The Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act provides benefits for qualified railroad employees. The Act is designed to restore part of their wage loss arising from unemployment or sickness (including maternity). Payments are made for days of unemployment or sickness in a benefit year, which generally begins on July 1, to employees who had sufficient earnings in the preceding calendar year (called the base year) to meet the qualifying conditions.
Qualified employee.--A qualified employee is one who earns qualifying creditable compensation in a base year counting no more than a certain amount in any month. In addition, a new employee must have some employment in at least 5 months of the first year worked in the railroad industry in order to draw benefits in the following benefit year.
General eligibility requirements.--To be eligible for unemployment benefits, a qualified employee must be able to work and be available for work. A day of unemployment is a day on which he or she meets these conditions and does not receive any pay, is not disqualified, and has properly registered for unemployment benefits. Any calendar day on which the employee does not work solely because of mileage-limitation or work-restriction agreements or solely because he or she is between regularly assigned trips or tours of duty or because a turn in pool service was missed is not considered a day of unemployment. An extra-board employee can receive unemployment benefits between jobs if the miles and/or hours actually worked were less than the equivalent of normal full-time work in his or her class of service during the 14-day claim period. Entitlement to benefits would also depend on earnings.
To be eligible for sickness benefits, a qualified employee must be unable to work because of sickness or injury. A day of sickness is a day on which the employee meets these conditions and for which he or she does not receive any pay and has filed an application for sickness benefits and a statement of sickness providing evidence of the employee's medical condition and its expected duration signed by the employee's doctor (or other authorized individual).
The maximum daily benefit payable in benefit year 2014-2015 (July 1, 2014 - June 30, 2015) is $70; and, for biweekly claims, maximum benefits can total $700. The maximum daily benefit rate increases to $72 in July 2015 and remains $72 in July 2016. 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 employee last worked are subject to tier I railroad retirement payroll taxes, unless benefits are being paid for an on-the-job injury.
Registration and waiting periods.--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 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.
Strike benefits.-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, no unemployment benefits are 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 two weeks of the strike.
While a benefit year waiting period cannot count toward 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.
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 2014 cannot exceed an employee's railroad earnings in base year 2013, counting monthly earnings up to $1,815. In the benefit year beginning July 2015, monthly earnings up to $1,860 for base year 2014 will be counted, and in the benefit year beginning July 2016, monthly earnings up to $1,879 for base year 2015 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.
Extended benefits.--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.
Accelerated benefits.--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.
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.
Maternity benefits.--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.
Effects of Work and Earnings
A claimant may not receive benefits for any day for which pay is received. This includes railroad and nonrailroad wages, salary, pay for time lost, pay while sick, dismissal allowances, most wage guaranty payments, vacation pay, holiday pay, military reservist pay, earnings from self-employment, or remuneration other than subsidiary remuneration. However, payments received under an RRB-approved nongovernmental supplemental unemployment or sickness insurance plan, an employee's own health or accident insurance policy or a group insurance policy will not affect entitlement to benefits and should not be reported on claims.
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 earlier. 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 2014, the amount is $1,405, for the benefit year that begins July 2015, the amount will be $1,440; and for the benefit year that begins July 2016, the amount will be $1,455. 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.
A claimant for unemployment benefits may be disqualified for 30 days if he or she refuses to accept suitable work or fails to follow instructions to apply for work or to report to an RRB office or State unemployment office for an interview.
A claimant who leaves either railroad or nonrailroad work voluntarily without good cause is disqualified, starting with the day he or she leaves work, until he or she has returned to railroad employment and earned wages sufficient to qualify for benefits again. This disqualification also applies to a claimant who leaves work voluntarily with good cause, but only with respect to periods in which he or she could receive unemployment benefits under another law.
A claimant is also disqualified for any day on which he or she takes part in a strike begun in violation of the Railway Labor Act or in violation of the established rules and practices of a labor organization of which he or she is a member. This disqualification only applies to claimants who work on the premises where the strike occurs and who do the same kind of work as the employees participating or directly involved in the strike.
An employee who is paid a separation allowance is disqualified for both unemployment and sickness benefits for roughly the period of time it would have taken to earn the amount of the allowance.
A claimant may be disqualified for sickness benefits if he or she fails to take a medical examination when required by the RRB.
If a claimant makes a false or fraudulent statement or claim to obtain unemployment or sickness benefits, he or she will be disqualified for 75 days and may also be subject to a fine or imprisonment. The RRB checks with Federal agencies and all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico as well as railroads in order to detect fraudulent benefit claims. The RRB also checks with physicians to verify the accuracy of medical statements supporting sickness benefit claims.
Payments Under Other Laws or Systems
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.