No benefits for laid-off religious workers

May 18, 2009 at 7:22 PM

RICHMOND, Va., May 18 (UPI) -- Some people recently laid-off from religious institutions in Virginia said they were shocked to find the state does not offer them unemployment benefits.

Carol Bronson, who was laid off from her secretarial job at Temple Emanuel synagogue in Virginia Beach, said she was told her unemployment claim was denied because the tax exemptions for religious organizations under Virginia law include an exemption from paying unemployment taxes, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot reported Monday.

"I had no idea that there would not be any benefits for me after leaving my job," she said.

Rabbi Howard Mandell of Temple Emanuel said the synagogue was unaware of the Virginia tax law at the time of the layoff.

Jane Dembert, who worked for 17 years at the Christ and St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Norfolk, most recently as director of communications, said she was also surprised to have her unemployment claim denied after she was laid-off earlier this year.

Coleman Walsh, chief administrative law judge with the state employment commission, said most people he has spoken to were unaware that faith-based groups are exempt from unemployment taxes.

The Catholic Diocese of Richmond has a voluntary self-insurance arrangement with the state that allows laid-off workers to file for unemployment. If the claim is accepted, the state bills the diocese for the amount of the benefits collected by the recipient.

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