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Alexander Praises Court Decision Overturning Labor Dept. In-Home Care Rule

Press release from the office of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January, 15, 2015:

Calls Latest Court Decision “More Good News for Nearly 240,000 Tennesseans Who’ve had Access to In-Home Care Threatened” by DoL Rule

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan. 14 –U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) made the following statement on the federal district court decision today that overturned much of the Department of Labor’s (DOL) rule regarding the overtime exemption for companionship care, which had threatened to increase costs on many seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on non-medical caregivers.

“Today’s court decision brings more good news for the nearly 240,000 Tennesseans who’ve had access to in-home care threatened by this misguided Labor Department rule, which had already proved so unworkable the agency that dreamed it up can’t even figure out how to enforce it,” Alexander said. “The department should abandon any further attempt to force this rule on the 12 million seniors and individuals with disabilities who rely on in-home care to live independently.”

Today a U.S. district court judge ruling overturned the portion of DOL’s companionship care rule that said if non-medical caregivers spend more than 20 percent of their time providing personal care or housekeeping services for their elderly or disabled client they must be paid overtime. This includes providing help with daily activities like eating, dressing, bathing, and light cleaning.  Last month, the same district judge ruled that DOL violated the Fair Labor Standards Act with another portion of this rule that excluded home-care workers employed by a third-party home-care company from the overtime exemption.

In October, DOL announced  it would not enforce the rule—set to take effect in this month—for the first six months of this year and will water-down enforcement for the following six months after that.

Last year, Alexander and Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) led a group of 23 Republicans in a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez warning that state Medicaid programs have not been given adequate time or instruction on how to implement the rule. The senators also warned in their letter that the rule will “result in sudden increases in institutionalized care, which is often more costly and frequently covered by taxpayer dollars,” and rob caregivers of “valuable paid hours and much needed income.”

Alexander is chairman of the Senate labor committee.

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Press Releases

TN Dept. of Labor Implements New Tactics Against Employer Payroll Fraud

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor; June 4, 2014: 

NASHVILLE – The Workers’ Compensation Division of the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development has put into place new procedures to identify employers who engage in payroll fraud such as intentionally misclassifying workers as independent contractors, failing to report all wages paid, misrepresenting the kind of work performed, or paying workers “under the table.”

These practices are typically used to avoid paying workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance tax premiums.

“We are working aggressively to stop misclassification fraud by employers. When these unethical practices are identified, the Division of Workers’ Compensation of the Department of Labor & Workforce Development will assess administrative penalties for misclassification as well as refer cases for prosecution,” said Administrator for Workers’ Compensation Abbie Hudgens.

The Employee Misclassification Advisory Task Force made recommendations that led to legislation to improve the state’s efforts to reduce misclassification fraud.

Recently, the Department of Labor entered into a settlement that assessed a penalty of more than $300,000 against a drywall contractor who materially understated his payroll to his insurance carrier. The settlement is the largest ever of the department’s Employee Misclassification Education and Enforcement Fund.

The Employee Misclassification Advisory Task Force, created by the General Assembly in 2010, made recommendations that led to legislation to improve the state’s efforts to reduce misclassification fraud.

The Task Force submitted three annual reports to the Legislature – the latest on January 30, 2014. (http://www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/wcomp/forms/EMEEF_2014_AnnualReport.pdf) The following are among actions taken by the department based on Task Force recommendations.

  • Establish a referral process for possible criminal prosecution
    Workers’ Compensation has referred cases to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation or the appropriate District Attorney General for any action deemed necessary under any applicable criminal law.
  • Hire additional investigators
    Three investigators, one of whom is bilingual, have been hired under the legislation since July 2013.
  • Procure fraud detection software
    The Workers’ Compensation Division is in the last phase of acquiring this software.
  • Launch a public awareness initiative
    The Workers’ Compensation division began a speaking tour in the summer of 2013 in which representatives from the division and the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance spoke at conferences and other venues across the state. These speakers continue to be available for future presentations.
  • Create Website and tip form
    The division created a Website that provides useful distinctions between employees and independent contractors. The division offers a toll-free number, (800) 332-2667, and a tip form, for citizens to report a business suspected of misclassifying its workers.

Although the Employee Misclassification Advisory Task Force is scheduled to sunset on June 30, 2014, most of the current task force members have agreed to participate on a new Employee Misclassification Advisory Committee.

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TN Enrolls 6,000 Unemployed, Underemployed Workers in Training Programs

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor; July 17, 2013:

NASHVILLE – During the 12-month period ending in March 2013, more than 6,000 unemployed or underemployed Tennessee workers were enrolled in training for a variety of occupations.

The Adult and Dislocated Worker Program gives eligible workers services and training to increase employability and earnings in jobs in their local communities. The program also provides local employers the skilled workers they need to keep a successful and viable workforce in place.

