TRENTON – Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) has proposed legislation designed to institute efficiencies in the unemployment insurance (UI) system that would benefit laid-off workers and employers alike, while protecting those in dire financial circumstances from certain abuses that have recently come to light.
The bill was prompted, in part, by a recent 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.
“In this economy, unemployment benefits are the only thing keeping many people from financial ruin,” said Sen. Buono. “It’s truly disturbing to hear about games being played with people’s lives. Losing a job is devastating enough, but to then lose the safety net that you have paid into for years is even more devastating. 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.”
In company marketing materials, Talx blatantly claims to deliver greater “winning percentages” for employers looking to fight unemployment claims. Acting as an authorized 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.
Sen. Buono’s bill seeks to provide incentives for the expeditious handling of UI claims in order to increase the efficiency of the system to benefit all parties involved.
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.
“With Talx representing a significant number of employers in New Jersey, and the Governor preparing to lay off over 1,300 state employees next year, it’s all the more important that we know who we’re dealing with. By requiring agents to register with the state, they will no longer be faceless antagonists,” added Sen. Buono.
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.
“If these claims against Talx are true, then it’s incumbent upon us to protect our unemployed workers from harassment and intentional negligence. Unemployment is known to cause stress and depression. Denying or delaying someone’s unemployment benefits is the last thing someone in this situation needs,” added Sen. Buono.
Sen. Buono’s 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. Sen. Buono expects to formally introduce the bill on Thursday, the next time the Senate convenes.
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