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NAVIGATING UNEMPLOYMENT ISSUES DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

| Mar 29, 2020 | Amanda Richards, Blog, COVID-19, Employment Law, Unemployment |

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing thousands of employers to close their offices and lay off employees. After these tough, yet necessary decisions employers and their employees must navigate the overwhelming world of unemployment compensation.

Generally, unemployment compensation is provided by state government. However, due to the nationwide COVID-19 outbreak, both federal and state law have come together in a unique system designed to respond to COVID-19 related employment separations and layoffs.

On March 27, 2020, President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. With this federal law in place, employees have more options available for unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

IOWA COVID-19 UNEMPLOYMENT PROVISIONS

Iowa unemployment benefits are available to individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own, including COVID-19 separations.

There are certain minimum requirements an Iowa employee must meet to receive unemployment benefits. These include certain wage and length of employment requirements. A complete list of requirements is located HERE. Employees who do not meet these criteria do not qualify for state unemployment benefits. However, these employees may qualify for unemployment benefits through the CARES Act.

Specifically, in regard to COVID-19, an employee may be entitled to unemployment if:

1. The employer shut down operations and no work is available;
2. The employee was laid off due to loss of production caused by the Coronavirus;
3. The employee was temporarily laid off due to COVID-19;
4. The employee was asymptomatic but subject to a self-quarantine;
5. The employee is under a mandatory quarantine due to COVID-19;
6. The employee has a legitimate suspicion of having the Coronavirus and the facts show there is a high likelihood of infection;
7. The employee is ill because of COVID-19;
8. The employer shuts down business operations because an employee is sick with COVID-19;
9. The employer reduces the hours of work because business has slowed down. Iowa does allow for partial unemployment benefits, but the must report the wages currently received;
10. The employment terminates due to a COVID-19 related reason;
11. The employee’s dependent, family member, or child has school cancellations and he or she must care for them;
12. (Potentially) the employee must care for family member (case by case basis).

It is important to note that unemployment is determined on a case-by-case basis. There are factors which may preclude unemployment including whether telework was available.  Factors may affect whether the employee can receive unemployment. Employees are encouraged to review their options with legal counsel.

As of March 30, 2020, “employees who are or will be laid off, or are unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19, will no longer be required to use all paid leave prior to being eligible for unemployment insurance benefits”.  CLICK HERE for full statement.  “This change however is NOT retroactive and claims will not be backdated prior to the week of March 29, 2020 for new or existing claims by individuals who work for employers.”

If an employee files a claim as a result of COVID-19 in Iowa, he or she is not required to search for work.

For employers, all unemployment claims filed and paid as a result of COVID-19 will be paid by the state with charges waives.

HELPFUL LINKS:

To apply for Iowa Unemployment Benefits: CLICK HERE

More Information for Iowa Employers: CLICK HERE

More Information for Iowa Employees: CLICK HERE

ILLINOIS COVID-19 UNEMPLOYMENT PROVISIONS

Illinois also provides unemployment for individuals who have been separated from employment through no fault of their own and meet all the eligibility requirements.

Like Iowa, there are certain minimum requirements an Illinois employee must meet to receive unemployment benefits. A complete list of requirements is located HERE. Employees who do not meet these criteria, do not qualify for state unemployment benefits and must receive any COVID-19 unemployment benefits through the CARES Act.

In Illinois, an individual temporarily laid off due to the COVID-19 virus could qualify for benefits as long as he or she was available and ready to work. Under the state’s emergency rules during the COVID-19 pandemic, a person is considered “available” for work as long as the individual is prepared to return to his or her job as soon as the employer reopens.

An individual who leaves work voluntarily without good reason attributable to the employer is generally disqualified from receiving unemployment. However, Illinois will take into consideration situations where a person quits employment due to COVID-19.

Individuals who are confined to home because of COVID-19, are subject to quarantine, or have to care for a spouse, parent, or child whom a medical professional has diagnosed with COVID-19 may qualify for unemployment benefits. An individual who leaves work to care for a child while a school is closed due to COVID-19 may apply for unemployment benefits.

