An earnings test is applied to unemployment claims. If a claimant's earnings for days worked, and/or days of vacation, paid leave, or other pay, in a 14-day registration period are more than a certain indexed amount, no benefits are payable for any days of unemployment in that period. That registration period, however, can be used to satisfy the waiting period requirement described below. Earnings include pay from self-employment and railroad, nonrailroad, and part-time work. Earnings also include pay that would have been earned except for failure to mark up or report for duty on time, or because the employee missed a turn in pool service or was otherwise not ready or willing to work. For the benefit year that began July 2016, the amount is $1,455; for the benefit year that begins July 2017, the amount remains $1,455; and for the benefit year that begins July 2018, the amount will be $1,545. These amounts correspond to the base year monthly compensation amounts used in determining eligibility for benefits in each year. Also, even if an earnings test applies on the first claim in a benefit year, this will not prevent the first claim from satisfying the waiting period in a benefit year.
On the other hand, earnings of no more than $15 a day from work which is substantially less than full-time and not inconsistent with the holding of normal full-time employment may be considered subsidiary remuneration and may not prevent payment of any days in a claim. However, a claimant must be sure to report all full and part-time work on each claim, regardless of the amount of earnings, so the RRB can determine whether the work affects benefits.
What is the current daily benefit rate?
The maximum daily benefit rate payable in benefit year 2016-2017 (July 1, 2016 - June 30, 2017) is $72; and, for biweekly claims, maximum benefits can total $720. The maximum daily benefit rate will remain $72 in July 2017, and will rise to $77 in July 2018. It may increase at the beginning of each future benefit year depending on the growth in average national wages.
Sickness benefits payable for the first 6 months after the month the employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.
Benefits are normally paid for the number of days of unemployment or sickness over 4 in 14-day registration periods. Initial sickness claims must also begin with 4 consecutive days of sickness. However, during the first 14-day claim period in a benefit year, benefits are only payable for each day of unemployment or sickness in excess of 7 which, in effect, provides a 1-week waiting period. Separate waiting periods are required for unemployment and sickness benefits. However, only one 7-day waiting period is generally required during any period of continuing unemployment or sickness, even if that period continues into a subsequent benefit year.
If an employee has at least 5 days of unemployment or 5 days of sickness in a 14-day period, he or she should still file for benefits.
A period of continuing sickness means either (1) a period of consecutive days of sickness, whether from one or more causes, or (2) a period of successive days of sickness due to a single cause without interruption of more than 90 consecutive days which are not days of sickness. An example of a qualifying situation under the latter condition would be an ailment such as chronic arthritis which could disable an employee for several days in a row, then be relieved for a brief period before recurring and forcing the employee to again be absent from work. Assuming this sequence of events occurred within 90 days, the period of continuing sickness would still be in effect and the employee could receive sickness benefits without again satisfying the 4 consecutive day requirement for a new sickness.
A period of continuing unemployment means a period of time for which an employee files claims for unemployment benefits where (1) each claim has 5 or more valid days of unemployment, and (2) each claim begins within 15 days after the previous claim ends.
What are registration periods?
A registration period for unemployment is normally a period of 14 days, beginning with the first day which the employee claims by properly registering. A new registration period begins with the first day claimed after the end of a preceding registration period.
A registration period for sickness benefits begins with the first day with respect to which the employee files an application for sickness benefits, and a statement of sickness filled out by his or her doctor. A new registration period begins immediately after the end of the preceding registration period as long as the employee's period of sickness continues. Registration periods for sickness benefits may also overlap when a period of continuing sickness ends and a new sickness follows the end of the previous one within 14 days.
Are strike benefits available?
If someone is unemployed because of a strike conducted in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, benefits are not payable for days of unemployment during the first 14 days of the strike, but benefits are payable during subsequent 14-day periods. If a strike is in violation of the Railway Labor Act, unemployment benefits are not payable to employees participating in the strike. However, employees not among those participating in such an illegal strike, but who are unemployed on account of the strike, may receive benefits after the first 2 weeks of the strike. While a benefit year waiting period cannot count towards a strike waiting period, the 14-day strike waiting period may count as the benefit year waiting period if the employee subsequently becomes unemployed for reasons other than a strike later in the benefit year.
What are normal benefits?
