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Posts Tagged ‘unemployment’

Economists React to October Jobs Report

Monday, November 16th, 2015

Jackie TortoraOctober provided good news for the economy. The economy added 271,000 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a big increase over September’s number of 137,000 jobs. The unemployment rate also fell fractionally from 5% to 5.1%.

Average hourly private-sector earnings were up 9 cents, which, if sustained, will finally start producing real wage gains for ordinary working Americans.

In response to the October jobs report, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William E. Spriggs said:

While this month’s numbers are good, job growth has yet to deliver sustained wage gains that working people need to lead better lives. This means we face the deeper challenge of fashioning policy changes to create the institutional structure for shared prosperity; aggressive, progressive solutions, not corporate driven trade deals. Unfortunately, while our economy remains fragile, the now public TPP text proves our fears of just how damaging it could be to our economy. The fight for full employment and rising wages starts with rejecting this bad deal and embracing economic policies that put people and families first.

 AFL-CIO Senior Economic Policy Adviser Thomas Palley added:

This report is strong, which is good news. But the report also reveals the contradictions in our economy. Good news for Main Street is interpreted as bad news by Wall Street. The challenge for the Federal Reserve, and the standard by which it will be judged, is to ensure this type of news becomes ‘normal’ and not a one month exception that is used to justify hitting the brakes.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on November 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Jobs Report: Conservative Economic Illusions Are Unmasked

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Isaiah J. PooleThe surprisingly disappointing September unemployment report – 142,000 new jobs created compared to an expectation of more than 200,000 – should break once and for all two illusions about our ability to sustain a robust economy.

The first illusion is that there is no penalty for the continuing lack of public investment in the fundamentals of the real economy – from the schools that develop the skills and creativity of our future workforce to the transportation networks that enable us to move goods and people through our communities.

Years ago we should have had a place a major plan to bring all of our common assets – from schools to roads to water systems to our energy grid – into the 21st century. Not only would this have created millions of jobs, but it would have set the nation up for sustainable, more ecologically responsible, long-term growth. We should have taken advantage of the near-zero borrowing costs and the willingness of the markets – notwithstanding the sky-is-falling bleating of the chattering class – to allow the United States to take on more debt as long as it was wisely used to build for the future.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview on Bloomberg today that the federal spending constraints imposed by the Republican Congress – the “sequester caps” – mean the economy is producing 500,000 fewer jobs a year than it would if those constraints were lifted. Those jobs would range from construction workers to teachers to health care workers.

The second illusion is that we can continue down the road of corporate-driven so-called “free trade” – which has given us month after month of “enormous, humongous” trade deficits – and have a strong Main Street economy. Earlier this year, the White House Council of Economic Advisors issued a report that noted that during the second quarter of the year, “net exports subtracted nearly 2 full percentage points from quarterly GDP growth.” Of course it would: every month of trade deficits running between $40 billion and $50 billion represents that much less economic activity that would benefit American workers and the American economy. Plus, our strong dollar makes our exports more expensive and thus less attractive to potential foreign customers. It is no wonder, then, that this month’s jobs report reflects continued weakness in our manufacturing sector, which would be a source of good=paying jobs if it were stronger.

Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen has warned repeatedly that there was a limit to what the Fed’s zero-interest-rate policy could accomplish without a pro-growth and pro-people fiscal policy to complement it. That was clear even with the sunnier initial summer jobs reports. Now that those reports have been revised to show that we’ve been averaging only an additional 167,000 jobs a month in this past three months – just enough to tread water – the truth of what Yellen has been saying is in even sharper relief.

