User-agent: * Allow: / Trenton Butcher Block: Christie Plans to Help Businesses by Making it Harder for Workers to Collect Unemployment

"Our Liberties We Prize, Our Rights We Will Defend."

Commentary on national and local events from the standpoint of a Trenton city resident and state worker.

Friday, December 31, 2010

Christie Plans to Help Businesses by Making it Harder for Workers to Collect Unemployment

Unemployed Workers line up for free soup and coffee in this depression-era photo.  We can expect to see more unemployed New Jersey workers seeking help at soup kitchens and homeless shelters when Governor Christie's proposed regulations tightening eligiblity for unemployment compensation take effect in early 2011.

Baring an unlikely legislative override, new regulations tightening eligibility for New Jersey's unemployment compensation program will take effect in early 2011.  These changes further demonstrate the governor's willingness to compromise the welfare of ordinary working people to benefit his rich supporters.

Here is the link to a state press release on the proposed regulations: Also here is the link to the proposed regulations themselves:

In the press release dated 11/24/10   The state says that the regulations are being issued because of unemployment "reform" legislation passed through by the legislature and signed into law on July 2, 2010. 

In the press release, the governor's representatives say that businesses will benefit from the proposed rule changes because their premiums went up by an average of $130 per year rather than the $400 per year increase that would have taken place without the rule changes.  The premiums were increased to replenish the fund which was depleted by elevated levels of unemployment claims during the recession and by looting of the fund's surplus by the legislature in recent years so it could obtain cash to pay for other programs.

What the new regulations will do is to make it more difficult for workers who were dismissed for misconduct (read "fired" from their jobs) to collect.  Instead of the present system where most workers have to wait six weeks to collect after being terminated, there will be a three tiered system. (simple, severe and gross misconduct).

Presently there is a two-tiered system.  Simple misconduct, where workers are ineligible to collect for a six-week waiting period and gross misconduct, where workers loose eligibility to collect on wages from the employer that dismissed them.  In order to be eligible for gross misconduct, you have to have been dismissed from your job by committing a felony while on the clock.  For instance, you are fired for pulling a knife or a gun on your supervisor.  In practice, few people get gross misconducts.  Most people are fired for garden-variety work-related infractions like showing up late.

I haven't read the regulations, but apparent the main change is the new "severe misconduct" penalty, which will be more severe than a simple six week disqualification.  What "severe misconduct" is exactly, I don't know, but anybody found guilty of it is going to have to go without an unemployment check for longer than six weeks.

You may say what's the big deal, these people were fired for doing something wrong and should be punished for their misbehavior.  While it may be true that most people who are terminated did something wrong on the job, the new policy will provide an incentive for employers to make the dismissal of workers for poor job performance (which you can collect right away) look like dismissal for severe misconduct (so the worker will be penalized severely and also to save the company money by holding down the payout of unemployment benefits).  Basically, the law provides an incentive for companies to save money by lying about why somebody was dismissed.

Why would I think that bosses will lie to keep people from getting money?  Because I worked two years as an unemployment claims examiner and got to conduct hearings to decide whether people who lost their jobs quit voluntarily or were fired for misconduct.  In the course of that job I heard about every story imaginable, with lies coming from both claimants and employers.  In once case a man said he was fired for age discrimination after spending 20 years on the job.  He worked in Hamilton Township right here in Mercer County, but filed his claim in Pennsylvania and was now living in Moosic, PA, which is in the Pocono Mountains, where many people move after retirement.  The employer said he quit to retire and bragged about buying a house in the Poconos.  I cross examined the claimant and he said that he was fired after he told his boss he sold his house in Hamilton and was moving to the Poconos.  He said he was willing to commute 150 miles each way every day to go to work.  (I hope you know this sounds stupid - that's how I catch people in lies.)

Fact is most people don't think their lies through.  A few questions about the lie will lead to some outlandish answers, which translates to "busted". I prided myself in doing a thorough job of questioning both employers and claimants before making decisions.  However, many examiners are not as thorough, and will ofter wrongly rule against the worker just to keep the paperwork moving.  I see lots of people getting screwed out of their benefits, who didn't do anything wrong.

And most people don't have six months of income saved so they can operate for half a year without a job or unemployment benefits.  This is especially true of marginal employees who have been on the job for a short time.  These are the people that typically get fired.  So expect to see more of these people fall through the cracks and wind up on the street homeless after loosing their jobs.

(So there you have it from Judge Judy in pants, the man with ice-cold green blood flowing in his veins.  \Trust me, I have feelings for the unemployed, but when doing my job, I put on the administrative law judge hat and follow the law, which gives the appearance of a cold, cruel heart.  Watch for even more reptilian rulings once the new regs go into effect.)

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