Wisconsin lawmakers this year enacted a number of changes to the state’s unemployment insurance (UI) law.
Senate Bill 200, which became Wisconsin’s Act 36 of 2013, made at least one change that has angered employee advocates.
Among its provisions, the new law allows the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to get and use information from banks and financial institutions to target financial assets of people with delinquent UI debts
“This troubling proposal raises serious privacy concerns for unemployed workers and exposes the system to other potential abuses that will undermine the basic trust of workers in the state’s UI program,” Maurice Emsellem, Policy co-director of the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group, told the Huffington Post.
The same new law also cracks down on UI fraud by requiring the DWD both to conduct random audits on claimants to see whether they’re complying with work search requirements and to seek funding for more fraud investigators.
Other changes include:
*An increase to the maximum weekly jobless benefit from $363 to $370, beginning Jan. 5, 2014.
*Repeal of the availability of extended training benefits. Until this change, claimants enrolled in training programs and who were otherwise eligible for benefits could earn additional jobless benefits.
*Barring claimants from eligibility if they conceal hours they have worked.
*The creation of a process by which the DWD can revoke the business license of those with delinquent UI contributions
*Giving DWD the power to waive or decrease interest on employers’ delinquent payments or unpaid contributions
As reported by Rebecca Kemble of The Progressive, Wisconsin AFL-CIO legislative policy director and former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan characterized the changes in SB 200 as “good for business but they are going to make it harder for workers.”
In other UI news, Act 11, signed May 17, 2013, and effective May 19, sets up a work-share program for the state of Wisconsin. A work-sharing program gives employers a voluntary alternative to laying off employees en masse during a downturn. With a work-sharing program, a company could reduce employee hours and employees could claim unemployment benefits for the lost hours. Work-sharing allows companies to retain skilled workers rather than hire and train new ones. Participation requires employers to maintain retirement plans and health insurance coverage.
The Department of Workforce Development estimates work-share programs will save the unemployment reserve fund $4.9 million.
“Wisconsin now joins 24 other states with work-share programs,” said Gov. Scott Walker. “Instead of getting a pink slip during an economic downturn, workers now have an opportunity to stay on the job and receive unemployment benefits for the hours they lose.
Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.