How the Obama administration and Congress should respond is clear: End the senseless budget sequester caps, get a long-term transportation bill passed this month and don’t approve a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bill that continues the pattern of chronic trade deficits and outsourced jobs. The political machinery in Washington seems almost hopelessly constipated, but we should still seize the professed shock of this month’s employment news to change the political conversation in a way that could lead to long-term change.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on October 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Why the Fed Isn't Close to Achieving Full Employment and Shouldn’t Be Discussing Raising Interest Rates—the Case of Black Workers

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

William SpriggsThe recently released minutes of the last meeting of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee revealed there was serious discussion of the fact the labor market still showed signs of weakness. A primary issue was the lack of evidence of strong wage growth, which would be a clear signal the labor market was tightening. This has unleashed the Wall Street bettors, who want a jump on the Fed’s changing monetary policy, giving them more active play on the bond market, where interest rate movements can fuel their gambling addiction. The voices being raised to have the Fed raise interest rates march out lots of theory to predict uncontrolled inflation, despite a global slowdown, falling oil and natural resource prices, and flat real wages. We must hope that the Fed makes policy based on what is good for the economy, not what is good for the reckless gamblers on Wall Street.

The current directive to the Fed comes from the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, which in 1978 established that the nation’s primary economic policy is to achieve full employment, within reason—not by creating unsustainable budget deficits or igniting uncontrollable inflation. Unfortunately, many have twisted the legislation’s purpose to their own ends, changing the act’s intent to balance budgets and maintain low inflation in hopes those policies don’t increase unemployment. The act does not place full employment on equal footing with fighting inflation; it merely constrains full-employment policy to a measure of prudence.

With that in mind, the Fed should understand it is not at full employment. In addition to wages rising with productivity, a main tenant of evidence of full employment, the Fed needs to embrace some additional senses of full employment. One is that discrimination would disappear, since it would become prohibitively costly in a full-employment economy.

A problem for the Fed is that there is little diversity in its staffing, which reflects the low level of diversity among economists. Economists have convinced themselves there is little to explain about the persistence of the disparity in black and white unemployment rates, the ratio of which remains stubbornly at 2-to-1. It is enough to assume there are lower skill levels among African Americans and societal structural issues that permanently disadvantage African Americans, and that these circumstances will persist no matter what the level of unemployment.

Of course, many economists do appreciate that this pat answer is hard to reconcile with the great sensitivity that the black unemployment rate has to the economy—a tightening labor market brings down the black unemployment rate at twice the rate for whites. That makes the structural argument difficult to maintain.

There is another key element. The unemployment rate gaps between blacks and whites are stubborn at every education level, and the gaps are glaring. In fact, what the unemployment rate gaps for blacks suggest is the old adage that blacks must be twice as good to compete in the labor market with whites. The unemployment rate for blacks with more education is similar to that of whites with less education. This is true for blacks at all education levels, from college graduates to associate degree holders to high school graduates. And it is very difficult to argue that those huge gaps do not reflect discrimination.

When the labor market tanks, and the number of unemployed workers per job opening goes up, the gaps faced by better educated blacks to less educated whites get wider. Black college graduates find themselves with unemployment rates closer to white high school graduates, and blacks with associate degrees find themselves with unemployment rates worse than white high school dropouts.

When the labor market tightens, unemployment rates for blacks with more education improve such that they are better than those of less educated whites, though still off the mark compared with equally educated whites. When employers are faced with two unemployed working people for each job opening, many stop seeing color and start seeing qualifications. Employers faced with a growing economy and smaller applicant pools find it would now cost to discriminate by passing over the qualified African American applicant. We don’t know what would happen if the nation maintained its commitment to full employment, because just as the black unemployment rates near parity with whites, our economic policy switches all reverse to slow the economy, increase unemployment and push blacks off the path to equality.

The Fed needs to see that its policies are part of that problem. Slowing the economy before we reach full employment means employers never have to raise wages nor understand the costs of their discriminatory practices.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 21 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

The Missing 3 Million

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

jonathan-tasiniI remain in the camp of people who are entirely unimpressed by the economic figures raved about by most pundits, economists and The White House. We all know that pay is not growing. But, there’s another thing to be concerned about: the missing 3.1 million workers. The rebound fans:

The American job market rebounded in April, the government said on Friday, helping to ease worries that the economy was on the brink of another extended slowdown after a bleak winter in which the overall economy stalled. But the growth in jobs failed to translate, once again, into any significant improvement in pay.

