem is people who do qualify from losing a full time W2 job but then start driving for UberEats, Grubhub, etc to help make ends meet. They constantly get disqualified by the lower level decision-makers. Our Department has refused to apply current precedent which holds that when workers engage in gig economy or short term work after losing their normal employment, it should not be disqualifying under PA’s “self-employment” provision (Lowman v. UCBR, 178 A.3d 896 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2018)). The case is currently up on appeal to the PA SCT, we are waiting for a decision at any moment.

So, numerous states are being creative and acting quickly in light of this pandemic. Wisconsin, the state that invented unemployment insurance, seems to be dragging its feet.

Note: Political party is not indicative of these responses. Both Massachusetts and Ohio have Republican governors. Indeed, Mitt Romney has recently proposed giving $1000 to every US adult.

Corona virus, federal legislation, and Wisconsin plans

Federal legislation

The House has passed a bill that the Senate will take up this week. Andrew Stettner describes what is in the bill and what it hopes to accomplish on making unemployment both easier to use and more amenable to claimants. Stettner also does an excellent job of explaining how and why unemployment benefit programs have gotten drastically harder to apply for and receive (Wisconsin has been a leader on this front).

The House bill also provides paid sick days to millions of employees who currently are not eligible for sick leave and funds paid FMLA benefits for those caring for family members who are ill because of COVID-19.

In addition, OSHA has supplied detailed workplace guidance on COVID-19 issues. All employers and employees should read through this document and other information.

Wisconsin plans

Two state agencies are central to the response to this pandemic. First, the Department of Health Services handles the health care side of the response. DHS updates are available here. Basically, all health-related information the state has about COVID-19 can be found at this website.

Second, the other state agency of concern is the Department of Workforce Development. DWD has issued a reminder about the state’s work-share program. Through the work-share program, an employer can apply for unemployment benefits for its workforce through which a reduced workload can be shared among those employees while avoiding layoffs and still allowing for additional training.

Unfortunately, the application process for work-share benefits is cumbersome. Since the great recession, only a few employers have managed to take advantage of this program.

DWD has also posted FAQs about how to handle the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace. These FAQs indicate that at present there is not much currently available to those who lose work because of the Corona pandemic. For instance, job search requirements and even job center registration and attending job center training remain in place for those who lose work through no fault of their own because of this virus. As a result, unemployment benefits will NOT be available to anyone who is quarantined or ill because of corona virus.

Strangely, DWD is blaming the denial of benefits for these reasons on federal requirements. Yet, many if not all of these requirements are specifically set forth in state law. Federal authorities, moreover, have just released a program letter indicating that unemployment benefits may be allowed if available under state law. So, it does not bode well that DWD is suddenly proclaiming their hands are tied with make-believe knots.

The Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is scheduled to meet on March 19th at 10am. If DWD will implement changes to make unemployment benefits useful during this pandemic, the council will apparently have to push for these changes at this meeting.

Dane County and Madison

Brenda Konkel of Forward Lookout describes the press release event and order issued Sunday, March 15th. Basically, gatherings of 50 or more individuals are now NOT supposed to happen. An event or gathering now restricted is one:

that brings together or is likely to bring together fifty (50) or more people in a single room or single confined or enclosed space at the same time, such as, by way of example and without limitation, public schools, private schools, charter schools, an auditorium, stadium, arena, conference room, meeting hall, theater, movie theater, exhibition center, museum, taverns, health/fitness and recreational centers, licensed pools, place of worship and religious gathering centers, and any other space where people are present and they are within arm’s length of one another for more than ten (10) minutes.

There are numerous exceptions (so read the order), but the general framework now is that gatherings of large groups of people in close proximity should NOT happen.

Madison schools has located all of their pandemic-related resources to a single website. Madison schools, for instance, has information about how to get free WI-FI access at home, access to available health services, or access to your student’s chromebook.

Corona virus, being sick, and unemployment

Legislation

As economic news gets worse by the hour, there are now several efforts to address the problems being created by this pandemic. Michele Evermore of NELP reports that following provisions in the House emergency relief bill:

This legislation accomplishes our highest emergency priority — emergency administrative funding for state agencies to staff up to process an increasing workload. States are at historic low funding levels because funding is tied to the unemployment rate from last year — in which unemployment was at historic lows.

This bill authorizes $1 billion in funding. The first $500 million would be based on the current distribution formula and would automatically flow to states that have increased claims attributable to the outbreak. As states receive this funding, however, states with low recipiency must make plans to improve the number of workers who can access benefits.

