Key Takeaways

There is strong support for a digital portal

Overall, there is strong support for a digital portal. Right now, employers mostly receive notice that a claim has been made via paper mail.
    1.
    A digital portal would decrease processing time. Paper mail is particularly difficult during COVID times because mail is slow to arrive at the office and the people in charge of UI claims are rarely at the office. Even outside of COVID times, once a letter reaches an office, the letter may take time to get to the person in charge of processing UI claims, which reduces the time the person has to respond.
    2.
    Paper mail is inconsistent with modern business processes. Most business is now conducted digitally. Storage of employment records is now often digital, although many companies have paper backups. The state sending letters means that HR folks at employers need to take the time to scan them into their digital systems.
      1.
      “In this day and age, to not have an electronic system seems crazy to me.” -California reimbursed employer, 1000+ employees, received claims via a TPA that shared claims as a spreadsheet
      2.
      “We get them all by mail. It goes to the front desk, who takes it to payroll, who scans it. By the time I have to make the response, I’ve just got it because of all the passing around.” -Washington State taxable employer, 1000+ employees
      3.
      “It would be so much more efficient for all parties if it was sent electronically.” -California taxable employer, 100+ employees

The portal needs to support the UI process for a range of businesses.

The portal needs to support the UI process for a range of businesses. Employers who participated in the interviews were either small companies that handled their UI processes themselves or larger companies that used a TPA (third party administrator) to handle their processes in bulk.
    1.
    Learning about new filings was the most important UI task for the majority of employers, with the exception where a TPA handled new filings for them. Learning about new filings was the most frequent UI task. Usually companies had 2 weeks to respond. If they didn’t respond in that time, then they might start getting charged for UI.
    2.
    Disputing claims and satisfying requests for additional information were the most important UI task for large organizations whose TPAs handled new filings and the second most important task for other organizations.
      1.
      Most HR professionals had learned through experience which claims they could dispute and win in different states. They prided themselves on only disputing claims they could win. However, a few worked for companies with a policy of disputing all claims.
      2.
      Satisfying requests for additional information from the state was also one of the most common tasks related to unemployment insurance. HR people wanted to provide that information to the state promptly.

Support employers in accessing information in a timely and secure fashion.

Support employers in accessing information in a timely and secure fashion. Support timely new employer account creation. Organize portals via individual claimant as well as employer. Support multiple log-ins for different HR employees at a single employer.
    1.
    Support timely new account creation. Right now, creating and verifying a new employer account with a new state can take more than 2 weeks, which is longer than employers may have to respond to a new claim. (Many employers have employees in multiple states.)
      1.
      “I went to do the registration on the California website [for their only California employee], and I found it very difficult to manage. It says, after two weeks, we'll add you into the platform. I ended up handwriting everything and mailing it in instead of going on the portal. With most states, it's not an easy process to just log on to the website, find your company and find everything to manage.” -Virginia state, 10+ employees, 200+ contractors
    2.
    Digital portals should be organized by employer and support mass upload and download. Consider also allowing employers to sign in with a unique password and pin to access individual claims. Most digital UI portals are already organized by claimant inside the employer account. This makes sense to employers.
      1.
      Support mass uploads and downloads for employers. Digital portals should support mass downloads and uploads of information related to UI claims. Larger companies, TPAs, and companies with seasonal businesses and regular or unexpected fluctuations in their workforce size need to be able to handle claims in aggregate. Forcing employers to individually process data for tens, hundreds or thousands of claimants at a time will result in a slower process for claimants.
        1.
        A Pennsylvania taxable employer with 1000+ employees that used a TPA for most of its operations acquired a new company that did UI claims manually. “It's the same information, but it just takes a lot longer.. to fill out all the information, attach all of the documentation manually, and then copy them all, scan them, and then fax. It's a hassle.”
      2.
      Support multiple log-ins for a single employer. A log-in for an employer being tied to the personal data of one or two people at an employer is difficult for employers when multiple people at an employer handle UI claims. Support a single employer having multiple log-ins that different individuals at the employer can use.
        1.
        “We can only have one or two usernames for the portals, and it’s not good practice to share usernames. Even just payroll has 5-6 people. There’s no way to have everyone to log in individually.” -Washington State taxable employer, 1000+ employees, where responsibility for managing UI claims is shared between payroll, the HR person who handles union members and the HR person who handles staff.
        2.
        “We might need me, the COO/CFO, and CEO to access the (company) account.” -California taxable employer
      3.
      Consider allowing employers to sign in with a unique password and pin to access an individual claim, without having to create a new account for themselves as an employer. The password and pin should come with the notification that they have received a new claim. This will speed claim processing time by not requiring the creation of a new employer account.