“When jobseekers come into our Career Centers, we do an objective assessment to determine their skills in a particular area and match those with job opportunities based on their skills. We try to move people directly into a job with a company that is hiring,” said Sterling van der Spuy, Workforce Services Administrator for the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development.

Sometimes the Career Center staff cannot create an immediate transition to an employment opportunity for the person who has lost his job. “The next step is to use Jobs4TN.gov to examine job opportunities and in-demand occupations in the area to determine a successful career path of interest to the job seeker. We assess the person’s skills and abilities and decide if this is a candidate for whom we could make some training investment to be successful – maybe to meet the demands of a new industry that has just moved into the community,” van der Spuy said.

The training is made available with federal funds through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Past WIA funding has made possible special arrangements with community colleges for employers coming to Tennessee and needing potential employees to take a certain curriculum.

WIA money does not pay the entire cost of training. WIA staff connects participants with other sources that can supplement costs, such as grants and scholarships.

In addition to classroom training, 1,204 workers were enrolled in on-the-job training statewide through March 2013. With on-the-job training, the department uses WIA money to offset some of the wages for the training when the skill cannot be learned in a classroom. The department shares the wages so a manager who’s producing revenue for the company can spend time with a newly hired employee teaching him how to do the job.

The State Workforce Board, made up of business, community, and government leaders, allocates funding received under the Workforce Investment Act to 13 Local Workforce Investment Areas to provide workforce development and career services based on local needs. Eligible training providers, approved by Local Workforce Investment Area Boards, are available at https://apps.tn.gov/wiaetpl-app/search.html.

Employers and workers wanting more information about WIA training can go to http://www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/empwfd.shtml.

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Business and Economy Featured Tax and Budget

TN Tightens Rules on Unemployment Benefits

After almost a year of Republican lawmakers complaining that the state’s unemployment system is too lax, Gov. Bill Haslam is signing three bills into law that stiffen rules for people seeking benefit checks.

The bills come as the state’s unemployment rate drops below the 8.2 percent national average to 7.9 percent after skyrocketing into double digits with most of the nation during the peak of the economic recession.

“One of the things you want to make certain you do throughout all this is make certain the process, which is a valuable one, gets protected,” Haslam told reporters after signing the legislation at a Nashville sign company Wednesday. “Protecting benefits for the people that deserve them is a very important part of what we do.”

The proposals came in large part at the urging of Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who has taken a leading role in pushing the overhauls. He spent much of his “Red Tape Road Tour” last year asking businesses what they want out of state government. At the same time, House Republicans surveyed other employers.

Both camps reported stories from business owners that some job candidates delayed taking jobs while they milked their unemployment benefits, or workers who were fired for just-cause were still able to get on the beneficiary rolls.

“It will protect the integrity of the process yet at the same time make sure that those who truly need the benefits will get the benefits,” Ramsey said at the ceremonial signing, adding the goal is to make sure the jobless see their unemployment check as “a benefit and not a lifestyle.”

The National Federation of Small Business Tennessee chapter, which teamed up with Ramsey in his Red Tape tour, conducted its own informal employer survey and also found that issues with the unemployment benefits system rank high among business owners’ concerns.

“The bills plug holes exposed by the great recession, like ensuring more workers are actively looking for work,” said Jim Brown, executive director of Tennessee’s NFIB.

“I know that can be a controversial subject, but this will help many unemployed individuals return to the workforce sooner, which is good for them, it’s good for their families and it’s good for their communities,” he added.

The most significant changes to state law are found in the “Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012.” The measure creates a broader definition of “misconduct” that will disqualify applicants from benefits if they were fired for cause. Under the new law, “misconduct” is defined as:

  • Conscious disregard of the rights or interests of the employer
  • Deliberate violations or disregard of reasonable standards of behavior that the employer expects of an employee
  • Carelessness or negligence of such a degree or recurrence to show an intentional or substantial disregard of the employer’s interest or to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or shows an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to the employee’s employer
  • Deliberate disregard of a written attendance policy and the discharge is in compliance with such policy
  • A knowing violation of a regulation of this state by an employee of an employer licensed by this state, which violation would cause the employer to be sanctioned or have the employer’s license revoked or suspended by this state
  • A violation of an employer’s rule.

The laws also call for developing an electronic system the Department of Labor and employers can use to communicate notice of employee separation and challenges to benefits claims. The measures also tighten up the definition of a seasonal employer so workers can’t claim unemployment benefits if they knew their job would only last a few months out of the year.

Job seekers will also have to begin providing proof they made contact with three employers every week or visited their local career center in an attempt to find work. The department will be charged with auditing 1,000 of those reports each week and booting claimants who fabricate their work search.

The law also allows the department to deny claims to workers rejecting valid job offers or failing employer-mandated drug tests.

