Thousands of people apply for and receive unemployment benefits to assist them in a time of need. But what happens when the Department of Labor accuses someone of not reporting their employment status accurately? Things can get serious, fast.
It's easy to make a mistake
The guidelines for receiving unemployment benefits can get complicated. The process in New York involves (1) applying for unemployment benefits, and then if approved (2) filing weekly certifications with New York State indicating, among other things, how many days the applicant worked in the prior week. So far, so good. Where the going gets tricky is that most people don't realize that they must report all work performed, whether for pay or not, part time or full time, seasonal or all year round. Many people assume that if they are underemployed, they don't have to report that work to the Department of Labor.
So, for example, an individual is employed full time as a nurse, which involves many hours of overtime. This individual works hard, and does well for themselves. But, out of no-where, they are laid off. They apply for unemployment benefits, and are approved. While they are looking for nursing work, they work one or two nights at a local bar to make a bit of extra cash. When it comes to certifying at the end of the week, the individual does not report the bar-tending job. It's only a couple of hours, and it's not nursing, after all. Not a big deal, right?
Unfortunately, many people in this situation find themselves arrested, and forced to defend against felony charges.
What many people don't realize is that they are entitled to unemployment benefits even if they are employed at the time of receiving those benefits. Without getting into the complex formulas used by the Department of Labor, suffice it to say that your benefits would be reduced a certain amount depending on how many days that week the claimant found work. Where the problem comes in, however, is that many people are unaware of this, and would simply not report side jobs or temporary work they found during the week.
Before long, many people find themselves in Criminal Court.
This is a criminal matter?!
It is. The Department of Labor takes these sorts of failure to report very seriously. Over time, the amount of benefits received as a result of not reporting or under-reporting work can add up to thousands of dollars. Many people find themselves facing felony Grand Larceny charges as a result.
But what if the amount of the over-payment is under a thousand dollars? That's just a misdemeanor, right? Not so fast. Every time a person falsely certifies with the Department of Labor that she did not work that week (be it online or by mail) they are filing a false instrument with the State. Thus, for each false certification, there is a very good chance that they could be charged with Falsifying Business Records in the 1st Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the 1st Degree, both of which are felonies. Now imagine that this persisted for months, or even years? Many people are shocked to find themselves facing dozens, if not hundreds of felony counts.
What do I do?
First, read all of the instructions regarding filing certifications with the State very carefully. Take them seriously and literally. Many DA's offices in New York State receive grant money from the State to go after unemployment fraud. Thus, they have a great incentive to go after YOU should you make a mistake. Do not think that this is a minor matter.
Second, if you do make a mistake, you will likely receive a call to meet with a Department of Labor investigator or representative. The purpose of this meeting will be to gather evidence against you that will be crucial in your prosecution. Do not agree to such a meeting without a lawyer.
Third, find a lawyer who practices in this area of law. The rules and regulations regarding Department of Labor fraud are extremely tricky. A lawyer who is an expert in this realm can help you minimize or even avoid possible serious ramifications.
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