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DOL Issues Guidance Regarding Application of Unemployment Provisions of the CARES Act

Higher Education Labor & Employment

Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) published two separate guidance documents, Unemployment Insurance Program Letters (UIPLs) 15-20 and 16-20, which provide information related to two separate programs under the CARES Act: the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC). Some highlights can be found below:

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program

As set forth further below, the PUA program provides unemployment benefits to individuals who do not normally qualify for regular unemployment benefits under State law.  This may include self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers, as defined in the last bullet below. Benefits for furloughed and laid-off individuals who meet the following criteria are now available and some may be retroactive to as early as January 27, 2020: 

  • Individuals who are laid off or temporarily furloughed because their workplace is closed due to COVID-19;
  • Individuals who are unable to work because they have been confined to their homes because of a COVID-19 diagnosis (or symptoms and seeking a diagnosis) for themselves or a member of their household. Individuals will not qualify if the person in their household is able to care for themselves and not hindering the individual’s ability to work;
  • Individuals who are unable to work or telework because they are the primary caregiver for a dependent or child in their household who requires care because that dependent or child’s school or care facility is closed due to COVID-19;
  • Individuals who cannot report to work due to a State-mandated quarantine order where the individual’s attempt to go to work would violate a State or Municipal order intended to combat the spread of COVID-19;
  • Individuals who are advised by a medical doctor to self-quarantine, including individuals who are advised to self-quarantine due to known exposure to COVID-19 or because the individual is at higher risk due to an underlying health condition;
  • Individuals who were scheduled to begin employment but no longer have a job due to COVID-19; 
  • Individuals who become the sole breadwinner after a spouse’s death due to COVID-19;
  • Individuals who have to quit their jobs as a direct result of COVID-19; 
  • Individuals whose place of work is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 health emergency; and
  • Individuals or self-employed individuals who are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited their ability to continue performing their customary work activities and therefore, such activities are suspended.

Individuals who are seeking emergency benefits under one of the foregoing definitions may have to certify on a weekly basis that they continue to meet the definition for expanded emergency benefits and may need to register that they are actively seeking available and appropriate work. The extended PUA program expires December 31, 2020.  

Unemployment benefits are generally not available to individuals who are able to telework or to individuals who are receiving paid sick or other benefit leave. However, these individuals may be eligible for some unemployment benefits under the PUA program if they are working fewer hours and being paid less than they would have been paid had they been fully employed. 

The PUA program also extends the unemployment eligibility period from 26 to 39 weeks for some individuals. Please note that the Illinois Department of Employment Security is in the process of issuing further guidance and rules on the implementation of the PUA program and it has not yet been implemented as of this Alert being published. Individuals interested in applying or checking their eligibility should check the IDES website first.

Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program

The FPUC program provides an additional $600 per week in emergency unemployment compensation for individuals who meet the eligibility requirements for a period of up to four months or through the week ending July 25, 2020. The FPUC program took effect for eligible individuals beginning the week of March 29, 2020.  This additional emergency benefit is available to individuals who are eligible for any regular unemployment under State law or by the extensions set forth in the PUA program.  

The additional $600 weekly benefit is fully funded by the federal government and will not impact an employer’s experience rating for purposes of calculating an employer’s unemployment contribution rate.

Although we continue to monitor the IDES and DOL for further guidance, the rules issued by the DOL over the weekend have provided answers to many of our questions.  Please reach out to the attorneys at Franczek with any questions related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on employers.