In the past year there has been a flurry of activity in the courts and the General Assembly surrounding the availability of unemployment compensation benefit to employees within the state. To start off 2012, amendments to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law (“Act 6” or “amendments”) took effect and imposed a requirement that claimants “mak[e] an active search for suitable employment” in order to be eligible for UC benefits. Prior to Act 6, Pennsylvania was the only state that did not require a UC claimant to search for work in order to qualify for benefits.
Act 6 directed the state’s Department of Labor and Industry (“L&I”) to establish the specific search efforts necessary for a claimant to satisfy the active search requirement. At a minimum, though, the amendments required claimants to (i) register for employment search services with the Pennsylvania CareerLink system, (ii) post a resume to the site, and (iii) apply for similar employment within a certain commuting distance.
Pursuant to the directive, L&I proposed specific additional steps claimants must take to make an active search for work. L&I's proposal established a two-tiered search scheme, tying the level of search efforts to the number of weeks for which a claim for UC was filed. Notably, L&I's regulations required claimants to apply for a specified number of positions each week, undertake certain work search activities other than applying directly for a position, and keep a record of such activities. The required efforts increased after a claimant filed for benefits for eight consecutive weeks. Legislative staff estimated L&I's proposed work search regulations would yield an estimated $24 million in annual savings to the state UC system.
Last week, officials with the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission (“IRRC”) voted to disapprove the work search rules. The IRRC, an independent state agency tasked with reviewing regulations before implementation, concluded that the L&I work search proposals were “not in the public interest.” In its comments on the regulations, the IRRC stated its opinion that the two-tiered system was inconsistent with the General Assembly’s intent in establishing the active search requirements, was unreasonable and overly burdensome on claimants, and exceeded L&I’s statutory authority.
Although IRRC disapproval does not permanently bar a regulation, it does delay its implementation. At this point L&I has three options: (i) withdraw the regulation; (ii) modify the regulation in light of the IRRC’s comments and resubmit for consideration by the IRRC and legislative standing committees; or (iii) resubmit the regulation without modification for consideration. L&I has yet to publicly address the vote of disapproval. While this development does not require employers to take any immediate action, we will keep you updated on any updates as they come to light.