What you should know about changes to unemployment compensation during the pandemic

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Both the state and federal government have announced changes to unemployment benefits in response to COVID-19. These include eliminating the usual waiting period for benefits, reducing job search requirements for applicants and clarifying the availability of benefits for workers who have been ordered to stay home. Ohio is still in the process of putting new federal legislation — the CARES Act — in action.

The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) is working hard to process unemployment claims. Here’s what you need to know about expanded unemployment benefits in order to be proactive — and patient — when filing your claim online or on the phone.

For more general information on unemployment benefits, read this article.

CARES Act Terms You Should Know: PUA, PEUC and FPUC (or PUC)

Under new legislation, more people are eligible for unemployment benefits. The CARES Act, passed by the federal government on March 27, includes Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for claims filed between Jan. 27 and Dec. 31, 2020.

PUA is meant to help people who would not normally qualify for unemployment, like those who are self-employed or independent contractors. PUA also covers people who already used all other standard options for unemployment and it may cover people who do not meet the normal “base period” earnings requirements.

To qualify for PUA, you must show that you are able and available to work, but that you are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to keep working at your job because of COVID-19. This could apply to you if:

·       you are caring for someone you live with who was diagnosed with coronavirus,

·       you are the primary caregiver for a kid whose school is closed,

·       a healthcare provider advised you to self-quarantine; or

·       your workplace closed as a direct result of COVID-19.

As of April 16, 2020, ODJFS has not yet implemented the PUA program. ODJFS recently published an FAQ on expanded unemployment benefits, including the PUA program. According to the FAQ, ODJFS expects to have this program operational in mid-May. Applicants who are not eligible for regular unemployment should NOT apply for PUA through the current system. Instead, they should wait to apply when the PUA system is up and running. Benefits will be retroactive to the date the applicant became eligible.

The CARES Act also increases the amount of time people can receive unemployment benefits with Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). PEUC allows up to 13 additional weeks of benefits for individuals who have exhausted regular unemployment compensation under Ohio law and who have already used PUA.

The PEUC extension applies to claims that begin after March 29, 2020, and end on Dec. 31, 2020. ODJFS has not yet implemented this program. Benefits will be retroactive to the date of eligibility, as long as that date falls after March 29, 2020.

Like with PUA, under the PEUC program, you have to show that you are able and available to work. You also need to show that you are looking for another job, however, the U.S. Department of Labor has advised states to offer flexibility in meeting this requirement.

In addition to expanding who qualifies for unemployment compensation and for how long they qualify, the CARES Act also created the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC or PUC) program. This program allows states to give an extra $600 a week to people who qualify for unemployment, and will apply to weeks claimed between March 29, 2020, and July 31, 2020.

As of April 16, 2020, Ohio has not yet implemented FPUC, but once the program is up and running, the payments will be automatically available to people who are eligible – and retroactive to when they first qualified for unemployment, after March 29, 2020. You don’t need to do anything extra to qualify for these payments.

If You Quit…

It is always more difficult to get unemployment benefits when you quit your job, and that is not likely to change due to COVID-19. If you are considering quitting your job because you are fearful of contracting COVID-19, you will probably not be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, under Department of Labor guidelines, you may still qualify if:

· you are immunocompromised and a healthcare provider advises you to self-quarantine; or

· you came into direct contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19 and a healthcare provider advised you to quit your job; or

· you had COVID-19 and recovered, but you are having complications that make it impossible to do your normal job, with or without reasonable accommodations.

With the demand for unemployment benefits so high, “quit” claims will likely be strongly scrutinized to determine if you truly had no other option but to quit under the circumstances.

Help with Unemployment Compensation

If you are thinking about quitting your job, you should consult with an attorney who is knowledgeable in this field to see if you will qualify for unemployment compensation benefits.

If you were unable to complete your claim online or couldn’t get through on the phone – be patient. The ODJFS is overwhelmed with claims right now. If you filed your claim online, keep an eye on your email for notices and announcements from ODJFS.

If you were able to get a confirmation number, continue filing weekly claims. That way, if you are otherwise eligible for the weeks filed, you will receive payments retroactive to those weeks, including PUA and FPUC.

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Christina M. Royer
Christina M. Royer

Christina M. Royer is a Partner with Elfvin, Klingshirn, Royer & Torch, LLC, in Cleveland, Ohio. She has practiced exclusively in the area of employment law representing individuals since 2004 and brings a breadth of experience in the area. In particular, her knowledge and skill regarding Ohio unemployment compensation law brings a focus in this area to the firm. Royer is admitted to practice before the courts of Ohio, the Northern District of Ohio, the Southern District of Ohio, the Sixth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court. She is a member of the Ohio State Bar Association and serves on the Section Council for the Labor & Employment Law Section.

Jason E. Dawicke
Jason E. Dawicke

Jason E. Dawicke has operated Dawicke Law, LLC, as owner since 2009. He has focused his practice almost exclusively on employment law with an emphasis on unemployment representation. Dawicke has assisted myriad claimants through the unemployment process, including representation at unemployment hearings. Dawicke is licensed to practice in all Ohio courts as well as the Southern District of Ohio.