Advisory Council meeting — 17 Jan. 2019

After a break for the November elections, the Advisory Council met on January 17th to meet the new secretary, Caleb Frostman, and review events of the last few months.

The financial report was eye-popping and will be addressed in its own post. Here is what was covered outside of the financial report.

Mis-classification of employees

Mike Myszewski reported on the Department’s efforts in preventing the mis-classification of employees.

Note: These reports continue to be made orally and have NEVER appeared in writing. Given the Department’s annual report on alleged claimant fraud and the numerous charts and reports on alleged claimant fraud that appear at these meetings, it begs the question why the Department cannot at a minimum put down on paper in some way what it is doing to combat alleged employer unemployment fraud.

In any case, given that this report consists entirely of what was said, some of my numbers may be off. In addition, the exact nature and scope of this data is unknown, as this data is simply not available to the public and the Advisory Council apparently does not ask for it.

Mr. Myszewski reports that the Department has recovered $2.1 million in unemployment taxes from employers because of mis-classification for 1222 employees, or about $347 per mis-classified employee.

This recovery arose from 511 investigations in the last fiscal year, and there had been 145 investigations so far in the current fiscal year.

There were NO questions from the Advisory Council about this report.

The 15 Nov. 2018 public hearing

As compared to the public hearing in November 2016 in which there were 300+ comments from 295 individuals, at the 2018 public hearing there were only 21 comments in toto. Given these few comments, the summary presented to the council at this meeting included not only a summary but the actual 21 comments that were made.

Not surprisingly, work search waivers were again the hot topic. Here are some of those work search comments as well as others:

Karen, HR manager

“Moving onto the standpoint of someone who worked for UI, I think that customer service should be more of a priority for claimants and employers alike, but especially claimants. I get that there are some people that play the system, but overall, the claimants are not the enemy. The poor customer service is evidenced by the outrageous wait times when claimants call in, (but the employer hotline is answered in a couple of rings), not being clear on the number to call to get assistance, not posting the adjudication centers’ phone numbers or street addresses, and the legalese that is not easily understood by the average person in documents (which would not present as much of a problem if the claimants could easily contact someone who could help explain it to them).”

Krista, claimant

“[After describing various education and training actions that should count as job searches:] I understand that the State wants people off UI and back onto to work as soon as possible, but sometimes education and building of new skills are needed before people can do that. Just because it isn’t an application to a job, it does not make these actions any less of a job search function.”

Anonymous

“[After requesting that property liens that the Department uses for its debt collection efforts no longer be visible to the public via court records, she explains:] I have my Masters degree in Business. I have an undergraduate degree in Nursing. The ridiculous time consuming hoops I jump through to ‘prove’ I’m looking for a job are ridiculous. $370/wk doesn’t cover my bills and no one is looking harder for my job than me. As opposed to making people sit in some 4 hour class — where I can assure you that people like myself who have been working since 14 will get nothing from it.”

United Migrant Opportunity Services

“Over 11,000 claimants were accused of concealment in 2014. When appealed, over 70% were overturned, and another 8% remanded, It would appear that the Department is alleging concealment in many cases where a more thorough review of the evidence does not support that finding.”

Scott, building services employer

Unemployment benefits should be limited to 4 to 8 weeks. [Note: Currently, claimants are eligible for up to 26 weeks of benefits, and winter usually lasts a minimum of 14-18 weeks for those who go through seasonal layoffs.]

Tawana, claimant

She is upset with: (1) having to wait 21 days for an adjudicator to be assigned to her case and (2) the extremely limited access to phone support when the number of unemployment claims are much less than what occurred in 2010, when she last filed for unemployment benefits.

Soraya, claimant

Upset with having to wait 21 days for a decision on her claim.

Sarabi, claimant

The penalties for unemployment concealment are much too harsh.

Robin, claimant

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs and return to the same employer and eliminate the waiting week.

Sandy, claimant

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs.

Kyle, claimant

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs.

Tasha, employer

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs. And, the claim-filing process is extremely difficult for the employees handling snow removal during the winter months.

Bill, employer

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs. For employers in Northern Wisconsin, work searches during winter months are a waste of time for both employees and employers, as there no jobs available then.

Deborah, employee

End the ban on unemployment benefits for those who are working while also receiving SSDI benefits. [Note: the Department currently eliminates unemployment benefits because these claimants have a disability that qualifies them for SSDI benefits. Wisconsin is the only state to have instituted this ban. Other states have only applied an offset to unemployment benefits for the SSDI benefits being received.]

Nadine, employer

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs and return to the same employer. She explains: “Our seasonal employees are returning to our business which they have been at for several years!! Why take the chance with this job-search stuff, which we could lose our valuable employee that we rely on returning. Now days’ finding someone to work is very hard.”

