A state senator thought the state employment department might have been skirting a new law to deny unemployment benefits for worker misconduct. Wednesday, he convened a subcommittee at the Statehouse to question state Department of Employment and Workforce leaders
At the order of Labor, Commerce and Industry Chairman Greg Ryberg (R-Aiken), Sen. Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson) gathered a panel to question 66 cases that his staff identified as undeserving of jobless benefits. Senators and staff attorneys reviewed specific cases with DEW Director Gen. Abe Turner and staffer Laura Robinson.
Bryant says many of the cases in question are “offensive,” even one he says involves an employee getting a “booty call” at work.
Turner says some of those cases have already been corrected. Of the 518 cases sent to Bryant for review, Turner says 59 percent were fully denied benefits. Most of the cases were drawn from the first week the law went into effect.
Lawmakers continued to question whether the adjudicators who review the cases are well-trained.
AUDIO: Turner says that his agency has made great strides in the one year he has been in charge. (2:06)
DEW Assistant Executive Director for Unemployment Insurance Laura Robinson told Senate staff that the law’s language can be confusing, because the determination of misconduct carries a stiffer penalty than that for gross misconduct.
Another problem that was revealed is that employers are slow to respond to DEW queries as they review cases. At that point, they have only the word of the fired employee or any other facts submitted. Turner mandated that scheduled follow-up phone calls be made to employers, a practice not in place before.
AUDIO: Turner talks about lack of employer response (:18)
AUDIO: Sen. Shane Massey questioned Turner and Robinson at length, challenging them to change the culture of the agency.
Bryant, after the morning’s meeting, said that the agency has had time to get up to speed on the new law and that businesses don’t want to see any mistakes made.
AUDIO: Bryant says he wants to make sure employers are getting fair treatment.
The panel met most of the morning and spent the afternoon reviewing individual cases. Bryant says he is prepared to call more meetings, though the Legislature has adjourned.