New UI Rules Hurt Seasonal Workers, Employers
By State Senator Julie Lassa
The end of the year is a time when many individuals experience temporary layoffs. Construction companies, trucking firms, and manufacturers in seasonal industries often lay employees off for short periods, intending to hire them back again in a few weeks or months when business picks up.
Traditionally, such individuals have relied on unemployment insurance, which their employers have paid for, to help make ends meet while they are laid off. It is also a way for employers, during these slow periods, to hang onto valued employees while in a tight labor market. But new rules at the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) are making things more difficult, not only for employers, but for workers and their families during a time when they are struggling to get by.
Formerly, individuals who expected to be rehired by their employer were exempt from DWD’s work search requirements – which made sense, since they already had jobs to return to. But new rules recently put in place limit that exemption to eight weeks, which can be extended another four weeks if the claimant's employer contacts DWD. However, if the employer can't rehire the employee within eight weeks, the employee has to begin work searches immediately.
The rules require claimants to file four job applications a week, post a resume and have an active file on the state’s Job Center system, and keep records of what they are doing. For people who already have jobs to return to, this amounts to a lot of extra bureaucratic red tape for them and DWD. And I am already hearing from constituents who are having difficulty making sure their employers are connecting with DWD.
In addition, it will be more difficult to resolve problems with unemployment claims, not just for seasonal workers but for anyone on UI, due to an ill-conceived change the agency made. Recently, DWD unilaterally decided to shut down the toll-free phone line that claimants use to speak directly to UI specialists. I've heard from many constituents over the years who have tried to file for unemployment online only to be told they must call to speak with a specialist. They can then spend hours on hold waiting to speak to someone because there aren't enough specialists to answer calls in a timely manner. Now, if they must speak with a UI specialist, they may have to pay long distance charges to call numbers in Madison and Milwaukee and thereby strain their already limited household budgets.
This is all part of a continuing pattern of making it more difficult for people who have been laid off, through no fault of their own, to receive unemployment benefits they qualify for and that their employers have paid into. It will also hurt employers, whose trained and experienced workers will be unavailable after a slow season because they’ve been forced to take other jobs.
If you anticipate a layoff in the near future, it’s important to educate yourself about all the rules regarding unemployment insurance. The DWD website page, dwd.wisconsin.gov/uiben/, will help you understand the new rules so you don’t face unnecessary delays receiving your benefits. If you do have difficulty resolving a UI issue, contact your state legislator’s office. We can often be of help in getting decisions expedited.
Work search exceptions help both seasonal workers and their employers. These rule changes will make the workforce shortage even worse for seasonal companies, and will add to the ongoing struggle of hard-working men and women in this state to keep their heads above water.