On April 27, 2020, the United States Department of Labor (“U.S. DOL”) issued additional guidance about federal unemployment benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
The PUA provides unemployment assistance to workers typically excluded from regular state unemployment benefits, such as self-employed workers, independent contractors and workers with limited work histories.
What Federal Unemployment Issues Does the Update Address?
The DOL updated a previously issued Program Letter. The letter, “Change 1” to the Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 16-20, is addressed to state agencies, but it provides helpful guidance to employers and employees in a lengthy Q&A-format regarding the under the CARES Act.
The Q&A addresses numerous issues under the following topics:
- Relationship of PUA to Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)
- Claim Filing
- Calculating Benefit Entitlement
- Eligibility- Initial Claims
- Eligibility – Not Eligible for Regular UC
- Eligibility – COVID-19 Related Reasons
- Eligibility – Ongoing
One of the most common questions employers have raised concerns an individual’s eligibility for unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work when called back because the employee wanted to receive unemployment benefits. The Letter clarifies that an individual in such a scenario would be ineligible for PUA benefits:
Q: If an individual refuses to return to work when called back by the employer because he or she wanted to receive unemployment benefits, would he or she be eligible for PUA?
A: No. If the individual refused work in order to file for unemployment benefits, he or she is not unemployed, partially unemployed, or not able or not available to work for one of the COVID-19 related reasons listed in section 2102(a)(3)(A)(ii)(I) of the CARES Act. Thus, the individual would not qualify for PUA.
Numerous other novel issues are addressed such as whether employees on unpaid medical leave are eligible for PUA benefits, the possible impact on eligibility for a primary caregiver once the school year ends, and whether an individual who is unable to telework because of domestic violence is eligible for benefits.
As always, please let me know if I can help.