Jobless Claims: Booming Biz in Bust Era

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Getting laid off, sorting out the paperwork and figuring out how you'll make ends meet on an unemployment check is hard enough. Now, enter a company called Talx, whose job it is to manage unemployment claims on behalf of the companies doing mass layoffs. Most former employees who have worked with them feel that their idea of "managing" is to make it infinitely more difficult to file a claim and get your first check.

Owned by credit-rating behemoth Equifax, Talx claims to handle more than 30% of the nation's requests for jobless benefits. Its fees are paid by the firm doing the layoffs, and major US companies such as Aetna, AT&T, Best Buy, FedEx, Home Depot, Marriott, McDonald's, the Postal Service, Cargill, Target, Tyson Foods, WalMart and Wells Fargo have used it.

Here's why Talx is not a company you want to hear from: They claim that their mission is to "protect" those who have lost jobs through no fault of their own and help them get the benefits they're entitled to. But the fact is, companies like Talx are paid by the former employer, not the employee, so you can guess who they're really protecting.

You see, every company pays unemployment taxes based on how many successful claims are filed against them. For example, the company that lays off 100 people and is paying unemployment benefits to them will be taxed at a much higher rate than the company that laid off five people. Companies generally hire firms like Talx to "negotiate" fewer unemployment benefit payments so their taxes will be lower.

In all fairness, another reason that companies like Talx are hired is that their employees are reported to be specialists in the field of unemployment filings, and as such can deal with legal issues much more efficiently than in-house legal departments, which have limited unemployment experience.

Still, if you've just been laid off and they contact you, it means your former employer has called in the big guns to try to handle your unemployment claim for you and the goal isn't to make it pretty, fast or simple. They're known for contesting all claims, regardless of merit.

For example, you file a perfectly legitimate unemployment claim, then Talx files an appeal with the state, making a lengthy hearing and negotiation procedure necessary. Talx reps are notorious for not even showing up for the hearing, so even if the claim is decided in your favor, you've gone several weeks--even months--without receiving a check.

The strategy seems to be that some people will simply give up if they're entangled in enough red tape. If you receive a notice from third party negotiator like Talx, hang in there and don't despair. State officials are becoming wise to these tactics, and are often siding with the workers.

In fact, some states, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Connecticut and New York, are getting wise to these "procedural abuses" and have passed laws, filed complaints or created policies to protect the unemployed.

However, if you live elsewhere, have been laid off and see an envelope with the name Talx in your mailbox, it's probably best to, in the immortal words of Bette Davis, "Fasten your seat belts;" the road to your unemployment check is going to be a bumpy one.

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