Uh, but wait a minute. What about a whole bunch of people who are off the radar screen? The Economic Policy Institute is hunting for the “missing workers”:

In today’s labor market, the unemployment rate drastically understates the weakness of job opportunities. This is due to the existence of a large pool of “missing workers”—potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job. In other words, these are people who would be either working or looking for work if job opportunities were significantly stronger. Because jobless workers are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, these “missing workers” are not reflected in the unemployment rate.[emphasis added]

What’s the number today?:

Total missing workers, April 2015: 3,140,000 Unemployment rate if missing workers were looking for work: 7.3%[emphasis added]

Which would mean the real unemployment rate–and I’m even leaving out the people who would like full-time work but can’t find it (but are counted as “employed”)–is double what the official number tells us. – See more at: http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/08/the-missing-3-million/#sthash.m22tUoHe.dpuf

This blog was originally posted on Working Life on May 8, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books. My organizational life has brought me the gift of working with many talented, committed people over the past 30 years, principally during the 13 years I had the honor to serve as president of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981). Aside from that, it’s baseball, and counting the winter days until pitchers and catchers report.

New Pages to wrap up 2014!

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

Paula Professional CroppedTo wrap up 2014 Workplace Fairness has added 105 new pages to keep you informed about the latest developments in employment law.

We now offer detailed information, by state, on the processes for filing a workers compensation claim, and for filing an unemployment claim. Find out how to file a claim in your state, what deadlines you might face, and what benefits you may be eligible for.

In our Discrimination section we’ve added a new page on genetic information discrimination, including the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”).  As technology progresses by leaps and bounds, new issues of privacy and discrimination can come up in the workplace.  This page answers questions that many workers may have about how accessible their genetic information is to employers.

In our Harassment section our new page on the effects of domestic violence in the workplace helps victims of domestic violence to understand how their situation at home may affect their work and what rights they have when they are treated negatively because of it.

Finally, in our Unions and Collective Action section we’ve added information about the 24 states that currently have right-to-work laws, and what that means for workers.  This page provides an explanation of what right-to-work laws are, and what they mean for workers in states that have instituted them.

Full Employment: The Recovery’s Missing Ingredient

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Image: Dean BakerBy Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein

Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen gave a speech a few weeks ago that was doubly unusual.

First, she provided a welcome and trenchant analysis of inequality, focusing on the stagnant income and wealth of middle- and low-income families relative to the top few percent. For the nation’s chief economist to elevate this issue is an important contribution in its own right.

Second, she declined to mention the critical role of slack labor markets in these outcomes. In what is a rare case for her, the word “unemployment” was not even mentioned in the speech. The omission was especially noticeable as Yellen, to her credit, has so consistently pointed out the extent of remaining slack in the U.S. job market.

Unemployment is down and gross domestic product is up, yet there isn’t much progress in real wages and incomes of most working families. While many reasons have been set forth to explain this unfortunate disconnect, including globalization and technological change as well as unmet skill demands and the Federal Reserve’s asset-buying program, our research suggests that the main factor behind both stagnant real wages and rising inequality is the absence of full employment. Truly tight labor markets — an unemployment rate closer to 4 percent than 6 percent — would not only boost real wages, but would give a larger lift to the lowest-paid workers and those with the least bargaining clout, pushing back on stagnation and inequality.

It’s true, as noted, that the unemployment rate has fallen quite sharply, from 10 percent in late 2009 to just below 6 percent now. This decline is partly due to job creation, but it’s also a function of people giving up looking for work and therefore not being counted as unemployed.

That’s important because it means there’s more slack in the labor market than we would usually associate with a 5.9 percent unemployment rate. And when there is lots of slack, most American workers lack the bargaining power they need to press for wage gains. With wages growing close to the rate of inflation — about 2 percent — since 2009, most workers have been stuck with stagnant real earnings.

By contrast, corporate profits have risen sharply in the recovery, with the profit share of national income hitting the highest level in many decades and the stock market also has hit new highs. Meanwhile, real median household income is still down 3 percent since the current expansion began in the second half of 2009.

To use a seasonal analogy, growth has been doing an end run around most households.
The impact of a falling unemployment rate on real wages at different points in the wage scale demonstrates why this relationship is so germane right now. Looking at a large data set with observations across all 50 states for more than 30 years, we find that a sustained 10 percent drop in the unemployment rate, say from 6 percent to 5.4 percent (10 percent, not 10 percentage points) does not have a uniform effect on real wages.