The second $500 million would flow to states that take certain COVID-19 related emergency steps, including:

  • Waiving the work search requirement — it is a matter of common sense and public health for workers whose search involves in person contact to suspend this requirement during a pandemic.
  • Waiving the waiting period — it is critical that we get benefits to workers as fast as possible during this crisis so as to forestall or weaken an ensuing bigger recession.
  • Ensuring that employers understand that their experience rating — or UI tax rate – will not be affected by outbreak-related claims

Finally, in the event that a recession follows this outbreak, this legislation waives a penalty in the federal Extended Benefits language for waiving waiting weeks.

Federal guidance

The Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration has issued an official Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 10-20 that attempts to clarify eligibility issues for those affected by this pandemic. Unfortunately, it is so full of exceptions and legalese that this program letter actually provides little to no guidance or clarification. For instance, in explaining whether someone who stops going to work because of a reasonable risk of contracting the illness or being quarantined by medical professionals, this program letter explains:

If permitted under the state’s good cause/just cause provision, states should consider how they will adjudicate the reasonableness of an individual’s separation for reasonable risk of exposure. One such factor could be considering if the individual is in a population thatis particularly susceptible to COVID-19.

This statement basically says that COVID-19 can provide a basis for allowing benefits if state law would allow those benefits. I am not sure anyone would say this explanation clarifies anything.

NELP and others

NELP has two short pieces describing how the federal government and the states can maximize access to the unemployment and disaster unemployment assistance programs to provide benefits to workers who lose their jobs, are temporarily separated from work, or have their hours reduced for reasons related to the Corona virus.

A number of states and state agencies have pushed for various reforms of late. Of note, this effort by the Texas AFL-CIO deserves attention. And, California’s unemployment agency has released an excellent FAQ which other states should take a serious look at. And, this Ohio policy brief offers sage advice (of particular note, waiving work search requirements).

Finally, a few private companies are attempting to tweak sick leave policies (or create sick leave where none previously existed) in light of the pandemic.

For now, however, none of these proposals are actually being implemented. So, make sure to heed the advice of this earlier post.

Pandemic and unemployment issues

Here is a quick update from NELP on what claimants should know if covid-19 leads to their unemployment in some way [emphasis on printing pay stubs now supplied]:

There are two things worth talking about – most immediately, UI in a pandemic, but secondly a troubling [Training and Employment Notice] on work search.

First, because we are getting many inquiries about UI and a pandemic, these are some of our initial thoughts, but we welcome any insight/collaboration with partners.

  1. People whose business shut down but are not sick and are able and available basically meet the standard of having lost work through no fault of their own (states may vary in that interpretation, but we believe those workers should get UI)
  2. An important first step that Congress and states should be thinking about is administrative funding – state agencies are already understaffed because federal funds relate to the unemployment rates. A pandemic could further depress those staffing levels at time of increased initial claims. More funding and an emergency staffing plan is important.
  3. Companies who lose business due to the pandemic, but are not shutting down due to the pandemic, but feel they need to lay off some people should strongly consider work sharing instead of layoffs
  4. We would encourage states to waive both work search and the waiting week in the case of a pandemic. Work search is especially urgent – while many qualifying searches can take place online, we still live in a world where in-person activities happen for lower wage work.
  5. People are asking, and yes – DUA may kick in if the president declares an area to be a disaster area triggering individual assistance, but that only applies to people who exhaust regular UI or are otherwise not eligible (ie self employed). Maurice Emsellem is NELP’s DUA lead and has been working for overall reform, outlined in this document: https://www.nelp.org/publication/responding-at-the-federal-and-state-levels-to-the-needs-of-unemployed-families-resulting-from-hurricanes-harvey-and-irma/  This would be a big step toward pandemic readiness.
  6. Workers should print their pay stubs now just in case, it may be difficult for agencies to verify pay if no one is there to take inquiries at the work site.
  7. This is why we need paid sick and family leave. Workers who are not able and available can’t receive UI for weeks they are sick. No one should experience a financial crisis because they are sick.

Also, I suspect most of you have seen the model legislation contained in this [Training and Employment Notice]: https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/corr_doc.cfm?DOCN=4227. One of the suggested components is that the agency identify openings that would qualify as suitable work and share with claimants, who would then have one week to apply or be disqualified for UI. Obviously, we find this to be an egregious overreach for obvious reasons – but we’d welcome any thoughts from you all, as well as any heads up if you see any of your states moving to adopt new work search rules.

Thanks, and stay well everyone –
Michele Evermore

Obviously, much of the current federal and state concerns about searching for work in the midst of a pandemic should be considered — at best — a nonsensical requirement. Searching for work, even on-line, requires job interviews and contact that may not be possible either because businesses have too few staff or claimants are ill themselves and should not be going out in public.

