Right now, employers are in the midst of learning new protocols, reading new regulations, and updating company policies to assure legal compliance during this unprecedented period of change. In that atmosphere, it is easy to forget the basics. Here’s a reminder of one such obligation.
On March 27, 2020, after issuing his initial stay-at-home directive, Governor Tom Wolf approved amendments to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation law. The amendments include a requirement that Pennsylvania employers notify employees who are being “separated from employment” about the specific process for obtaining unemployment compensation benefits. While Act 9 of 2020 was created in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers should be aware that this notice requirement will remain in place after the pandemic ends.
Every Pennsylvania employer, regardless of whether that employer is liable for paying into the state’s unemployment compensation system, must provide employees with “notification of the availability of unemployment compensation . . . at the time of separation from employment.” This notification must include:
- The “[a]vailability of unemployment compensation benefits to workers who are unemployed and who meet the requirements” of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law;
- The “[a]bility of an employee to file an unemployment compensation claim in the first week that employment stops or work hours are reduced” (i.e., eliminating the 7-day waiting period);
- The “[a]vailability of assistance or information about an unemployment compensation claim” on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry or by calling its toll-free phone number, (888) 313-7284; and
- “That the employee will need certain information in order to file a claim, including:
- the employee’s full legal name;
- the employee’s Social Security number; and
- if not a citizen or resident of the United States, authorization to work in the United States.”
The amendment requires that this notice be provided to all employees being separated from employment, regardless of the reason for that separation. While not required, employers may also wish to provide those employees with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry’s checklist for claimants, which lists the information they will need in order to file a claim.
In addition, Article XVI of the unemployment compensation law, entitled “Emergency Provisions Related to COVID-19,” temporarily (until January 1, 2021) eases “eligibility requirements and access to unemployment compensation for claimants” unemployed for reasons “related to the COVID-19 outbreak.” This section waives the one-week waiting period and job search and registration requirements “for the duration of a disaster emergency declared by the Governor because of COVID-19.” In addition, the Article XVI states: “If the department determines that a claimant’s unemployment is related to the COVID-19 outbreak or the efforts of public health officials to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” the Department could, in some circumstances, “provide relief from benefit charges for any employer whose account would otherwise be charged.”
Ogletree Deakins will continue to monitor and report on developments with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic and will post updates in the firm’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center as additional information becomes available. Critical information for employers is also available via the firm’s webinar programs.