Instead, it leads to real wage gains of 10 percent for low-wage workers, 4 percent for middle-wage workers and does nothing for high-wage workers. That’s why full employment is such an important antidote to earnings inequality. By forcing employers to bid compensation up to get and keep the workers they need, it re-channels growth away from the top and back toward the bottom and middle of the pay scale.

But don’t both wage stagnation and inequality predate the recession? Does the fact that these are ongoing phenomena diminish the explanatory power of labor market slack?

Not at all, because a broad look over our history shows that the income stagnation period generally matches the slack period (we’re switching to income here because our wage data don’t go back far enough). From the late 1940s to the late 1970s, the job market was at full employment 70 percent of the time and incomes doubled for low, middle, and high-income families. Working families at all points in the income distribution shared in the gains of growth.

Since then, we’ve been at full employment only 30 percent of the time, and all that slack has been accompanied by periods of wage stagnation and rising inequality.

Of course, the absence of full employment is not the only difference between these periods of growing together and growing apart. For example, we engaged in much less and much more balanced global trade in the earlier period, a point we will return to in a moment.

So, let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be. We must plot a policy course back to full employment ASAP. Given Washington’s partisan fever, here are three ideas that might plausibly be enacted, even in these divided times.

1.) A deep dive into infrastructure investment is warranted to replenish our deteriorating stock of public goods and to absorb slack among the underemployed in production and building occupations. Historically, such investments have garnered bipartisan support.

2.) The trade deficit, a serious drag on employment growth in our factory sector, should be reduced by pushing back on competitors who deliberately keep down the value of their currencies to get a price advantage in global markets. Again, joining this fight is favored by both parties, although the White House tends to get squeamish on the issue.

3.) With fiscal stimulus sidelined by gridlock, the Fed is the only game in town. Yellen’s slack attack has been strong and consistent, but the central bank is facing pressures to tighten sooner rather than later. Given the striking absence of inflationary pressures and wide room for non-inflationary wage growth, Yellen and Co. should continue to tack toward full employment.

Economists tend to come up with all kinds of complexities when sometimes a shave with Occam’s razor is all that’s needed. The bargaining power of most American workers is at a historical low point. The best way to restore it is to get the economy back to full employment.


This blog originally appeared on CEPRE.net and on OurFuture.org. on November 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141103/full-employment-the-recoverys-missing-ingredient

About the Author: Dean Baker is an American economist whose books have been published by the University of Chicago Press, MIT Press, and Cambridge University Press. 

The Phony Jobs Report Hype, A Very Sick Economy & Millions of Workers Who Don’t Count

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

jonathan-tasiniThis was almost predictable: the traditional media, and too many bloggers who regurgitate what they read in the traditional media, are buying into the “rebound” in the economy because of today’s Labor Department report; the stock market goes up; and, I’m certain, pretty soon, the White House will be taking credit for all this and, subtly or not so subtly, arguing that, see, aren’t we great, vote for us. It’s nonsense. So, here is the visual to remember:










That chart does not reflect the 5.9 percent number being touted today–but the point is still the same: we have a very sick economy where people cannot find meaningful, solid, decent-paying work and are dropping out of the workforce. As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, in an email just landing in my inbox:

“…there was no change in the employment-to-population ratio which remained fixed at 59.0 percent. In fact, labor force participation fell by 0.3 percentage points for white men in September and 0.2 percentage points for white women.”

Even the centrist, Clinton-Administration-in-waiting-awash-in-corporate-donations, free-market-cheerleaders, the Center for American Progress said yesterday:

“Policymakers and pundits have taken far too much comfort in the decline in the headline unemployment rate. The extent to which unemployment has dropped depends on how it’s measured, especially in this recovery. The typical measure, called U-3 by economists, is pretty restrictive: It counts the percentage of people who are actively looking for work but cannot find it. There are other, broader measures we can look at. Perhaps the most complete picture, called U-6, includes marginally attached workers—those who have looked for work recently but are not looking currently—and those working part time who would prefer full-time work. U-6 is always higher than U-3, but it has gotten a lot higher since the recession, and the gap has been essentially unchanged since January.”


