PA 16-169—sSB 220

Labor and Public Employees Committee

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 act 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 by mail (e. g. , email);

2. starts the appeal period when the decision is “provided” to the party, rather than when it is mailed; and

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

The act also:

1. allows employers to pay their employees biweekly without first obtaining a waiver from DOL, as prior law required ( 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 specifying the circumstances under 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 act changes 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); repeals various obsolete or duplicative statutes; and makes numerous minor, technical, and conforming changes.

EFFECTIVE DATE: October 1, 2016, except the provisions that (1) allow employers to pay their employees biweekly, (2) repeal obsolete or duplicative statutes, and (3) make conforming changes related to the repealed statutes, are effective upon passage.

UNEMPLOYMENT NOTICES, DECISIONS, AND APPEAL DEADLINES

Providing Notice and Decisions ( 1 & 14)

The act allows DOL to notify employers about charges against their experience rates through means other than by mail. This applies to both the notice that DOL must provide when a former employee successfully files for benefits and the quarterly experience rate statements that DOL sends to employers. In general, an employer's experience rate is the portion of its unemployment tax rate based on whether the employer's former employees recently received unemployment benefits.

The act 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 benefit eligibility decisions. 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. Prior law, however, required the filing of any subsequent appeals or related motions within certain periods that started when notices or decisions were “mailed” to the claimant or employer.

The act instead requires these filing periods to start when the notice or decision is “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 act also specifies that electronically filed appeals are timely if they are “received” before their filing period deadlines.

Hearings ( 6 & 16)

The act allows the labor commissioner or examiner to prescribe ways, other than at a hearing, for employers and claimants to present evidence and testimony in proceedings to determine a claimant's eligibility for benefits or whether a claimant received benefits in error or through fraud. In these instances, the commissioner or examiner may 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 act, if an examiner holds a hearing to determine whether a claimant received benefits in error, the examiner must provide at least five days notice of the hearing's time and place. The law, unchanged by the act, 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 act makes several other changes that give DOL greater flexibility in processing unemployment claims and appeals. These allow:

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. (Prior law required 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 unemployment law. The act requires the commissioner to also share this information with nonpublic entities that contract with other state agencies for this purpose. As under existing law, the nonpublic agency must agree in writing to provide certain safeguards that protect the confidentiality of the disclosed information.

The act also eliminates a provision that authorized the OPM secretary to receive, on request and on behalf of the labor commissioner, any information the commissioner had relating to employment records that included (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.

Prior law additionally required DOL, upon request, to give the OPM secretary the wage records contained in the quarterly unemployment returns filed by employers. The act, instead, allows the secretary to request and receive any of DOL's unemployment records. The act specifies that it must not be construed as limiting the secretary's authority to request or receive information from DOL.

REPEALED STATUTES

The act repeals obsolete statutes that:

1. required the commissioner to establish a grant program for comprehensive job training and related services for economically disadvantaged, unemployed, and underemployed people;

2. allowed certain unemployment claimants to receive 13 weeks of additional benefits under certain circumstances; and

3. required 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.

It also repeals duplicative statutes that (1) required the DOL commissioner to adopt regulations on standard contract provisions for certain regional workforce development board contracts and (2) prohibited employers from penalizing employees who tell other employees about hazardous work conditions or refuse to expose themselves to hazardous work conditions.

OLR Tracking: LH; JR; PF; JM; cmg