Understanding Unemployment Eligibility Amid Record High Claims

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By Inna Materese

As of March 26, a record-breaking 3.3 million Americans have filed for unemployment as a result of the national COVID-19 health crisis. There is no doubt that the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is reverberating through every industry.

In Pennsylvania, these reverberations have resulted in furloughs, lay-offs, suspended employments and businesses that can no longer afford to continue to function.

As a result of these fractures in the way work is done within the Commonwealth, and the country at large, on March 17, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an emergency declaration amending Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation scheme to make it easier for employees negatively impacted by COVID-19 to qualify for unemployment benefits.

The emergency declaration provides several scenarios in which employees impacted by COVID-19 can obtain unemployment benefits.  In addition to the previous qualifying factors for unemployment compensation, employees in the state of Pennsylvania can seek unemployment benefits under the following circumstances:

  1. Employees displaced from employment where their employer has temporarily closed;
  2. An employee whose employer goes out of business;
  3. An employee whose hours are reduced due to COVID-19;
  4. Employees who are told by their employer not to work in order to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus;
  5. Employees who are directed by a medical professional, health care provider, or public official, to quarantine or self-isolate;
  6. Employees are prevented from working due to government-mandated virus mitigation protocols.

The governor’s emergency declaration also loosened various restrictions imposed on employees receiving unemployment benefits.  For example, under normal circumstances, unemployment compensation recipients are required to comply with work search and work registration requirements.

In addition, there is typically a waiting requirement that precludes employees from receiving unemployment benefits during their first week of unemployment.  Both of these restrictions have been suspended in light of the COVID-19 crisis.

While this significant expansion of the unemployment compensation system allows many employees to collect benefits that they would not otherwise be entitled to under typical circumstances, not all employees are entitled to benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees are not entitled to unemployment compensation under the following circumstances:

  1. Where an employee chooses to stay home to care for a child during a school closure; and
  2. Where an employee is permitted by their employer to work remotely from home.  However, if a remotely-working employee’s hours are reduced, that employee may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

It is important for employees impacted by this national health crisis to obtain complete information regarding their eligibility for benefits. Dischell Bartle Dooley attorneys continue to monitor the evolving impact of COVID-19 unemployment circumstances.

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Inna Materese, a partner with Dischell Bartle Dooley, can be reached via email at imaterese@dischellbartle.com or telephone in her office at 215-362-2474.

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