By Brad Cave
July 1 creates some new incentives for Wyoming employers to participate in the unemployment claims system. Currently, UI benefits are paid to the employee beginning immediately when a deputy clerk of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services determines that the employee is entitled to benefits. If the employer appeals that determination, and a hearing officer reverses the deputy’s decision, the employer’s account is not charged for the benefits paid under the deputy’s erroneous decision. The same is true if the employer obtains reversal of a decision granting benefits through an appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Commission or the district court.
Effective July 1, this general rule has an exception that all employers should keep in mind. Bowing to federal pressure, the Wyoming Legislature amended the Wyoming Employment Security Law (ironic name for the unemployment benefit statute, isn’t it) to require employers to respond to requests for information from the Department. See, http://legisweb.state.wy.us/2013/Enroll/SF0073.pdf Employers will no longer escape the monetary consequences of erroneous payments if the Department determines that, (1) an erroneous payment of benefits was made because the employer was at fault for failing to respond adequately or on time to a written request for information; and, (2) the employer has established a pattern of failing to respond adequately or on time to such requests. The employer’s responses must be received within fifteen (15) days after the Department sends the request, whether by regular mail or email. What constitutes a pattern of failing to respond remains to be seen – the Legislature said only that the phrase means a “repeated documented failure” to respond to written requests for information, “taking into consideration the number of instances of failure in relation to the total volume of requests by the Department” to the employer.
Action items for Wyoming employers:
1. Maintain documentation of your responses to the Department on unemployment claims. We don’t believe that certified mail is necessary for most employers, but we do suggest keeping copies of all the documentation you return in response to a request. Also, the amendment requires the Department to acknowledge receipt of the requested information within fifteen (15) days if the employer requests such acknowledgement.
2. Some employers use a third-party agent or centralized offices in remote states to respond to unemployment claims. Be sure to notify those who process your UI claims, as the amendment clearly holds the employer responsible for delays or inadequate information from an employer’s agent. Likewise, if you have drug your feet getting back to your UI agent with the necessary information, now is the time to improve your response time so the agent does not blame you for a “pattern of failing to respond.”
3. As always, be very careful about what you (or your agent) say or submit in response to a request for information. A determination for or against an employee regarding unemployment benefits is not “binding, conclusive or admissible” in any subsequent litigation between the employer and employee. But the employer can be bound by what it says were the reasons for termination and the documents it submits to support the termination. Any discrepancy in the employer’s reasons can weaken your objection to the UI claim and be used in other legal proceedings to challenge the legitimacy of your reasons for the termination.
Disclaimer: This article is designed to provide general information on pertinent legal topics. The statements made are provided for educational purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and are not intended to create an attorney-client relationship between you and Holland & Hart LLP. If you have specific questions as to the application of the law to your activities, you should seek the advice of your legal counsel.