The Department of Labor (DOL) announced guidance on March 12, 2020, for how States can pay unemployment insurance benefits to employees who miss work because of the coronavirus. Here is the DOL’s COVID-19 Bulletin.
The Federal DOL generally oversees unemployment insurance benefits systems. But States actually handle applications and payments. In so doing, States also generally determine eligibility requirements for such benefits.
Because of this overlap between Federal and State agencies, the DOL’s guidance provides an important roadmap for States to extend unemployment benefits eligibility to employees affected by the coronavirus, including in these three scenarios:
- employees who miss work because of a medical quarantine;
- employees who choose not to work to avoid exposure (self-quarantine) or to care for a family member with the virus;
- employees laid off because their employers cease or limit operations in response to the pandemic.
The value of the DOL’s guidance will be magnified if the House Democrats get enacted their “Families First Coronavirus Response Act.” This Act (H.R. 6201), is a package of measures that would:
- Provide as much as $1 billion for emergency transfers to States to process unemployment insurance claims and pay benefits;
- It would allow for an additional 13 weeks of benefits, beyond the standard 26-week period;
- Establish free coronavirus testing; and
- Provides paid leave.
On this last point, providing paid leave is especially important because most states do not require this and the DOL expressly states unemployment benefits are “not intended to be used as paid sick leave.” See Section 3(b) of the DOL COVID-19 Bulletin. Thus, the paid leave would be important to minimize the spread of the virus by giving employees a real choice between taking time off if they may have been exposed to the virus or missing a desperately needed paycheck.
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