Advice about printing pay stubs is important. During the last federal shut down, many federal workers could not get unemployment benefits because no procedures had been put in place to respond to inquires from state unemployment departments to verify the wages of federal claimants. Having your own pay stubs in paper makes such inquiries a secondary matter of importance.

Skills gap for the unemployed more wishful thinking than reality

Matthew Yglesias has some news about the latest in labor market research. Those who were applying for jobs and having to go through three to five rounds of interviews and be an absolutely perfect “fit” for the job already know the answer: the skills gap is more myth than reality.

Now, there is some cutting edge research from economists to back up that story. The takeaway of this research:

employers responded to high unemployment [during the recession] by making their job descriptions more stringent. When unemployment went down thanks to the demand-side recovery, suddenly employers got more relaxed again.

What folks need to start paying attention too, however, is how national job numbers are covering up a TON of variation from state to state. The job market in Minnesota is today nothing like the job market in Wisconsin. And, as indicated previously, changes in denial rates across the fifty states vary dramatically and have changed significantly in numerous states since 2010 because of an explosion in use of “other reasons” to deny unemployment benefits to claimants.

So, as always, in Wisconsin make sure to review these tips for filing an unemployment claim.

Darth Maul wants all your UI claims

USA Today article about work search difficulties

Paul Davidson of USA Today has a feature story about how record low job numbers are due in part to the hurdles states have enacted to get unemployment benefits.

The article describes how only around 60% of those eligible for unemployment benefits are applying, down from the 75% portion “during the last two economic expansions in the late 1990s and mid-2000s.” Such obstacles are a main reason why low unemployment rates have not led to an increase in wages for working folk.

Besides folks not receiving the unemployment benefits due them, the article notes, the perception of the nation’s economic health is also being distorted.

The upshot: The economy is in good shape, but not that good. The low share of laid-off workers seeking jobless benefits also raises concerns about the social safety net in coming years as the economy shows early signs of wobbling. The stock market has retreated from its October peak, oil prices have tumbled and General Motors announced about 14,000 layoffs last week. Many economists predict a recession in 2020.

In other words, during this economic boon(?), there is actually more unemployment not showing up in the economic measurements. And so, this unmeasured unemployment is leading to less unemployment benefits being paid out to folks and to downward pressure on wages.

Winter work search concerns

As they say on a popular television show, “Winter is coming.” For Wisconsinites, winter means seasonal layoffs, as Wisconsin for the time being still has a winter.

Seasonal layoffs, however, no longer mean seasonal unemployment with work searches waived for the snowy months. Rather, DWD has instituted an 8 week + additional 4 week work search waivers that are complicated to follow and difficult to get. The Department’s work search FAQ has the needed information about the new work search requirements and the end of seasonal work search waivers.

Keep in mind that the end of seasonal work search waivers came when DWD adopted a proposal based in part on how Florida limited its work search waivers; see also this direct link to my comments on the proposed regs. Obviously, DWD did not consider that Florida has a much different winter than Wisconsin.

The limited work search waivers were enacted in 2013 but not put first into effect until the 2015-16 winter season.

So, the first time the public could respond to these new waivers was at the 17 November 2016 public hearing, and hundreds voiced their displeasure to this change in waiver practice.

As the minutes for the 19 January 2017 Advisory Council meeting explain (p.5 of the pdf):

A total of 295 people provided 307 comments by letter, e-mail or at the public hearing. The department received the majority of correspondence by letter (158 letters) or through e-mail (123 emails). A total of 51 people attended the public hearing in which 19 people testified, 6 people testified and provided written correspondence and 1 person registered an opinion, but did not speak. A majority of the correspondence was specific to an employer or industry and contained the same text. A tally of the comments showed 246 comments received related to work search waivers for recalled employees.

These minutes leave out, however, that almost all of the comments — similar or not — were from employers. The 43 pp. summation of those comments show that employers were deeply concerned over retaining skilled and dedicated seasonal employees who were now at risk of leaving due to the new work search requirements that force employees during winter layoff months to search for and accept work with other employers and thus disrupt the operations of the original employer. Letters from Sen. Erpenbach, Sen. Harsdorf, and Sen. Carpenter also raised these concerns about employers losing valuable employees.

NOTE: Sen. Harsdorf’s bill to restore seasonal work search waivers, SB83, has not gone anywhere.

Apparently, nothing was done for the upcoming winter season that is now approaching. The only official response to this uproar is set forth in the last Q&A in the work search FAQ (emphasis supplied):

What is the policy basis for the requirement change?

