States May Expand Jobless Benefits During Pandemic

Coronavirus prompts DOL to issue flexible unemployment insurance guidance

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States have significant flexibility to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits for employees who lose work because of effects of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, according to guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on March 12.

"The administration is using all available tools to decrease the risk of coronavirus in the United States and to assist workers who may be affected," said Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. For instance, according to the guidance, states can pay benefits when:

  • An employer temporarily closes due to COVID-19 and employees can't work.
  • An employee is quarantined but expects to work when the quarantine is over.
  • An employee leaves his or her job due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

Federal law doesn't require employees to quit their jobs in order to receive unemployment insurance benefits related to COVID-19. Though, the department noted, employees who are receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave are generally not considered unemployed because they are still receiving pay. So they would likely be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits while receiving such pay. 

Employers and workers should check the appropriate state government website to see if state-specific unemployment insurance guidance is available. We've rounded up articles and resources from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets on the news.

SHRM Resource Spotlight
Coronavirus and COVID-19

California Unemployment Benefits May Be Available

In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) is providing support for people in the state who are affected by COVID-19. Workers may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if their employer has reduced work hours or temporarily shut down because of the virus outbreak. "Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to COVID-19 and expected to return to work with their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week," the EDD said on its website. "However, they must remain able and available and ready to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed and meet all other eligibility criteria." The EDD recommends that workers use the agency's online resources for the fastest access to services. 

(California Employment Development Department)

Washington State Updates Benefit Guidelines

Washington also adopted emergency rules to provide benefits for workers and businesses during temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine. "The new rules allow current unemployment claimants who are in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19 more leniency when it comes to [unemployment insurance] deadlines and mandatory appointments, such as deadlines for applying for training programs," said Suzi LeVine, commissioner of the Washington State Employment Security Department. "The rules also provide more leniency when it comes to financial penalties for employers who file their tax reports late, pay their taxes late, or miss deadlines as a result of COVID-19," she said.

(Washington State Employment Security Department)

Colorado Issues Temporary Rule Requiring Paid Sick Leave

Gov. Jared Polis directed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to identify additional support for affected workers, such as access to unemployment insurance and temporary paid-sick-leave benefits. On March 11, the agency released an emergency rule governing paid sick leave for certain industries. The rule temporarily requires employers in these industries to provide four days of paid sick leave to employees with flu-like symptoms who are being tested for the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

(SHRM Online)

Coronavirus Prompts Employers to Review Sick Leave Policies

Do employees have the right to take time off if they are concerned about contracting coronavirus? Can employers send sick workers home? Should employees be paid for missed work time? HR and other business leaders are likely considering these questions and more as COVID-19 makes its way through the United States. "We believe employers would be wise to review their paid-time-off practices immediately," said Francis Alvarez, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in White Plains, N.Y. "Employers are likely to face unique circumstances that were not anticipated when they prepared their attendance and leave policies."

(SHRM Online)

Workers' Compensation Won't Cover Many Coronavirus Claims

State workers' compensation statutes usually won't cover workers who contract coronavirus, except those few workers who get the virus as a natural consequence of their jobs. Workers who aren't in health care may have a more difficult time claiming workers' compensation. They will need to show that their jobs put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

(SHRM Online)

Visit SHRM's resource page on coronavirus and COVID-19.

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