Employer Unemployment FAQ: COVID-19

Frequently-asked questions from employers, answered.

In order to assist you and your employees, and in order to address the many drastic impacts the current COVID-19 emergency is having on Massachusetts employers and workers, DUA enacted emergency regulations on March 16, 2020, and has taken a number of other steps to assist you and your employees during the current COVID 19 emergency. Additionally, this week Governor Baker signed new legislation waiving the waiting week for unemployment benefits in cases related to COVID-19.

The following questions and answers explain the recent changes at DUA and clarify some other questions employers may have regarding DUA during this difficult time.

Please be sure to give your employees information regarding applying for unemployment benefits as is required by law.

Table of Contents

Q. If an employee’s claim is approved, is the first week paid?

A. Yes, employees will be paid for the first week if their claim was filed on or after March 10th.

Q. What do DUA’s new Emergency Regulations do?

Q. What do DUA’s new Emergency Regulations do?

A. The Emergency Regulations make it easier for claimants impacted by COVID-19 to successfully claim unemployment benefits. They also permit DUA to excuse missed deadlines during the processing of a claim, such as responding to fact finding questionnaires and requesting an appeal, if the reason for failing to meet the deadline is due to COVID-19. The regulations also permit DUA to grant employer requests for extensions for filing quarterly wage reports and paying contributions.

Q. How do the Emergency Regulations make it easier for workers to get unemployment benefits?

A. The regulations greatly reduce the work search requirements for all claimants who are unemployed due to COVID-19, regardless of whether the reason is a temporary layoff with an expected return to work, a plant, office, or store shutdown, or as a result of quarantine. It doesn’t matter if the quarantine was ordered by a governmental or health authority.

In all cases, a claimant need only be “capable of, available, and actively seeking” work that is suitable for them. Under the new regulations, work is not suitable if it endangers the health of the employee or others in the employee’s household. If a claimant is quarantined, self-quarantined due to a reasonable fear of exposure, or is caring for a family member who is sick, or a child who is at home, the claimant does not need to accept work until those conditions resolve.

Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID- 19 and expect to return to work will be eligible for unemployment benefits. They will be considered unemployed due to lack of work regardless of whether they are laid off, or furloughed, or if their workplace is fully or partially shut down temporarily. Under the Emergency Regulations, individuals in such situations are considered to be in “Standby Status.” Standby status is meant to help both employers and their employees in situations where the unemployment is expected to be temporary. Employers maintain contact with their workforce during the period of unemployment and have experienced employees ready to return when work becomes available again. Employees who find themselves in those situations due to COVID-19 will be approved for benefits more quickly, and will be relieved of traditional work search activities. In order to fulfill the requirements to be able, available and actively seeking work, individuals on standby status need only take reasonable measures to maintain contact with their employer, and to be available for hours offered by the employer.

Claimants in the situations described above will be presumed to be eligible for four weeks of standby status. For the four-week presumption, the employer need not even respond that the claimant is on standby. Employers may request, however, that the standby status be up to eight weeks, and, if necessary, DUA can extend standby status for longer that eight weeks.

Q. My retail business is closing temporarily. What will happen to my workers I expect to bring back?

A. Your workers should be eligible for unemployment benefits. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID-19 who expect to return to work with their employer will be considered on standby status. Your laid-off employees will be expected to reasonably maintain contact with you while they’re unemployed and be available for work when you offer it. You should have employees ready to return when the store reopens.

Q. My restaurant is take-out only for now. What should I tell staff who won't have shifts for now?

A. Tell them to apply for unemployment. They should be eligible for benefits. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID-19 who expect to return to work with their employer will be considered on standby status. Your waiters, waitresses, and bartenders will be expected to reasonably maintain contact with you and be available for work when you offer it to them.

Q. Can my waitstaff work part-time for me (for take-out help) and still collect unemployment?

A.  Yes, they may be eligible for partial benefits depending upon the amount of money they are earning. For more information, click here https://www.mass.gov/service-details/working-part-time-while-receiving-unemployment-benefits.

Q. If I furlough all or part of my workforce, will they be able to collect unemployment?

A. If the furlough is because of COVID-19, employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID-19 and expect to return to work will be eligible for unemployment benefits. Under the Emergency Regulations, individuals in such situations are considered to be in “Standby Status.” Standby status is meant to help both employers and their employees in situations where the unemployment is expected to be temporary. Employers maintain contact with their workforce during the period of unemployment (in this case, a furlough) and have experienced employees ready to return when work becomes available again. Employees who find themselves in those situations due to COVID-19 will be approved for benefits more quickly, and will be relieved of traditional work search activities. In order to fulfill the requirements to be able, available and actively seeking work, individuals on standby status need only take reasonable measures to maintain contact with their employer, and to be available for hours offered by the employer.

Claimants in the situations described above will be presumed to be eligible for four weeks of standby status. For the four-week presumption, the employer need not even respond that the claimant is on standby. Employers may request, however, that the standby status be up to eight weeks, and, if necessary, DUA may extend standby status for longer that eight weeks.

Q. What is the difference between Standby and WorkShare?

A. The WorkShare program is an alternative for employers faced with a cut in workforce. Employers can divide available work between affected employees instead of laying off workers. Employees are able to receive part of their unemployment insurance benefits while working reduced hours and being paid for those hours by their employer.

Q. I need to layoff staff. How will layoffs affect the rate I am charged?

A. Currently the Department of Unemployment is looking at the effect of COVID-19 on employer charging. Please note rates will not change until January 2021.

Q. My business remains open and employees are expected to report to work. Will workers that quit their job because they are concerned about being exposed to COVID-19 be eligible for unemployment benefits?

A. It depends. Under current law, employees that demonstrate that they left work due to “urgent, compelling, and necessitous circumstances” are eligible for benefits. Such determinations are driven by the facts of the individual case. An employee who leaves work because of a fear of being exposed to COVID-19 will need to demonstrate, among other things, that such fear was reasonable in the circumstances.

If the employee’s reason for leaving is determined to be urgent, compelling, and necessitous, the employer’s experience rating is generally not charged, unless the employer is self-insured.

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