As our nation and the world respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on public health, millions of Americans are suffering from the financial impact of quarantines and stay-at-home orders. Pennsylvania alone has seen more than 800,000 new applications for unemployment benefits since non-life sustaining businesses were closed on March 18, 2020.
Key changes have been made to the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation as a result of this health crisis. The federal government has passed legislation to supplement state unemployment compensation benefits, and Pennsylvania , for individuals who have been laid off, had their hours reduced, been told not to work by their employer over concerns that they may get or spread COVID-19, been told to quarantine/self-isolate; or are unable to work due to government restrictions on working as a result of COVID-19.
- Pennsylvania has temporarily waived work search requirements, and claimants are not required to register with PACareerLink.pa.gov in order to maintain eligibility.
- Unemployment compensation is payable without a “waiting week” of ineligibility.
- The federal CARES Act will provide supplemental unemployment compensation in the amount of $600 weekly, for up to thirteen weeks, in addition to amounts received from Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation.
- The federal CARES Act will also extend unemployment compensation to affected self-employed individuals who are normally excluded from receiving such benefits.
For individuals who continue to work, the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act provides up to two-weeks of paid leave if they are unable to work or telework due to:
- being subject to federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation;
- being told by a health care provider to self-quarantine;
- having symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- having to care for an individual subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation; or
- having to care for a child of any age if the child’s school, place of care, or child care provider is closed due to the public health emergency.
These temporary new paid leave benefits apply to both full-time and part-time employees, and employers may not require the employee to use other company-provided paid leave before use of this emergency leave. Not all employers are subject to this law; it only applies to private-sector businesses employing less than 500 employees, and only certain public agencies. Certain employees may not fall under this law, either; for instance, employers may exclude emergency responders and health care providers.
These new changes to unemployment compensation and providing required sick leave represent a major shift in response to this unprecedented situation. As we continue to learn more about the effects of this pandemic on public health, we can expect to see continued impact on the financial system and the local and national labor market, and we can hope for continued efforts from all levels of government to assist employees affected by this crisis.