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Buono/Madden Bill To Expedite Unemployment Process, Protect Laid Off Workers From Abuses Receives Final Legislative Approval

Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, D-Middlesex, discusses legislation during a Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee hearing.

Bill Now Heads to Governor’s Desk for Signature

TRENTON – The Senate today unanimously granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono and Senator Fred Madden, Jr., which would institute efficiencies in the unemployment insurance (UI) system that would benefit laid-off workers and employers alike, while also protecting those in dire financial circumstances from certain abuses that have recently come to light.

Sen. Buono noted that the bill (S-1968) was prompted, in part, by a New York Times report highlighting the deceptive practices employed by third-party corporations who attempt to prevent the unemployed from collecting benefits when hired to represent some of the nation’s largest employers.

“With record levels of unemployment and job creation remaining stagnant, it’s all the more upsetting to hear about these deliberately deceptive practices,” said Sen. Buono (D-Middlesex). “In many cases, unemployment benefits are the only lifeline separating some people from financial devastation. If somebody has to fight endless appeals for their benefits, it could mean the difference between staying in their home or losing their house; paying the utility bill or going without heat; feeding their children or going to bed hungry.”

“With the Governor looking to lay off over 1,000 state workers next year, it’s important that we pull these agents out from the shadows and make them more accountable,” said Sen. Madden (D-Camden/ Gloucester). “Unemployment, in and of itself, takes a deep toll on laid off workers. The last thing someone in this situation needs is the additional anguish caused by the intentional denying or delaying of their benefits.”

The New York Times report noted that these third-party agents hired to represent corporations against unemployment claims profess to deliver greater “winning percentages” for employers looking to fight these claims. Common practices include delaying unemployment proceedings, failing to respond under the timeframe prescribed by law, leaving information incomplete or blank in order to delay a ruling, and filing “appeals regardless of merits” to discourage laid-off workers seeking benefits. These agents are also known to use numerous representatives on each case, making the company relatively anonymous to claimants and creating further confusion and headache.

In order to limit the ability of third-party agents to operate under the radar and cause headaches for laid-off workers, the bill would require authorized agents to register with the Division of Unemployment and Temporary Disability Insurance within the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

The bill also sets forth regulations for the division to carry out that will more clearly define the steps involved in the appeals process and curb abusive delays. The bill would also double the amount of time that both employers and claimants have to appeal determinations, extending the window from 10 to 20 days. This extension would give both parties involved more time to assess determinations and less of a need to seek delays.

Lastly, the bill would grant laid-off workers a waiver from repaying any overpayment in benefits that was found to be of no fault of their own. In many cases, an employer or their authorized agent fails to submit information required under the UI law and then appeals only after a benefit determination is made, sometimes a full year or more after benefit payments commenced, meaning a laid-off worker could owe sizeable back wages through no fault of their own.

This bill would make New Jersey just the fourth state to enact similar legislation to curb abuses in the UI system. The legislation now heads to the Governor for his signature.

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