With Robert Herford*
On July 1, 2013, North Carolina's new Unemployment Benefits Act (The Reemployment Assistance Act of 2013) became effective. This change to the law was sponsored by Republican legislators in the NC General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory.
The first half of the new law deals only with employers and their contributions to the Unemployment Benefits Fund. Employers should see their Unemployment taxes reduced to some degree.
It is employees that lose their jobs who will bear the real burden of this law. There have been changes to the standards that disqualify a worker from unemployment benefits, how long one may receive unemployment benefits, the maximum amount one may receive, and how long one can remain eligible for unemployment benefits. These changes will affect thousands of unemployed North Carolinians. The new law only affects those applying for unemployment benefits AFTER July 1, 2013. If you are already receiving benefits, your weekly amount will not change.
In order for you to obtain unemployment benefits, you must file a claim with the Division of Labor, report to an employment office at the request of the Division, and meet the work search requirements. One is required to be able to work, be available to work, be actively seeking work, and one must accept "suitable work" when offered.
One is automatically disqualified from benefits if discharged for misconduct, one failed to provide adequate license for employment, if the unemployment is the result of a labor dispute, or if one is self-employed. If one quits his or her job, then one must show good cause attributable to the employer as the reason for quitting. A person may not be disqualified if the unemployment is a result of domestic violence or if the worker is a military spouse and there is a relocation of the spouse in the military.
Before the law was changed, a worker could leave work for a medical reason-injury or illness-- and collect unemployment benefits, but the Legislature removed this provision from the law.
Once benefits are approved, the amount one receives is based on the amount one made in the past two calendar quarters divided by 52. This means that if you made $300 a week in net income for the last two quarters, then you would receive $150 per week in unemployment benefits. An unemployed person will only receive this amount if he or she continues to meet the work search requirements. Attending classes at a vocational or trade school or attending classes to become licensed for a particular job are acceptable for the work search requirements.
Benefits are only payable for a set period of time. The duration of benefits was reduced in this new law. Under the new law a person is eligible to receive unemployment benefits for 10 weeks, but absolutely no longer than 17 weeks, regardless of whether one finds new work during that period.
Also, the maximum amount that one can receive in benefits is $350 per week. Before the law was changed, the maximum weekly benefit was $535, so this new law constitutes a huge cut to unemployment benefits.
By changing definitions of "suitable work" and reducing benefits, the General Assembly hopes to get people back to work faster. We will have to wait and see whether this new law does that, or simply makes life even harder for unemployed North Carolinians. Yes, folks, politics at the State level do affect your life. It is not all about what is going on in Washington!
*Robert Herford is a rising second year law student who is working as an intern in our law firm this summer. Robert prepared this Blog post which was then edited by firm principal Bob Bollinger.