PA Chamber Supports UC Reform Bill

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper advocated in favor of legislation that would clarify and strengthen language within the state’s Unemployment Compensation law last week at a public hearing of the House Labor and Industry Committee. House Bill 1014 defines “willful misconduct” (i.e. the circumstances under which a firing triggers ineligibility for UC benefits) and clarifies that an individual whose separation from employment was due to “voluntary leaving work without cause of necessitous and compelling nature” is only eligible for benefits if he or she quits for reasons attributable to the job or workplace.

Halper explained to the committee that part of the reason these changes are necessary is to preserve the UC system for who it is truly designed to help – individuals who lose their job through no fault on their own for a temporary basis as they search for new employment. The bill will also help address problems with the administration of the UC system and service centers – of which the funding and function has recently been the subject of much scrutiny – along with challenges that have strained the UC Trust Fund for years.

“The problem is that the term ‘willful misconduct’ is not defined within the statute, which gives overly broad discretion to those tasked with resolving eligibility disputes and too often leads to benefits being granted to individuals fired for reasons that would lead an objective observer to almost certainly conclude should be disqualifying,” Halper said. “Unfortunately, we hear frequently of employers in this precise situation: a former employee whom they were forced to fire for good cause still manages to qualify for benefits … everything from chronic absenteeism and altercations with fellow employees to the individual arriving at work clearly under the influence of illegal drugs.” To make matters worse, those employers’ taxes increase as a result because tax rates are partially based on experience.

While not a panacea for addressing Pennsylvania’s myriad UC system problems, the PA Chamber supports H.B. 1014 because it will help to provide specific statutory guidance and clarification to help dictate decisions, remove unpredictability in the system and allow for a quicker, more uniform approach to dispute resolution.

The bill still awaits action by the House Labor and Industry Committee.