“Another reason that the traditional unemployment rate is less informative about the overall health of the labor market is the fact that today the number of long-term unemployed, while down sharply from its postrecession peak, is still almost 50 percent higher than its highest prerecession level on record. There are still 3 million Americans who have been unemployed for half a year or longer and are still actively searching for work. Thirty-three percent of all unemployed fall into this long-term unemployed category. The average length of time someone has spent unemployed is about seven-and-a-half months, almost double what it was before the recession.[emphasis added]”

Back to Dean Baker:

“The number of people involuntarily employed part-time by fell 174,000 to 7,103,000. This is extraordinarily high given the unemployment rate. The number of people choosing to work part time rose slightly and now stands 642,000 above its year-ago level. This presumably is the result of people taking advantage of Obamacare and getting insurance through the exchanges or expanded Medicaid rather than their employers.[emphasis added]”

So, this means: A persistent, large core of workers–real people–are in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. This is a trend that goes back way before the financial crisis. It is, in fact, the result of a conscious corporate decision to REDUCE the number of full-time, good-paying jobs, and to work off of part-time workers.

It means more people have dropped out of the job market, over time, because it’s just too damn depressing to look for real, meaningful, stable work.

What really has happened here is that the frame has shifted. For example, when elites, including Democrats, talk about “full employment”, they mean 5.5 percent or so–which, back in the day, would be seen as unconscionably high; full employment, at worse, was pegged at 4 percent (and could probably go a bit lower).

But, there is an acceptance of a certain level of desperation now and exploitation that would have been seen as immoral say 30-40 years ago.

In my opinion, it is much more helpful, for the sake of long-term political chance, to challenge the chatter of these jobs reports, pointing out the realities facing millions of people.

The economy is very sick because people can’t make a decent living. This is not recovery.

This blog originally appeared in Workinglife.org on October 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.workinglife.org/2014/10/03/the-phony-jobs-report-hype-a-very-sick-economy-millions-of-workers-who-dont-count/.

About the author Jonathan Tasini: On any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays, with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).

Jobless Aid to Get Yet Another Senate Vote as House Continues to Balk

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Laura ClawsonThis is the week! Again! This is the week, that is, that the Senate will once again attempt to pass an emergency unemployment aid extension that House Republicans will refuse to even bring up for a vote. The bipartisan unemployment deal the Senate will be considering has some problems, mostly ones created in the effort to win the final Republican vote needed to break a filibuster, and of course House Speaker John Boehner’s response is to use the problems as an excuse to kill an unemployment extension altogether rather than to look for a fix. A fix should be possible:

Labor Secretary Tom Perez sent a letter to Senate leaders on Friday saying he is “confident that there are workable solutions for all of the concerns raised by [the National Association of State Workforce Agencies]” and that “any challenges pale in comparison to those to the need that the long-term unemployed have for these benefits.”

The Nevada head of unemployment insurance operations said he was ready to implement the bill regardless: “We would stand ready and do it. … We’ll get through it, just like we have in the past.”

Meanwhile, even some Republicans are starting to get openly frustrated with obstruction from their party:

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the main Republican working on the deal, said it was “extremely disappointing that, no matter what solution is reached, there is some excuse to deny these much-needed benefits.”

This should not exactly come as a surprise to Heller. There’s always an excuse.

House Democrats are circulating a discharge petition to force a vote on unemployment aid, but so far no Republicans have signed it. Getting a House vote on this vital bill, whether through a successful discharge petition or action by Boehner, will require the kind of public pressure even House Republicans can’t ignore.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on March, 24, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

It's Time To Stop Judging the Unemployed

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

seiu-org-logoVickey Tyson, an SEIU Local 517Mmember in Saginaw, Michigan, knows firsthand about the stresses of today’s job market and the critical difference the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) can make.

