Unemployment laws are unfair to part-timers

New Hampshire public policy forbids part-time workers from collecting unemployment unless they agree to seek full-time work. For those who need to work part-time, this policy is unbalanced and unfair.

Ignoring the reality of part-time workers dates back to when full-time work was the accepted norm of our American culture. Over the past decade, businesses have adjusted to the changing demands of an expanding global marketplace. A need for a flexible and nimble workforce diminished opportunities for full-time work and increased the availability of part-time jobs.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Franklin Bishop, R-Raymond, would modernize and improve the state’s unemployment compensation policy by allowing part-time workers to collect when they lose their jobs even if they are seeking new part-time jobs.

House Bill 137 is a good idea because it embodies fairness, opportunity and shared responsibility.

Business relies on part-time labor to increase profits by saving on full-time salaries and by not offering health-care insurance, sick pay or vacations. Business pays a tax on every worker, and that money goes into a trust fund that pays out unemployment benefits. The business owner’s tax goes up when a worker is laid off and submits a claim.

People may rely on part-time work because it is all they can get in their field or because they need family-time flexibility. They accept that they are more likely to lose out on promotions and raises. Part-time work also tends to mean lower hourly pay.

Women are the majority of the part-time workforce – women who often need the remaining hours in the week to work at their other jobs: family obligations of child or elder parent care.

So far, so fair.

But it is not fair to the employee when a part-time job ends through no fault of her own and she is denied unemployment compensation.

A part-time worker seeking unemployment benefits is not recognized by the state. This protects the employer from a tax rating increase because there is no submitted claim. By preventing the claim, the state provides protection for the employer but not the worker.

Denial of unemployment benefits to part-time workers also is anti-opportunity. The goal of the unemployment program is to provide for the transition between jobs for workers who continue to seek employment. Even though the money a part-time worker could collect is quite small, it would create opportunity.

Unemployment compensation is not to replace lost income but to provide temporary support during the job search. It may mean having enough money for the gas to get to the next job interview. Without it, an opportunity is lost.

Under HB 137, government, business and labor would share responsibility. Unemployment insurance is a federally managed, state-run program. Employers work with government by paying a tax on each worker based on their experience. Part-time workers do their share by training and searching for the next job.

Unemployment compensation is about the worker, not about the hours worked. Passing this bill would restore balance and create good public policy.

Sheila Evans is public policy director of the New Hampshire Women’s Lobby in Concord.

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