OLR Bill Analysis

sSB 220

AN ACT CONCERNING UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION APPEALS AND HEARINGS, EMPLOYEE PAY PERIODS AND MINOR AND TECHNICAL REVISIONS TO THE GENERAL STATUTES RELATING TO THE LABOR DEPARTMENT.

SUMMARY:

This bill makes numerous changes to the unemployment compensation statutes that generally give the Department of Labor (DOL) greater flexibility in processing unemployment claims and appeals. Among other things, it:

1. allows DOL to deliver certain unemployment notices and decisions by means other than the mail (e.g., email);

2. requires the period in which a party can appeal a decision to start when the decision is “provided,” rather than mailed, to the party; and

3. allows the labor commissioner to prescribe different ways, other than a hearing, for employers and claimants to present their evidence and testimony in certain unemployment proceedings.

The bill also:

1. allows employers to pay their employees biweekly without first obtaining a waiver from DOL, as required under current law ( 33 & 34);

2. allows unemployment claimants to change their tax withholding status for tax deductions from their benefits more than once each year ( 2);

3. allows (a) DOL to share unemployment records, under certain conditions, with nonpublic entities that contract with other state agencies and (b) the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) secretary to request and obtain a wider range of unemployment records from DOL; and

4. eliminates a requirement that the labor commissioner adopt regulations that specify the circumstances in which an employer can require an employee to submit to a urinalysis drug test because of a reasonable suspicion that the employee is under the influence of drugs or alcohol ( 18).

Lastly, the bill repeals obsolete or duplicative statutes and makes numerous minor, technical, and conforming changes, such as changing statutory references to the federal Workforce Investment Act to reflect the act's current name, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2014 ( 15 & 24).

EFFECTIVE DATE: Sections 1-18 and 24 are effective October 1, 2016, and the remaining sections are effective upon passage.

UNEMPLOYMENT NOTICES, DECISIONS, AND APPEAL DEADLINES

Providing Notice and Decisions ( 1 & 14)

The bill allows DOL to notify employers about charges against their experience rates through means other than mail. This applies to notice that a former employee successfully filed for benefits and the quarterly statements DOL must send employers. In general, an employer's experience rate is the portion of its unemployment tax rate that varies depending on whether the employer's former employees received unemployment benefits.

The bill also (1) requires DOL's Employment Security Appeals Division to prescribe how decisions by its referees and the Employment Security Board of Review are issued and (2) allows the decisions to be delivered electronically. In general, the appeals division administers the process by which claimants and employers can appeal decisions on a claimant's eligibility for benefits. Appeals are first heard by the division's referees and their decisions can be appealed to the review board.

Appeal Deadlines ( 6, 10, 12, 16)

The law requires the labor commissioner or an unemployment examiner (an official who initially determines a claimant's eligibility) to notify the claimant and his or her former employers about whether the claimant will receive benefits, but does not specify how this notification must be provided. Current law, however, requires any subsequent appeals or related motions to be filed within certain periods that start when notices or decisions are “mailed” to the claimant or employer.

The bill instead requires these filing periods to start when the notice or decision was “provided” to the claimant or employer. It applies to (1) appeals of an examiner's, referee's, or review board's decision; (2) motions to reopen, set aside, vacate or modify decisions by referees or the board; and (3) appeals of determinations that claimants were overpaid benefits in error or due to fraud. For these appeals, the bill also specifies that electronically filed appeals are timely if they are “received,” before their filing period deadlines.

Hearings ( 6 & 16)

Current law requires the labor commissioner or an examiner to hold a hearing to determine a claimant's eligibility for benefits or whether a claimant received benefits in error or through fraud. The bill allows the commissioner or examiner to prescribe different ways, other than a hearing, for employers and claimants to present evidence and testimony in these proceedings. In these instances, the commissioner or examiner has discretion to prescribe a telephone or in-person hearing, but he or she cannot unreasonably deny an in-person hearing if the claimant or employer requests one.

Under the bill, if an examiner holds a hearing to determine whether a claimant received benefits in error, he or she must provide at least five days notice of the hearing's time and place. The law, unchanged by the bill, requires the same notice for hearings to determine whether a claimant received benefits through fraud.

Other Flexibility Provisions ( 3-5, 8, 9, 11, +13)

The bill makes several other changes to give DOL greater flexibility in how it processes unemployment claims and appeals. It allows:

1. the appeals division to prescribe how it can access the Employment Security Division's records, files, and data;

2. the commissioner, examiners, referees, and review board to consider electronic records when considering disputed claims;

3. the appeals division to prescribe how to file appeals of referees' and review board decisions; and

4. DOL to prescribe how benefit claims must be made (current law requires them to be made at the public employment bureau or branch most easily accessible to the claimant's home or most recent employment, but in practice DOL accepts claims filed online and by telephone)

SHARING UNEMPLOYMENT RECORDS ( 15 & 17)

The law requires the labor commissioner to share certain unemployment information with nonpublic entities that contract with DOL to help administer the unemployment law. The bill requires the commissioner to also share this information with nonpublic entities that contract with other state agencies for the same purposes. As under current law, the nonpublic agency must agree in writing to provide certain safeguards that protect the confidentiality of the disclosed information.

The bill also eliminates a provision in law that makes the OPM secretary the labor commissioner's authorized representative to receive, on request, any information the commissioner has relating to employment records that may include (1) an employee's name, Social Security number, and current residential address; (2) employer's name, address, and North American Industry Classification System code; and (3) wages. However, it also allows the secretary to request and receive any of DOL's unemployment records. Current law limits the secretary's access to the wage records contained in the quarterly unemployment returns filed by employers. The bill specifies that it must not be construed as limiting the secretary's authority to request or receive information from DOL.

REPEALED STATUTES

The bill repeals obsolete or duplicative statutes that do the following:

1. require the DOL commissioner to adopt regulations on standard contract provisions for certain regional workforce development board contracts (duplicative);

2. require the commissioner to establish a grant program for comprehensive job training and related services for economically disadvantaged, unemployed, and underemployed people (obsolete);

3. prohibit employers from penalizing employees who tell other employees about hazardous work conditions or refuse to expose themselves to hazardous work conditions (duplicative);

4. allow certain unemployment claimants to receive 13 weeks of additional benefits under certain circumstances (obsolete); and

5. require the commissioner to adopt regulations that allow for adjustments to an employer's unemployment taxes without interest when an employer accidently pays an incorrect amount of unemployment taxes (obsolete).

COMMITTEE ACTION

Labor and Public Employees Committee

Joint Favorable Substitute

Yea

13

Nay

0

(03/10/2016)