Navigating Unemployment Claims Due to Office Closures Related to the Coronavirus
Per the Virginia Employment Commission:
“If you are a worker who has been totally or partially separated from your job due to Coronavirus, please note that no claim for unemployment insurance may be filed or processed until an actual lay off from employment has occurred, or until there has been an actual reduction in hours. When filing your claim for unemployment benefits, please be sure to check the reason for separation as Lack of Work/Lay off. If you will be filing because of a reduction in hours, you will not receive benefits unless your gross earnings are less than your weekly benefit amount. Currently, the maximum weekly benefit amount in Virginia is $378.”
For those affected, SIMA provides the following information for claimants based on VEC guidance:
- An employee is considered unemployed by the VEC for any week that they did not work at all or any week where their hours were reduced. The VEC week runs from Sunday to Saturday.
- The VEC strongly urges people to file ASAP. They do not backdate claims so if the claim is not filed by Saturday at midnight they will lose out on a week of benefits. The Governor announced that they are going to be lenient with deadlines, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
- An employee does not receive benefits for the first week that they are unemployed. If you were to file a claim before midnight on Sat 3/21, your first week of benefits would be 3/22-3/28. This will be waived for employees that are affected by the Coronavirus. Make sure that you cite the virus on your application to claim an additional week of benefits.
- If they are no longer working at all or if their place of business is closed they should file as unemployed with the reason for separation as “Lack of Work/Lay off.” Even if they worked a partial week in the week that they are filing this is considered a full lay off rather than a reduction of hours. Also, even if they plan to return to work when the business reopens it is considered a full layoff by the VEC.
- Employees that are still working may be eligible for benefits if their hours have been reduced from their weekly average. The weekly benefit amount, which is determined by an employee’s earnings is capped at $378 per week. If an employee earns more than $378 per week on a reduced schedule they are not eligible for benefits.
- There is also a work search requirement for those that qualify for unemployment benefits. Claimants are supposed to have documented proof that they have 2 work search contacts per week (applications, interviews, etc.) This requirement may also be waived if the reason for unemployment is Coronavirus. Make sure to make a note of this on your application.
- Claims can be made online or by phone. My contact suggests using the online application since the phone lines are probably very busy with so many businesses closing at the same time. He did provide a warning that many people who do the online application think they have completed it, but do not submit the form. To avoid this mistake make sure that you receive a confirmation number and copy it down so that you have proof the application was submitted.
- Here is the website for worker’s affected by Coronavirus: http://www.vec.virginia.gov/node/11699
There are also some special measures that are being put into effect for employers:
- The VEC has announced they are putting together Workforce Teams to help employers through the pandemic. It’s not clear at this point what the exact role these teams will play.
- The VEC has also mentioned that it will not penalize employers for unemployment claims resulting from the Coronavirus pandemic. This most likely means that the employers’ rate will not go up due to claims that cite the Coronavirus. When the employer receives a separation report from the VEC they should make a note that the separation was caused by Coronavirus.
For frequently asked questions, please visit the Virginia Employment Commission here.