Until late 2012, Vickey worked as customer service representative for the Michigan unemployment claims agency. But like many other Michiganders, she lost her job due to state cutbacks and layoffs. And the sudden expiration of modest federal unemployment benefits on December 28, 2013 pulled the rug out from beneath 1.3 million Americans just like Vickey.

She traveled to Washington, DC this week to stand with President Obama during his January 7 address where he called on Congress to extend the federal EUC program, which serves as a lifeline for long-term unemployed workers. Like the President, Vickey knows that it is not too late to fix this. Congress can take swift action to restore emergency unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed. We should not be making it harder for Americans to work and participate in society. Extending these benefits is the right thing to do for America’s jobless and the economy.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on January 10, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Courtney-Rose Dantus

Workplace bullying targets winning unemployment benefits appeals in New York State

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

davidyamadaThanks to a developing line of administrative appeal decisions, workers in New York State who resign their jobs due to bullying and employer abuse could still retain eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Under New York State labor law, workers who voluntarily resign without good cause are presumptively ineligible to receive unemployment benefits. Most other states follow a similar rule. Of course, this frequently leaves targets of workplace bullying in a bind when it comes to qualifying for unemployment benefits. All too often, quitting is the only way to escape the abuse.

That’s why I was so pleased to hear from James Williams, an attorney with Legal Services of Central New York, who sent news of a recent decision in a case he argued before the New York Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board.

Case Details

The claimant appealed a denial of unemployment benefits holding that he voluntarily resigned his job with a local government entity, without good cause. The Administrative Law Judge overruled the denial of benefits, rendering these findings and a decision:

The undisputed credible evidence establishes that the claimant left employment voluntarily . . . after being notified . . . that he was on probation, because he felt bullied, harassed and set up by his supervisor. I credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that his supervisor’s repeated criticism and scolding of him in a raised voice made him feel bullied and harassed, especially in the presence of other employees. I further credit the claimant’s credible sworn testimony that the supervisor’s actions including pointing and reprimanding him, consisted of the word “stupid”, and other language which embarrassed the claimant and that the claimant believed he was being ridiculed by the supervisor. An employee is not obligated to subject himself to such behavior. Given that the claimant had complained to the employer about the supervisor’s behavior just two months earlier, and that the supervisor’s mistreatment not only continued, but escalated, I conclude that the claimant had good cause within the meaning of the unemployment insurance Law to quit when he did. Additionally, while disagreeing with a reprimand or criticism about work performance may not always constitute good cause to quit, receiving reprimands in the presence of one’s co-workers may be. . . . Under the circumstances herein, the supervisor’s treatment of the claimant exceeded the bounds of propriety, with the result that the claimant had good cause to quit. His unemployment ended under nondisqualifying conditions.

Other Decisions

Attorney Williams relied upon previous decisions by the full Appeal Board holding that disrespectful and bullying-type behaviors that exceed the bounds of propriety (that appears to be the key phrase) may constitute good cause to voluntarily leave a job and thus not disqualify someone from receiving unemployment benefits. They may be accessed at the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board website:

  • Appeal Board No. 571514 (July 3, 2013)
  • Appeal Board No. 559667 (February 28, 2012)
  • Appeal Board No. 558223 (January 25, 2012)
  • Appeal Board No. 549810 (September 10, 2010)

Jim added in an e-mail that potential New York claimants who may fit this scenario “are advised to take steps to try and save their jobs prior to quitting.  They will want to be able to show to the Department of Labor and to an ALJ that they took steps to try to change the situation – complaining to management, human resources, etc. – before quitting.”

Using These Decisions

The reasoning in these decisions is limited to unemployment benefits cases. Furthermore, the holdings of these cases are not binding upon unemployment benefits claims in other states. However, they can be brought to the attention of unemployment insurance agencies elsewhere as persuasive precedent.

In addition, this serves as an important lesson to those who may have been initially denied unemployment benefits after leaving a job due to bullying behaviors. It is not uncommon for initial denials to be reversed on appeal, and these cases provide genuine reason for optimism in situations involving abusive work environments.

This article originally appeared on Minding the Workplace on August 13, 2013.  Reposted with permission. 

About the Author: David Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation — dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill — that has become the template for law reform efforts across the country.  In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.


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