On February 25, 2021, the DOL issued guidance to state unemployment agencies that expands the eligibility of employees who declined to work due to pandemic safety concerns to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
The new guidance expanded PUA eligibility to three categories of employees:
- Workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with COVID-19 health and safety standards.
- Workers laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic.
- School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to COVID-19.
PUA provides up to 50 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits, including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits. Individuals covered under PUA include the self-employed, individuals lacking sufficient work history, and those who otherwise do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits.
Since the PUA program is a federal program, employers are not responsible for paying for the benefit. In addition, there will be no impact on an employer’s quarterly unemployment charge statements or future unemployment tax rates as a result of the PUA program.
For these additional categories of employees, PUA benefits will be paid retroactively to the beginning of the PUA program unless an employee filed his or her first initial PUA claim after December 27, 2020. In that case, PUA benefits are limited to weeks of unemployment beginning on or after December 6, 2020.
The DOL noted that it will provide state systems with the necessary funds and time to make changes to their systems for the retroactive payment of PUA benefits to eligible workers.
HBL has experience in all areas of benefits and employment law, offering a comprehensive solution to all your business benefits and HR/employment legal compliance needs. We help ensure you are in compliance with the complex requirements of ERISA and the IRS code, as well as those laws that impact you and your employees. Together, we reduce your exposure to potential legal or financial penalties. Learn more by calling 678-439-6236.