Normal benefits are paid for up to 130 days (26 weeks) in a benefit year. Benefit rights are exhausted when a benefit year ends (normally June 30) or earlier if benefit payments equal base-year creditable earnings.
Maximum normal benefits payable in the benefit year beginning July 2016 cannot exceed an employee's railroad earnings in base year 2015, counting monthly earnings up to $1,879; in the benefit year beginning July 2017, monthly earnings up to $1,879 for base year 2016 will be counted; and in the benefit year beginning July 2018, monthly earnings up to $1,996 for base year 2017 will be counted. This allows employees who qualify with relatively low earnings to be eligible for more days of benefits.
In order to qualify for normal unemployment benefits, the employee must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired.
Can benefits be extended?
If an employee has at least 10 years of service (120 or more cumulative service months) and exhausts normal unemployment or sickness benefits, he or she may be eligible to receive extended benefits for up to 65 days (during 7 consecutive 14-day registration periods). Also, if the employee is not qualified for normal benefits in the current benefit year but received normal benefits in the previous year, he or she may still be eligible for extended benefits.
In order to qualify for extended unemployment benefits, a claimant must not have voluntarily quit work without good cause and not have voluntarily retired. To qualify for extended sickness benefits, a beneficiary must not have voluntarily retired and must be under age 65.
Can benefits be accelerated?
Employees with 10 or more years of service (120 or more cumulative service months) whose earnings do not qualify them for unemployment or sickness benefits in the current benefit year, but will qualify them in the next benefit year, may be able to receive normal unemployment or sickness benefits before the regular beginning date of the next benefit year. To be eligible for these accelerated benefits, they must have 14 or more consecutive days of unemployment or sickness and not have voluntarily retired, or quit work without good cause if claiming unemployment benefits, and be under age 65 when claiming sickness benefits. This provision gives protection to a long-service employee at the time it is most needed; for example, to an employee with substantial recent earnings who is not otherwise qualified for benefits because an illness, long layoff, or other circumstances prevented him or her from working in the base year.
A benefit year that is started early for one type of benefit also starts early for benefits of the other type. Also, an employee may receive sickness benefits in a benefit period extended for unemployment, or unemployment benefits in a benefit period extended for sickness, and it is possible to have benefit periods extended for both unemployment and sickness with respect to the same benefit year.
Are maternity benefits available?
Maternity benefits are not payable as such. However, a qualified employee may receive sickness benefits if she is unable to work or if working would be injurious to her health because of pregnancy, miscarriage, or childbirth. Such benefits are paid in the same amounts as any other sickness benefits.
Can benefits be payable under more than one system?
If an employee receives a retirement, disability or survivor benefit under the Railroad Retirement Act, Social Security Act, or any other social insurance law for days for which he or she is also entitled to benefits under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act, unemployment or sickness benefits are payable only to the extent to which they exceed the other payments for those days. Examples of other such social insurance payments are military pensions other than VA benefits, firefighters' and police pensions, or certain workers' compensation payments. Claimants should report all such other payments promptly to avoid having to refund benefits later.
There is no reduction in unemployment or sickness benefits for benefits paid under an RRB-approved nongovernmental sickness insurance plan, such as a supplemental sickness plan established by a railroad. Similarly, there is no reduction in benefits if an employee receives supplemental unemployment benefits under an RRB-approved nongovernmental unemployment benefit plan. But unemployment and sickness benefits provided under the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act are not payable if Federal/State unemployment or sickness benefits under other laws, including Canadian law, are paid for the same period of time.
If an employee is awarded damages or receives a settlement because of an injury, any sickness benefits already paid for the same injury will have to be deducted from the settlement and refunded to the RRB. Any benefits due for the same injury for later periods may be withheld. The amount recoverable or withheld in such cases cannot, however, exceed the net amount of the damages or settlement after medical (even if covered by insurance) and legal expenses have been deducted.
Unemployment benefits are normally not paid if an employee is fully protected by a wage guaranty plan. If an employee receives unemployment or sickness benefits and later is paid for time lost for the same period, the employer will be asked to withhold an amount equal to the unemployment or sickness benefits. The employer must then pay this amount to the RRB.
Unemployment benefits can sometimes be paid even though a claimant is covered by a job protection plan which guarantees a certain amount of work or wages each month. However, if a claimant receives a protective allowance from an employer for a period for which benefits were paid, some or all of the benefits will have to be refunded. Such allowances should be reported promptly to the RRB.