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Full Senate Approves Buono/Madden Bill To Expedite Unemployment Process, Protect Laid Off Workers From Abuses

TRENTON – By a vote of 37 to 1, the full Senate today approved 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 an April report in the New York Times highlighting the deceptive and deliberately protracted practices employed by the Talx Corporation, which handles roughly 30 percent of the nation’s jobless claims, including many of the largest employers, such as Wal-Mart, AT&T, Tyson’s Foods, Marriot and McDonald’s. The company has been accused of intentionally trying to prevent the unemployed from collecting benefits.

“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.”

“Talx has a significant presence in New Jersey and that will only increase if the Governor moves forward with his plans to lay off 1,300 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.”

In company marketing materials, Talx blatantly claims to deliver greater “winning percentages” for employers looking to fight unemployment claims. Acting as an agent on behalf of an employer, Talx has been accused of commonly 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. Talx is also known to use numerous representatives on each case, making the company relatively anonymous to claimants and creating further confusion and headache. In one case involving a former employee of Countrywide Financial, a judge even ruled that Talx had committed an outright fraud.

TALX currently represents 5,536 New Jersey private employers on UI matters, almost half of all of New Jersey employers represented by such companies. Furthermore, Sen. Buono recently discovered that Talx is contracted by the state to collect wage data on state employees, monitor UI claim charges and assist the state in hearings regarding disputed UI claims. This arrangement is stipulated by budget language, which requires that a third party administrator be contracted to manage UI benefit claims.

In order to limit the ability of companies like Talx 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.

The bill would make New Jersey just the fourth state to enact similar legislation to curb abuses in the UI system. At least two other states have also taken administrative action against TALX. The bill now heads to the General Assembly for approval.

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