In connection with the continuing challenges arising from COVID-19, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently signed into law amendments to Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law, which are included in Act 9 of 2020 (“the Act”).
The Act imposes new notice obligations on employers and includes “emergency provisions” that relax eligibility and access requirements for individuals filing COVID-19 related unemployment benefit claims and, among other things, provide relief to employers for charges incurred under certain circumstances.
Some key provisions of the Act are discussed more fully below.
New Notice Requirements
The Act adds a new section (206.1) to Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law, requiring employers to now provide separating employees with notice about the availability of unemployment compensation, regardless of whether the employer is liable for payment of contributions to the state’s unemployment compensation system. Although the Act is silent about the required form of notice, it must include the following information:
- Availability of unemployment compensation benefits to workers who are unemployed and qualify for benefits;
- An employee’s ability to file an unemployment compensation claim in the first week that employment stops or work hours are reduced;
- Availability of assistance and information about unemployment compensation claims on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industries, Office of Unemployment Compensation’s website – www.uc.pa.gov – or at the department’s toll-free number, which the employer must provide in the notice;
- That the employee will need certain information in order to file an unemployment insurance claim, including: (i) the employee’s full legal name; (ii) the employee’s Social Security Number; and (iii) if the employee is not a citizen or resident of the United States, authorization to work in the United States.
These requirements are designed to simplify the claims-filing process.
In addition, the Department of Labor & Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy (“Office of UC Benefits Policy”) has issued an updated Form UC-1609, which employers are required to complete and provide to separating employees and/or those whose hours have been reduced. This form provides a separating employee with information about the company, such as the employer’s unemployment account number and legal name and address, to simplify the claims-filing process, and assists employers in preventing claimants from submitting incorrect company information that could lead to an incorrect financial determination and an increase in the employer’s tax rate. The form is also available in Spanish for employers with Spanish-speaking employees.
In connection with any claim, an employee may also use an Unemployment Compensation Checklist (“Checklist”) issued by the Office of UC Benefits Policy to compile information needed to submit a claim for benefits without delay. Employers may wish to provide this form to separating employees.
Emergency Provisions Regarding Eligibility and Relief from Unemployment Compensation Charges
The Act also includes a new article, Emergency Provisions Related to COVID-19 (Article XVI, Sections 1601 to 1605), which relaxes eligibility requirements and access to unemployment compensation for claimants whose unemployment is related to the COVID-19 outbreak or related efforts by officials to contain and prevent the spread of the virus. Accordingly, the usual one-week waiting period and job search and registration requirements for claimants are waived for the duration of the disaster emergency declaration issued by the Governor on March 6, 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the emergency provisions provide employers with, among other things, relief from unemployment benefit charges if a separating employee’s unemployment claim is related to the COVID-19 outbreak or efforts of public health officials to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19, provided that such relief is permitted under federal law. The Department of Labor and Industry will automatically credit COVID-19 related unemployment benefit charges back to employers, eliminating the need for employers to apply to the department for this relief. The emergency provisions also include funding and other provisions.
Importantly, unlike the new notice requirements, these emergency provisions expire on January 1, 2021.
Employers and employees should also be mindful of additional benefits available to workers in Pennsylvania in connection with the federal Pandemic Unemployment Act, as discussed generally in our prior alert on March 28 and blog post on April 17. Additional information is also available on the department’s website here.
Pennsylvania employers should ensure they are providing the information required by the Act to separating employees and understand the interplay between state and federal unemployment compensation benefits. Employers should continue to monitor and stay updated on unemployment compensation laws and other compliance requirements, which continue to expand and evolve in these times.