Richard, employee

Get rid of work search requirements for employees who experience seasonal layoffs and expect to return to the same employer year-in and year-out,

Avis, claimant

Complaining about being denied benefits because a medical disability limits work availability. *Note: the description offered presents an obvious violation, as claimants are still eligible for unemployment benefits when work availability is limited to part-time work only because of a medical condition. See CITE.

Hawks Quindel law firm

Undo the damage to the unemployment system created in DWD v. LIRC (Beres), 2018 WI 77, 382 Wis.2d 611, 914 N.W.2d 625, that allows an employer to discharge an employee for a single absence (regardless of why the employee was absent) as misconduct and end the work search requirements for employees who undergo seasonal layoffs and expect to return to the same employer.

Heidi

After presenting numerous ways to make job search information more user-friendly to claimants, she requests that job search criteria be expanded to include the actions claimants actually need to undertake when searching for a new job — such as networking events and informational interviews — and for the Department to allow training opportunities that currently prevent claimants from receiving any unemployment benefits.

Lame duck legal changes

The Department included a one-page memorandum regarding the lame duck changes enacted via 2017 Wis. Act 370. The last sentence of the memo provides all the description that is needed:

Because Act 370 codified current administrative rules and Department practices, claimants and employers should not expect any changes to the unemployment insurance program under this Act.

So, Republican legislators have taken ownership of the job search requirements that nearly no one — I repeat, nearly no one, if the public comments in 2016 and again in 2018 are any indication — thinks are doing anything useful except to make unemployment claims more difficult. Everyone in rural Wisconsin should be asking their state representative and senator why — WHY — they think these job search requirements make sense.

Next steps

The Department indicated that its own proposed changes to unemployment law will be introduced at the February meeting of the Advisory Council (why the Department continues to introduce its own substantive changes to unemployment law remains a mystery ever since the Department proposed its own substantive changes to unemployment law in November 2012).

Scott Manley of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce also made two research requests. First, he wanted the Department to revisit its definition of independent contractor work in light of growing employment through TaskRabbit, Mechanical Turk, and other on-line business operations.

Note: the Labor and Industry Review Commission has already determined that a Lyft driver is NOT an employee for the purpose of unemployment benefits. See Ebenhoe v. Lyft, Inc., UI Hearing No.16002409MD (20 Jan. 2017). Currently, Lyft’s responsibility for paying unemployment taxes is being litigated. See Lyft, Inc., UI Hearing Nos. S1500424MW and S1800091MW (26 Oct. 2018).

Second, Mr. Manley wanted to know what the Department could do to expand its program integrity efforts for bringing criminal charges against claimants for their alleged unemployment fraud. For how the criminal charges that have already been filed are hugely disproportionate according to the race of claimants (75% of the cases are against African-Americans), see this post.

Mark Reihl of the Carpenters made a third request. He wanted a comparison of how Wisconsin’s weekly benefit rate (the average received and the maximum available) compare to the other fifty states and territories.

Note: Wisconsin’s maximum available weekly benefit rate is $370. The average weekly benefit being paid out in 2017 was $317.14. See this 2017 4Q report (this data is for all fifty states, Wisconsin is on p.64 of the pdf). Data for the 3Q of 2018 indicates that the average for the last four quarters was $320.03. The average duration of unemployment benefits for these last four quarters was 12.7 weeks. See p.63 of the pdf for this data.

Data on the financing for all fifty states for 2017 (the most recent year available) can be found here (Wisconsin is on p.60 of the pdf).

Public hearing for unemployment

Here are the details:

2018 Public Hearing

The Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is interested in hearing your comments on Wisconsin’s Unemployment Insurance program and suggestions for changing the law and improving the program.

The Council represents employee and employer interests and recommends changes to the unemployment law to the Legislature.

Participate in the 2018 public hearing, conducted simultaneously at seven locations throughout the state using video conference technology.

Hearing Date/Time & Locations

Date: Thursday, November 15, 2018
Time: 3:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Location: Attend the public hearing video conference from one of the following locations:
Madison:
UW-Extension
The Pyle Center
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI
Eau Claire:
UW-Eau Claire
Centennial Hall
Room 1804
1698 Park Avenue
Eau Claire, WI
La Crosse:
UW-La Crosse
Wing Technology Center
Room 102
1705 State Street
La Crosse, WI
Superior:
WITC – Superior Campus
Room 101D
600 North 21st Street
Superior, WI
Green Bay:
UW-Green Bay
Instructional Services
Room 1034
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI
Milwaukee:
UW-Milwaukee
Kenwood Interdisciplinary Research Complex
Room 2175
3135 N. Maryland Avenue
Milwaukee, WI
Wausau:
Northcentral Technical College
Center for Business and Industry
Room 127
1000 West Campus Drive
Wausau, WI

Submit Comments

The public is invited to provide comments. If you cannot attend the public hearing, you may submit your comments no later than November 16, 2018:

  • Email: UILawChange@dwd.wisconsin.gov
  • Written comments may be mailed to:

Janell Knutson, Chair
Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council
P.O. Box 8942
Madison, WI 53708

If you have any questions, contact Robin Gallagher at 608-267-1405 or visit the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council website: https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uibola/uiac.