Consider collaborating across state lines

Consider collaborating across state lines to create a portal that can aggregate and simplify processes regardless of state. Most of the HR professionals in this research managed unemployment for their company in multiple states (see “About the research” at the end of this report for how the participant selection process favored mid-size and large employers). They disliked having to learn a new user interface for each new portal. It made them less efficient at processing claims. Having a portal that worked for multiple states would reduce the number of new digital portals that multi-state employers need to learn.

Notify employers about new claims via email and portal.

Notify employers about new claims via email and portal. Default to email, but allow companies to specify that they would prefer notifications about new claims to come via portal.
    1.
    The most convenient notifications from outside a company come via email. These days, emails are a standard form of communication for most external notifications from outside the company. Emails have the advantage that they support asynchronous communication. Someone can get an email and take a few hours to find the requested information and compose an answer. In contrast, someone has to be there at the time to answer the phone. And the person who picks up a phone call may not have the answers at their fingertips.
    2.
    Some companies and TPAs support a large enough volume of claims that they prefer a portal. For large employers and TPAs, a portal is more convenient than pages of individual emails. One HR person who used a TPA described going into the TPA portal to check on UI claims as part of their morning routine alongside getting coffee and checking her email.
      1.
      “I would want a file feed to go directly to the benefits portal from payroll, like all our other systems.” -New Mexico taxable employer, 200+ employees

Increase transparency between employer and claimant

Confirming the details will benefit from some transparency between the employer and claimant. In most states, employers find out about a claim when they receive a letter from the state saying they have a claimant. Then, it is up to the employer to confirm various details, such as the employee’s name, their dates of employment, and the cause of termination.
    1.
    Suggest transparency between the employer and claimant on easily resolvable details. Easily resolvable details such as claimant name and their end of employment date should be shared between the employer and claimant to speed up claims. The claimant may also not be clear on the employer’s identity when multiple organizations are involved in their employment (ex., as a contractor).
      1.
      The end of employment date given by the employer is sometimes different from the day of termination provided by the claimant (i.e., one fills out the form with the last day they showed up to work and the other fills out the form with the day after). This can slow down processing. Where employers and claimants have the same interest in speedy processing, transparency on the end of employment date in the best interest of both parties.
      2.
      The employer’s identity may not be clear to the claimant. For example, employees at a cafeteria on a college campus may not understand they were working for the company that provided catering, not the university itself.
    2.
    Consider transparency between the employer and claimant on more contentious issues.
      1.
      “I don’t want this responsibility, but it would be so much easier if I could see what employees are putting in on their UI or talk on their behalf on some point. If you make a call to the cable company, you can do it if you’re verified on the account. I can help interpret because it never comes out in English.” -Illinois taxable employer, 200+ employees
      2.
      The cause of the employee leaving the company. When they file, the claimant and the employer may provide different reasons the claimant is no longer employed by the company. Sometimes this represents a legitimate disagreement. Other times, the claimant may not understand the categories offered in the form and/or may not be completely fluent in English. If the employer and the claimant are in agreement about the cause of the employee leaving the company, transparency about the other party’s claims may reduce the need for further action.
        1.
        “A lot of times, not usually on purpose, people get confused and report a different reason. People have been awarded UI when they weren’t supposed to. They go to fill out the form and they’re not sure the difference between layoff and fired.” -Washington State taxable employer, 1000+ employees
      3.
      The nature of employment. In a world with contractors and agencies, claimants may not be clear on the nature of their employment (ex., a 1099 vs. a W-2). For example, a contractor may claim unemployment benefits to which they are not legally entitled if they were on a 1099.
    3.
    Accommodate complexity. The circumstances and people involved in an employee leaving a company can be complex. It is useful to accommodate that complexity by providing an “other” option in the reasons for the end of employment and a place for notes. It is also useful to allow employers to change their answers when they learn new information.
      1.
      "We had someone that was a really volatile person... I knew the hearing was going to be contentious. It was a six hour hearing. That has never happened to me. They're usually under an hour.” -Pennsylvania, 1000+ employees, used a TPA
      2.
      Provide an “Other” option in reasons for the end of employment and provide a place for notes. Having a place for notes in forms accommodates the complexity of some of these situations.
        1.
        “Not every situation fits into a questionnaire neatly, and there’s rarely room to add a full story.” -PA taxable employer, 10k+ employees, used a TPA
      3.
      Allow employers to change or update their previously submitted answers to questions when they learn new information. HR departments may learn new information in the aftermath of an employee’s departure that changes the former employee’s UI eligibility (ex., evidence of stealing on the job). In the case of a senior leader departing a company, there may also be ongoing negotiations between the senior leader and the employer which changes information that may have been initially supplied to the state.
        1.
        “Sometimes things change. Someone will put in their notice and then get fired, so how do I change that?” -Washington State taxable employer, 1000+ employees.

