The CARES Act enacted a new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for those who have been laid off or furloughed. PUA funds are administered through the state agencies that manage the state unemployment insurance programs, and are funds that eligible individuals receive on top of their state unemployment insurance benefits. Because state reopenings are ongoing and ever-changing, and because PUA eligibility is determined on a weekly basis, understanding which employees can take advantage of these benefits is key.

On April 27, 2020 the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employment and Training Administration issued new guidance to state unemployment agencies regarding the implementation of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. Although the majority of the guidance is narrowly focused on the implementation of the program by state agencies, there are some important takeaways for employers to understand as they continue to advise their employees.

Of significant note, if an individual refuses to work when called back by the employer because they preferred to receive unemployment benefits, they are not eligible for the PUA benefits. In some cases, PUA benefits, in addition to state benefits, are more than an individual may earn at their job, making unemployment seem more attractive than returning to work. But employers will have strong grounds to dispute unemployment claims from employees who refuse available work. States such as Ohio and Pennsylvania have developed forms for employers to use in disputing unemployment claims that arise from this specific circumstance.

Although refusing available work generally disqualifies a person from unemployment compensation, there are a number of circumstances under which an employee who is recalled but does not return to work may still be eligible for PUA benefits and possibly state benefits:

  • If that individual was eligible for PUA because they were the primary caregiver for a child who was unable to attend school due to a school closing, they would typically not have been eligible for PUA benefits during the summer months. However, if the ‘customary summer arrangements,’ such as summer camp, remain closed because of COVID-19 reasons, that worker may continue to qualify for PUA benefits;
  • If that individual cannot reach their place of employment because of a stay-at-home, shelter-in-place or other municipal order restricting travel; or
  • If that individual was offered telework but is unable to do so because of domestic violence, sexual violence or stalking.

Given that employees rely on their employers for information about filing for unemployment benefits, it is important that employers understand, and are able to convey with accuracy, which of their employees are eligible for PUA benefits, and which are not.

Information about COVID-19 and its impact on local, state and federal levels is changing rapidly. This article may not reflect updates to news, executive orders, legislation and regulations made after its publication date. Visit our COVID-19 resource page to find the most current information.