New Department of Labor Guidance on Federal Unemployment Benefits… and More Letters to Add to Your Alphabet Soup

Over the weekend, the federal Department of Labor (DOL) issued its newest round of guidance on Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits now available under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.  The guidance letters are great resources, but here are the basics:

  • Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC)
    • Individuals who are otherwise entitled to receive regular state unemployment compensation will also receive a $600 flat payment per week through July 31, 2020.
    • An individual is only eligible to receive the $600 weekly payment if they are eligible to actually receive at least a nominal amount of regular unemployment benefits from the state for a given work week.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
    • Individuals who otherwise would not qualify for regular unemployment benefits might qualify for up to 39-weeks of PUA benefits if they meet one of the ten COVID-19-related reasons from the CARE Act. These include:
      • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
      • A member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
      • The individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
      • A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;
      • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
      • The individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19;
      • The individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;
      • The individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
      • The individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
      • The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
    • Eligibility for PUA includes those individuals not eligible for regular state unemployment compensation under or FPUC, including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits. Covered individuals also include self-employed individuals, gig workers, independent contractors, those seeking part-time employment, and individuals lacking sufficient work history.
    • The PUA lasts until December 31, 2020 (as long as the CARE Act).

Notably, both the FPUC and the PUA stress the importance of integrity in the regular unemployment compensation programs and of avoiding fraudulent claims.  The DOL guidance highlights the importance of ensuring that benefits flow to those individuals who are unemployed through no fault of their own and are able and available to work.

Some practical questions remain.  For example, if an employee quits (and therefore would not be entitled to unemployment compensation), how will the DOL determine whether that person has quit “as a direct result” of COVID-19 (allowing them to receive PUA benefits)?  Stay tuned.

This article is not legal advice but should be considered as general guidance in the area of employment and corporate law. Amy DieterichJordan Payne Hay, and James F. Pross are employment and labor law attorneys; others at the firm handle business and other matters.

 Since 1853, Skelton Taintor & Abbott has provided a full range of high-quality legal services to individuals, companies, and municipalities of Maine. The firm’s main office is located in Auburn and in January 2019, a mid-coast office was opened in Waldoboro. You can contact us at 207.784.3200, or by visiting