Design to accommodate data from multiple sources

Design to accommodate data from multiple sources which may be in incompatible formats. Support the combination of multiple records into a single record, and the separation of a single record into multiple records. For example, a father and son may have the same name and address. Design for the flexibility to separate a single record into multiple records if their information was incorrectly combined into a single record.
    1.
    Support claimants having different names. The system should support the combination of two or more records if the same person appears in UI systems under different names. Sometimes the same person will appear in UI systems under different names, whether that is due to system limitations (i.e., character limits not supporting a long last name), cultural factors (i.e., name changes upon marriage), or human error (a middle name appearing in one form and not another).
      1.
      “If Jake’s name is really John and he put Jake on his application, he has to update all that, so I have no idea if they’re putting in the right information.” -Illinois taxable employer, 200+ employees
    2.
    Don’t limit name length. Support diverse names, including both shorter (last names with only two characters, like Li) and longer names. Either have very generous character limits or don’t have character limits. Support apostrophes, hyphens, spaces and special characters (ex. Juan Fernández de Calderón García-Iglesias).
      1.
      “Certain communities have names that are longer. Hispanic communities, it was a big problem. Names would have a character limit and they would have issues with their claims because of that. The system is not robust enough.” - Georgia taxable company with 10,000+ employees
    3.
    Support name changes. Sometimes, people change their names (ex., upon marriage). Systems should support name changes and allow two separate records under different names to be combined.

Inflexibly scheduled hearings are a minor frustration

Lack of flexibility in the scheduling of hearings could be a minor frustration for employers. Preparing for hearings usually required research into the history of the case. In most states, employers were not given a choice of when the hearing would be. If they received notice of a hearing with only a few days to prepare, they had to drop other things to focus on preparing for the hearing. Also, one participant reported having to wake up at 5 am one day to attend a hearing in another time zone. Suggest requiring that employers receive at least a week’s notice of a hearing and slightly more flexibility in the scheduling process.

Employers disputed claims, but rarely disputed decisions.

Employers disputed claims, but rarely disputed decisions. The majority only disputed claims they thought they could win, although some had a policy of disputing all claims. The portal user interface can visually emphasize other options than the option to dispute decisions because it is a low frequency occurrence. HR professionals learned through experience that they would rarely win if they disputed a decision, so they disputed decisions infrequently if ever.

States should provide clear options for employers to report UI fraud.

States should provide clear options for employers to report UI fraud. They should also consider pro-actively auditing for UI fraud.
    1.
    Provide a clear place in the forms for employers to report fraudulent claims. Many states don’t currently provide an easy way for employers to report fraud, ex., if they see a claim from someone who has never worked for them or is currently actively employed with them.
      1.
      “Especially with COVID, there was a huge influx of fraudulent claims that came through, and there is nothing here on this screen that something is fraudulent, so for the first month of COVID, I had to call every time I thought something was fraud.” -Massachusetts taxable employer, 200+ employees
    2.
    Consider pro-actively auditing for fraud. None of the employers pro-actively audited for UI fraud until it came across their desks. After it came across their desks, they were aware. But if it hadn’t come across their desks, they didn’t check for it.
      1.
      “The other thing the TPA did during the pandemic that was very helpful was tipping me to places where they thought fraud had occurred.” -California reimbursed employer, 1000+ employees

Have accessible and prompt customer service

Have accessible and prompt customer service. Some HR folks did not know how to contact the state if necessary. Others dreaded waiting on hold for extended wait times. Accessible and prompt customer service for employers ensures that states can process claims efficiently and get them out to qualifying claimants. Additionally, sometimes former employees will contact HR for help in getting through extended wait times. Employers couldn’t help and it increased their frustration with state UI systems.
    1.
    “You should be able to pick up a phone.. It was a lot of red tape from this person to this person (at the state unemployment offices)” -New York State professional, discussing the unemployment claims process at their previous 1000+ employee company
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