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

UI bill public hearings and UI concealment

The official Advisory Council/DWD bill, AB819, had its first public hearing on Thursday, February 4th, before the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy.

The Department of Workforce Development and the Advisory Council presented testimony in support of this bill. The Labor and Industry Review Commission testified against sections 54 and 55 of the bill — Department proposal D15-11, previously described here and here. I cannot think of any instance in which one state agency testified against a bill supported by another state agency. To understand the nature of this dispute, see the Commission’s memorandum and the Department’s responses to that memorandum.

I also testified about the proposed concealment changes in the bill.

On February 10th, the Senate Committee on Labor and Government Reform held its hearing on the Senate version of the Department’s UI bill, SB684. WisEye was there.

The Department and the Advisory Council again pushed for adoption of these proposed changes, and the Commission again disputed the changes to circuit court review. Both Kevin Magee from Legal Action of Wisconsin and myself testified against the proposed concealment and “program integrity” changes.

My testimony focused on the Department’s marked increase in concealment cases starting in 2014 and even more concealment cases in 2015 against Wisconsinites. To demonstrate this concealment expansion, I used two charts. The first chart looked at how concealment assessments have varied from 2011 through 2014.

over-payments assessed

In this chart, the percentage of concealment assessments relative to the unemployment benefits being paid out was pretty much constant from 2011 through 2013. In 2014, however, concealment over-payments as a percentage of total unemployment benefits paid out jumped to 2.79%, approximately a 0.80% increase from the previous year. A 0.8% in gross domestic product or the unemployment rate would make headlines across the state. So, this 2014 increase in concealment over-payments being charged against claimants is remarkable.

These numbers from the fraud report also show how concealment over-payments suddenly increased in 2014 relative to non-fraud over-payments. In 2011, 2012, and 2013, non-fraud over-payments constituted more than 50% of total over-payments. In 2014, however, non-fraud over-payments dropped over five percentage points to just over 45%. Naturally, the percentage of fraud over-payments to total over-payments jumped in 2014 to nearly 55%. So, in 2014 concealment shot up in scope relative to unemployment in general just as non-fraud over-payments markedly declined.

Over-payment assessment data for 2015 is not yet available. But, the financial reports prepared for the Advisory Council indicate how much concealment monies have been collected by the Department as of 31 October 2015. As of that date, the Department had collected nearly $31 million in fraud and non-fraud over-payments. Of this amount, just over $1.753 million had been collected pursuant to the 15% concealment penalty that applies in concealment cases.

concealment collected

This 15% number provides a mechanism for estimating how much of the $31 million in over-payments relate to concealment allegations in general. Dividing $1.753 million by 15% equals approximately $11.69 million and represents the over-payments so far arising from concealment. Subtracting $11.69 million leaves around $19 million as the non-fraud portion of the over-payments paid in 2015. Accordingly, by 31 October 2015 the percentage of concealment to non-concealment over-payments collected at nearly 61%.

These numbers show a sudden increase in 2014 in concealment cases and this increase accelerated in 2015. In this light, the Department’s push to change the definition of concealment is part of an agenda to expand the scope and reach of concealment. The Department countered in its testimony before the committee that an intent to conceal is still required under its proposed changes to the definition of concealment. The proposed language, numerous posts on this blog, a Commission memorandum, and Kevin Magee’s testimony at the public hearing belie the Department’s assertions. Mistakes are increasingly being charged as concealment by the Department, and Commission review applying the actual concealment standard is the only way to fight these kind of charges.

Essentially, concealment is becoming the modus operandi of the Department’s efforts in administering the state’s unemployment law. Anyone who makes a mistake is at risk of a concealment charge from the Department, and the Department wants to change unemployment law to reflect this practice.

Unemployment public hearing tomorrow

The unemployment advisory council and the Department of Workforce Development are holding a public hearing tomorrow, 13 November 2014, to take comments on unemployment law. The hearing will be in the afternoon and early evening from 2:30 to 4:30 and 5:30 to 7 PM.

In Madison, the location for the hearing will be:

UW-Extension
The Pyle Center
Room 227
702 Langdon Street
Madison, WI

Check the DWD website for other locations.  If you want to say something about how the state is handling unemployment law, here is your opportunity.  See you there.