The COVID-19 health crisis has affected many areas of life, including some states’ approaches to unemployment compensation benefits. Two states – Alabama and Louisiana – recently updated their unemployment rules due to the pandemic.
The Alabama Department of Labor (ADOL) announced that, effective March 23, existing unemployment compensation rules would now include benefits for the following COVID-19 related situations:
Unemployment benefits may be available to individuals in Alabama who are unemployed through no fault of their own, including when an employer closes or lays off employees due to lost revenue because of COVID-19.
Additionally, the normal requirement that claimants be “able and available” to work while receiving unemployment compensation benefits is modified if the claimant is affected by COVID-19 in the ways listed above. Moreover, ADOL has waived the “waiting week” requirement, which is typically the first week of benefits, as well as the requirement to search for other jobs as long as the claimant takes steps to preserve his/her ability to return to work when the quarantine is lifted or the illness subsides.
Alabama Labor Secretary Fitzgerald Washington also temporarily waived charges against employers who file partial unemployment compensation claims on behalf of their employees. Significantly, Secretary Washington announced that “this waiver means that employers’ experience ratings will NOT be affected by COVID-19-related claims.” Employers filing these claims will need to indicate that the claim is COVID-19 related when filing claims.
The situation is evolving, and ADOL’s March 16 and March 20 news releases indicate that the rules are subject to change.
On March 13, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards issued new rules for the state’s unemployment compensation. Eligibility requirements for individuals whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19 have been expanded to include workers in the following situations:
Further, for purposes of tax experience rating, employers will not be charged for applicant’s unemployment benefits. Employers who wish to protest charges for COVID-19 claims must wait until after April 13. Also, the charging of benefits to certain employers is suspended for emergency-related claims made through April 13. Claimants are not required to register and search for work, but they shall continue to report to an employment office through either an automated telephone system or the Internet.
The easing of restrictions is in line with federal guidance from the Department of Labor permitting flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. The federal law allows states to pay benefits where: (1) an employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work; (2) an employee is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over; and (3) an employee leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member. In addition, federal law does not require an employee to quit to receive benefits due to the impact of COVID-19.