Advocacy News – March 2, 2021
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) last week clarified in guidance that laid-off individuals who refuse work because of COVID-19 safety concerns may be eligible for unemployment benefits.
“For many of America’s workers, choosing between unsafe employment and refusing work to avoid the risk of coronavirus infection has serious consequences,” the DOL stated via press release. “Too often, those who do not return to work or accept a job offer over concerns about workplace exposure lose their state unemployment benefits.”
The new guidance applies to individuals receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and expands eligibility to three categories of workers:
· Workers receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits’ claims denied after they refused to work or accept an offer of work at a worksite not in compliance with coronavirus health and safety standards.
· Workers laid off, or who have had their work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic.
· School employees working without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment who face reduced paychecks and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to coronavirus.
The new coronavirus-related reasons are retroactive – they apply as if they had been included from the beginning of the PUA program. However, individuals filing their first initial PUA claim after Dec. 27, 2020, are limited to weeks of unemployment beginning on or after Dec. 6, 2020. Individuals must self-certify that they are unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of identified coronavirus-related reasons during the applicable time period.
In response to a directive from President Biden, the DOL issued guidance to state unemployment insurance agencies that expand the number of instances in which workers may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Congress created the PUA benefits program in March of 2020 to provide UI payments to individuals not regularly eligible for UI benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic, including freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers and others. The program already is available to those who can’t work because they have a health condition that puts them at risk or because their children’s schools have closed.