The Maine Employment Lawyers Association (MELA), an organization of lawyers who represent workers in Maine, plans to ask the Maine Attorney General to investigate allegations that Governor LePage pressured unemployment hearing officers to more often find in favor of businesses and against workers. The request for an investigation stems from a meeting that Governor LePage personally had with some of the hearing officers in which he allegedly told them that he believed they too often found in favor of workers and against businesses. If these allegations are true, the meeting likely constitutes improper political influence over a process that is supposed to be free of politics.
Unemployment hearing officers make decisions about whether a worker should receive unemployment insurance benefits. Unemployment insurance benefits are critically important to unemployed persons because they provide the unemployed with a small amount of money to live on while they attempt to find another job. Unemployment insurance benefits also play an indirect but important role in ensuring that unscrupulous employers are held accountable for violating employees’ rights. Workers who are fired for illegal reasons often face a long arduous process as they attempt to vindicate their rights. If they do not have any money to live on while they attempt to find another job, they will often be tempted, out of desperation, to settle their claims for a relatively small sum of money. This, in essence, permits the employer to get away with violating the worker’s rights.
For all of these reasons, it is critical that unemployment hearing officers decide cases in a fair, unbiased manner and allegations that the Governor has undermined the process should be taken very seriously.