DOL Guidance Expands Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Author: Emily Scace, XpertHR Legal Editor

March 9, 2021

As a result of recent guidance from the US Department of Labor, issued following a directive from President Biden, more workers affected by the COVID-19 public health emergency may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

To qualify for the assistance, individuals must self-certify that they fall into one of the three new COVID-19-related eligibility categories for PUA:

  • Individuals who refused to return to work or accept an offer of new work for COVID-related safety reasons. This category aims to assist individuals who have been denied continued unemployment benefits because they refused to work at a site that is not following COVID-19 health and safety standards, such as the use of face coverings, physical distancing measures, or provision of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Individuals who have been laid off or had work hours reduced as a direct result of the pandemic. While the current system limits PUA eligibility to individuals whose place of employment is closed due to the pandemic, the new guidance expands eligibility to individuals who were laid off because of a temporary or permanent partial closure.
  • School employees working without a contract or assurance of continued employment facing reduced paychecks and no guarantee of continued pay due to school closures and scheduling changes.

The PUA program provides partial wage replacement to individuals who are unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to work for COVID-19-related reasons but are ineligible for or have exhausted regular unemployment compensation or other pandemic benefits. Individuals are not eligible for PUA benefits if they have the ability to telework with pay or are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits.

The new reasons are retroactive, meaning that they apply as if they had been included from the beginning of the PUA program. However, individuals filing their first PUA claim after December 27, 2020, are limited to two weeks of unemployment beginning on or after December 6, 2020.

Because it will take time for state agencies to implement the benefit expansions, the expanded assistance will likely not be available until the end of March at the earliest, according to the DOL. However, eligible individuals should be able to receive benefits paid retroactively to their eligibility date.