Lawmakers this year also approved a bill that would require welfare recipients to submit to a drug test if they have prior drug convictions or are red-flagged during department screenings for benefits.

While the state doesn’t currently make most government employees take drugs tests as a condition of getting or keeping their jobs, it offers tax breaks encouraging private-sector employers to demand their employees submit to urine sampling. An effort to require state lawmakers to take drug tests failed this year for lack of support among Republican legislators.

Although the proposals passed easily with bipartisan support in the House and Senate, only Republicans joined Haslam in his ceremonial bill signing. The governor only signed two of the three bills at the event Wednesday, although he expressed support for all three measures. The third bill with the most significant changes to state law, SB3658, was still being transmitted to the governor.

Andrea Zelinski and Alex Harris contributed to this report.

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Press Releases

State Makes Recommendations to Handle New Federal Unemployment Rules

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development; April 13, 2012:

Department Urges Compliance to Avoid Interruption of Benefits

NASHVILLE – New federal requirements to the unemployment insurance system announced last week require in-person case management meetings and documented work searches, and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is making several recommendations to help claimants.

“We’re encouraging everyone to pay attention to the information we send in the mail and attend these case management courses,” Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis said. “As more and more claimants miss these sessions, it may become increasingly challenging to find classes with open slots resulting in weeks of delays to get their benefits started again.”

The department recommends updating your address with the agency in order to receive notifications. This can quickly be done by logging into your account online at https://ui.tn.gov/Pages/PersonalInformation.aspx. If individuals miss their appointment they should immediately contact their local Tennessee Career Center to reschedule.

All Claimants in the federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation program (EUC08) received instructions on the newly required documented work searches; however, only those transitioning from the state’s unemployment benefits to EUC08 and those entering the second tier of EUC08 receive additional notifications to attend case management sessions.

In the appointment letter for case management, claimants are instructed to bring their initial work search logs. If they don’t produce the documents, they are required to attend an additional in-person session to ensure they are in compliance with the requirements.

For up-to-date information visit http://www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/2012 Unemployment Update.html or follow the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TNLabor.

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Press Releases

8.7% Unemployment Rate Lowest Since ’08

Press Release from Department of Labor and Workforce Development; Jan. 19, 2012:

RATE DROPS 0.4 PERCENTAGE POINT FROM NOVEMBER

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for December fell to 8.7 percent, down from the November revised rate of 9.1. The national unemployment rate for December 2011 was 8.5 percent, a decrease of 0.2 percentage point from the November rate.

“This is the lowest unemployment rate Tennessee has experienced since December 2008 when the rate was 8.4 percent,” Commissioner Davis said. “The drop in Tennessee’s rate is largely due to a notable increase of 11,200 employed persons from November to December.”

UT Economist Bill Fox states the Tennessee rate parallels the national picture. “The drop in Tennessee’s unemployment rate mirrors what is happening nationally, but Tennessee has had much stronger employment growth.”

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

November 2011 to December 2011

From November to December, professional and business services increased 5,400 jobs; durable goods manufacturing was up by 1,000 jobs; and clothing and clothing accessories stores increased by 700 jobs. From November to December, leisure and hospitality decreased by 3,500 jobs; state government educational services was down 2,500 jobs; and mining, logging, and construction declined by 1,900 jobs.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

December 2010 to December 2011

Year-over-year increases took place in local government education services, up 11,200 jobs; mining, logging, and construction was up 7,100 jobs; and manufacturing increased by 6,900 jobs. Employment decreases took place in trade, transportation, and utilities, which were down by 5,500 jobs; information was down 1,300 jobs; and hospitals declined by 900 jobs.

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Press Releases

Dept. of Labor Training Grants Focus on Avoiding Layoffs

Press Release from Department of Labor and Workforce Development; Jan. 11, 2012:

$500,000 AVAILABLE TO UPGRADE SKILLS FOR TENNESSEE WORKERS

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Commissioner Karla Davis today announced $500,000 in Incumbent Worker Grants is still available to Tennessee employers to avoid layoffs. The grants are designed to assist employers with the expenses associated with skills upgrade training for the company’s employees or process improvement training of the company, thereby keeping the business competitive.

From October 1, 2011, through September 30, 2012, $1.1 million is allotted for Incumbent Worker Training. As of January 10, 2012, more than $600,000 has been awarded to 36 companies training 1,703 incumbent workers.

“The Incumbent Worker Training Grants support the governor’s priorities by assisting with training needs of Tennessee companies and their existing workforce,” said Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis. “Companies use these training grants to upgrade skills or improve company processes that support a layoff aversion strategy. It is vital that we support our existing businesses to stay competitive and maintain a viable workforce.”