For Illinois employers, there is no statement available currently stating Illinois will pay the fees for unemployment. In fact, the Illinois Unemployment website states that until guidance comes out on this, “normal provisions” will apply as to funding unemployment.

HELPFUL LINKS:

To apply for Illinois Unemployment Benefits: CLICK HERE

Note: Illinois has an established schedule for applying for benefits based upon the employee’s last name.

Information for Employers: CLICK HERE

Information for Employees: CLICK HERE

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION UNDER THE CARES ACT

Unfortunately, there are situations where a person may be forced to stop working due to COVID-19 but is simply not eligible for unemployment benefits under state law. As of March 27, 2019, federal options are available to fill the gaps and supplement state unemployment benefits.

Title II of the CARES Act creates new and additional unemployment benefits for workers forced to cease work due to COVID-19.

The CARES Act provides for three new benefit options for unemployed workers:

(1) Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)
(2) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
(3) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Assistance (PEUC)

Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) (CARES ACT Section 2102 p. 98)

PUC is designed to give individuals receiving state unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits additional compensation. PUC benefits provide an additional $600.00 a week in unemployment compensation above the amount that person receives under state unemployment or PUA.

PUC benefits will be issued by the states, with reimbursement from the federal government. The states are allowed to pay PUC benefits along with state unemployment benefits or by separate check. However, if the state decides to issue the check separately, the PUC check must be received weekly.

PUC payments apply March 27, 2020 – July 31, 2020.

This $600.00 benefit is NOT to be used in calculating income for Medicaid or CHIP.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) (CARES ACT Section 2102 p. 84 ):

Section 2102 of the CARES Act provides Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), an unemployment benefit system for individuals who do not qualify for, or have exhausted,their state unemployment benefits.

PUA provides unemployment benefits to:

– Self-employed workers
– Independent contractors
– Freelancers
– Workers’ seeking part time work
– Workers who do not have a long enough work history to qualify for state unemployment

PUA benefits will be paid from January 27, 2020 through December 31, 2020 (may be extended after that date if that person continues to be unable to work due to COVID-19). Workers will be eligible for retroactive benefits.

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of benefits.

To qualify for PUA you must certain eligibility criteria, including:

1. The individual is not eligible for regular compensation or extended benefits under State or Federal Law or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, including individuals who have exhausted all rights to regular unemployment

2. The individual provides self-certification that the individual:

a. Is otherwise able to work and available to work within the meaning of applicable State law, except the individual is unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because:

b. The person has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have symptoms of it and seeking diagnosis;

c. The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;

d. The individual is providing care for a child or other household member who can’t attend school or work because it is closed due to COVID-19;

e. The individual is quarantined or have been advised by health care provider to self-quarantine;

f. The individual is unable to reach their place of employment as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak or quarantine;

g. The individual has become the breadwinner for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;

h. The individual has to quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;

i. The individual’s place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or;

j. The individual meets other criteria as established by the Secretary of Labor.

PUA does NOT apply to:

1. Individuals who have the ability to telework with pay; or
2. Individuals who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits, regardless of whether that person meets the above criteria; or
3. Individuals who are already receiving unemployment benefits.

PUA’s weekly benefit amount is calculated pursuant to the unemployment compensation laws of the State where the covered individual was employed, with the minimum amount equal to one-half the state’s average weekly unemployment benefit.

To apply for PUA benefits. See your state’s unemployment website: IOWA and ILLINOIS are located here.  

Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)(Section 2107 CARES Act p.112

Section 2107 of the CARES Act creates Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits, which extend state unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks.

Under PEUC, any person who has exhausted all rights to regular compensation under state law with respect to a benefit year and are able to work, available to work, and are actively seeking work shall receive PEUC benefits.

Under PEUC, a person is entitled to receive their unemployment benefits an additional 13 weeks. People receiving PEUC will also receive the $600.00 PUC benefit during the applicability period.

It should be noted that to receive PEUC, workers must be actively engaged in searching for work. However, the bill provides that “a State shall provide flexibility in meeting such [search] requirements in case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19, including because of illness, quarantine, or movement restriction”.

To apply for the CARES Act benefits, See your State unemployment website.

Written by: Amanda M. Richards  

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