The requirements are a result of a change in DWD’s administrative rules. These rules not only bring Wisconsin in line with more than half of all U.S. states and reaffirm the purpose of UI as delivering short-term assistance, but they also respond to employer concerns regarding the solvency of the UI Trust Fund’s balancing account. The change assures that Wisconsin’s UI law conforms to the federal requirement that state UI programs provide for an experience-rated UI tax system. This ensures fair and equitable financing of the payment of benefits among employers. By encouraging employees to find employment during their industry’s off season, fewer benefits are paid. This assists employers who have negative account balances and are taxed at the maximum UI tax rate. DWD, with the support of three separate committees in the Wisconsin State Legislature, restored the waiver limits that were in place prior to their repeal in 2004.

The concerns of employers about keeping valuable employees through winter layoffs in a state that has a winter and staying competitive when work returns in the spring apparently mattered for naught.

But, employees are not simply thrown to the winter wolves or wampas. Here are three things claimants should keep in mind when performing their four jobs searches a week.

Canvassing periods In Wisconsin, claimants have during their first six weeks — their canvassing period — the right to refuse work outside of their typical job experience. For instance, if the claimant is a nurse, he or she can decline a McDonald’s job during the first six weeks of his or her job search. See, e.g., Einerson v. Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, Inc., UI Hearing No. 09610221MW (29 April 2011) (employee properly declined to accept the newly created position during her canvassing period because the new position required non-professional responsibilities that encompassed significantly less skills than were required in her most recent employment).

Protection of labor standards After their six week canvassing period, employees must accept ANY job offer as long as it meets labor market criteria (not less than 25% of the average wage for that job during that shift in question in the local labor market — aka the relevant county). So, a person can decline a nursing job if the $8 an hour pay is less than 25% of the average, local labor market rate. See, e.g., Hemenway v. Life Style Staffing, UI Hearing No. 12002612MD (9 Jan. 2013) (employee entitled to refuse offers of new work from the employer if the conditions were substantially less favorable to him than those prevailing for similar work in the locality). These labor standards protections arise from long-standing federal requirements described in UIPL No. 41-98 (17 August 1998).

Unreasonable job offer conditions A claimant can turn down job offers if the commute or shift is not reasonable for the applicant. Commute is relative to the area (a twenty-file mile commute in Milwaukee could be too long but normal and expected in rural Wisconsin). And, a shift not previously worked by the claimant can also be grounds for declining the job. So, a nurse who typically worked first shift can decline a third shift job offer if she has little to no experience working third shifts. See DWD 128 for the details.

WinterWampa

On-line only claims

The Department has announced that effective 24 May 2017, the on-line claims-filing process will be required for claimants.

The Department is also providing some additional information about work search requirements for laid off workers. There are no actual legal changes here, but the Department is providing one-stop access to employers and employees about the forms needed for getting work searches waived for eight weeks and then another four weeks.

The small print for the on-line only announcement, however, indicates that the phone system will still be available until some future unknown date. Since the on-line system is still English-only, federal requirements for ensuring access indicate that limiting access to an English-only on-line system could be a major problem.

Methods of Providing Access. For languages spoken by a significant number or proportion of the eligible service population, individuals should be able to learn about, apply for, and maintain eligibility in the relevant language(s) for every program delivery avenue (i.e., online, in person, and/or phone). The state agency should also ensure it has reasonable methods in place for identifying and reaching other LEP individuals who speak a language that is not spoken by a significant number or proportion of the eligible service population. As state UI agencies move to almost exclusively website-driven services, there is an increased likelihood that LEP individuals will face barriers to accessing information and claims-related access in violation of Title VI and regulations promulgated by WIA, as amended, and WIOA, and as described above.

UIPL No. 02-16, State Responsibilities for Ensuring Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits at 8. So, claimants should continue to use the phone system, especially when the on-line system can be used to entrap claimants into concealment for nothing more than a claim-filing mistake.

Initial warning screen

Job posts scams to watch out for

Ars Technica reports how scam artists are starting to skim personal info from job-posting sites and then offer fake jobs to folks in order to get away with criminal activities. As noted in the article, this kind of scam is particularly dangerous for job-seekers:

The “job offer” was clearly part of a reshipping scam — an arrangement used frequently by credit card fraudsters and identity thieves to get goods purchased online forwarded by an unwitting third party, frequently to an overseas address. The criminals use the “personal assistant’s” personal information to deliver fraudulently purchased goods; when the fraud is tracked down, the “personal assistant” is the one the police come to visit.

So, job seekers need to make sure that any offers arriving via e-mail message or phone call come from legitimate sources. Always make sure that the employer information can be independently verified. When many companies are on-line only entities, this verification is especially important.