Monogram Refrigeration LLC in Selmer employs 171 workers and has been in business in Tennessee for 24 years. Monogram is a fabrication and assembly plant that manufactures high-end refrigerators for General Electric. The company was awarded an Incumbent Worker Training Grant last year in order to hit performance goals, increase productivity, and stabilize its workforce.

“Through the State of Tennessee Incumbent Worker Training program, Monogram Refrigeration LLC was able to train 35 of its current employees in Lean Manufacturing Principles and apply these principles during a week-long workout to eliminate waste in our manufacturing processes,” said Ray Denning, plant manager for Monogram Refrigeration. “This training will help us be more competitive in this very difficult economy.”

Incumbent Worker Training Grant funds are limited and are therefore awarded on a competitive basis. The maximum award is $25,000 per grant.

Eligible applicants include any Tennessee employer that is a for-profit business in operation for one year or more, has a minimum of five full-time employees, and is financially viable and current on all state and local tax obligations. The grant can cover a variety of training opportunities that are employer or industry specific, including upgrading of technical/computer skills and production practices.

The Incumbent Worker Training Grants are jointly administered by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development and Tennessee’s Local Workforce Investment Areas (LWIAs). Interested companies can contact their LWIA for available funds at www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/cc/ccareas_contact.htm. For further information and the Incumbent Worker Training Grant application form go to www.tn.gov/labor-wfd/et_services_employers.html.

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Press Releases

Tennessee Unemployment Rate Up Again in June: 9.8 Percent

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, July, 21, 2011:

Gradual Increase in State Rate Mirrors National Trend

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for June was 9.8 percent, up slightly from the May revised rate of 9.7. The national unemployment rate for June 2011 was 9.2 percent, up from the May revised rate of 9.1 percent.

“The decline in employment combined with a slight expansion in the labor force explains the higher unemployment rate,” Commissioner Davis said. “This is the third month in a row in which the unemployment rate has slightly increased.”

According to the household survey conducted by the Labor and Workforce Development department, the number of employed Tennesseans decreased by 3,200 from May to June 2011. The civilian labor force increased by 1,800, and at 3,143,900 is the highest on record.

“The increase in employment levels over the last 12 months is still positive with more than 74 thousand jobs gained,” added Davis. “This growth rate of 2.7 percent is much higher than the national employment picture which only grew 0.2 percent from June 2010 to June 2011.”

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

May 2011 to June 2011

Month-to-month increases occurred in leisure and hospitality, up 4,700 jobs; mining, logging, and construction was up 1,900; and manufacturing increased by 1,600. Government jobs decreased by 30,800 (mostly due to local government educational service declines); educational services were down by 3,000; and administrative, support and waste services declined by 1,700.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

June 2010 to June 2011

Year-over-year increases took place in private educational and health services, up 7,100 jobs; transportation and warehousing, up 5,500; and food services and drinking places increased by 5,300.

Employment decreases took place in government, down 11,000; retail trade, down 2,600; and accommodation, down 2,200.

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Press Releases

DOL Creates Online Application for Unemployment Benefits Extension

State of Tennessee News Release, Dec 07, 2009:

Approximately 25,000 Tennesseans Eligible for Additional Benefits

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is on schedule to complete the online applications for the latest federal extension of unemployment benefits. The application will be available on the Tennessee Department of Labor’s Internet site on December 11, and the first benefit payments are expected to be mailed December 18, 2009.

“This project has been given the highest priority, and the department’s Information Technology division has worked nights, weekends and holidays to do the extensive programming required of our systems to extend these benefits,” said Labor Commissioner James Neeley. “Those who have already exhausted their benefits should look for instructions in the mail this week with the status of their claim.”

The online application will be necessary for claimants who have exhausted all prior benefits. Additionally, those who exhausted benefits prior to the February 27, 2009, deadline for State Extended Benefits may also be eligible and are encouraged to apply.

Tennesseans who exhaust their State Extended Benefits (EB09) after December 17, 2009, will automatically transition into the new program without having to reapply.

“During this slow economic period, we have seen an unprecedented number of Tennesseans staying on unemployment until they exhaust their benefits,” said Neeley. “This will give those who are still looking for work more time to cover their expenses through the holidays and into 2010.”

This federally funded extension is the fourth announcement of benefits beyond the initial 26 weeks of unemployment compensation provided by the state. While the intent of the bill was to add 20 weeks of payments, an oversight in the way the federal law was structured prevented individuals from receiving the maximum weeks of entitlement. Depending on an individual’s initial claim eligibility, wage history and subsequent employment status, the maximum entitlement for the latest extension of unemployment benefits is 14 weeks.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has posted details of the extension with an extensive list of frequently asked questions on their Internet home page at www.tn.gov/labor-wfd. For Tennesseans without Internet access, Tennessee Career Centers throughout the state are available at no charge. Go here to find a Career Center in your area, or call 1-800-576-3467.