As businesses in Florida make decisions on how to move forward during the COVID-19 public health emergency, many businesses are weighing the effects of a layoff or furlough on their employees’ ability to secure unemployment benefits. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act—which was signed into law the afternoon of March 27, 2020—includes provisions that address these issues. These provisions are referred to as the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act.
Before addressing how the CARES Act may temporarily affect unemployment, it is important to understand what steps the State of Florida has already taken. At this stage, Florida has temporary made individuals who have a COVID-19-related unemployment situation eligible for reemployment assistance (the name Florida gives to unemployment benefits). Specifically, under current Florida guidance, the following persons are currently eligible for COVID-19 unemployment benefits:
- People ordered to quarantine by a medical professional
- Those laid off or sent home without pay for an extended period by their employer due to COVID-19
- Those caring for an immediate family member with the virus.
The CARES Act will expand these benefits—presuming, of course, that Florida enters into an agreement with the federal government. Such an agreement is required for each provision in the CARES Act related to unemployment.
If Florida agrees and participates in the expended benefits, below is general summary of what will be available to those whose work has been negatively impacted by the coronavirus:
Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits on top of the maximum benefits an individual may receive (state provided benefits + Pandemic Unemployment Compensation = Total Benefits). These benefits are available to those whose lack of work is tied to COVID-19 up through July 31, 2020.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: provides for financial assistance for gig workers, the self employed and contract workers typically not eligible for benefits.
- Applies to those not eligible for regular benefits, including those that have already exhausted rights to regular or extended benefits, provided that they meet certain criteria – i.e. a need related to COVID-19.
- It appears that furloughed workers will be eligible for benefits, even while staying on company benefit plans.
- Does not include those that have the ability to telework with pay or are receiving paid leave benefits.
- Available for loss of pay/income between January 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
- No “waiting period” for benefits.
- Benefits shall not exceed 39 weeks total benefits under this or any other unemployment provision, unless extended benefits are provided.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation: provides an additional 13 weeks on top of states’ standard limits for employees meeting specific criteria (lack of work due to COVID-19).
- Florida’s current standard limit for benefits is 12 weeks.
- Thus, it appears that a total of 25 weeks of eligibility—unless extended benefits apply in which case this benefit should be used before the extended benefit.
Temporary Funding of State One Week Waiting Period: provides that if States waive the requirement of a one week waiting period for benefits, the States will be reimbursement for unemployment compensation payments made for that week.
Temporary Financing of Short-Term Compensation (“STC”) Payments: provides that from the date of enactment until December 21, 2020, States such as Florida will be reimbursed for payments made pursuant to an STC program, if the need for such payments arises from a reduction in hours due to COVID-19 and the works is not employed on a seasonal, temporary, or intermittent basis.
- STC allows employers to reduce hours of work for employees rather than laying-off some employees while others continue to work full time.
- Those employees experiencing a reduction in hours are allowed to collect a percentage of their unemployment compensation benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages.
- Additional information can be found at this website the State of Florida has established:
Williams Parker has launched a multidisciplinary task force of lawyers across the firm to advise on issues arising from COVID-19 and to provide guidance for affected clients. This team is closely monitoring legal developments and guidance from federal, state, and local government and public health officials. For the latest updates, please visit our website.
This post was originally published on Williams Parker’s Labor & Employment Blog.