The U.S. Department of Labor has issued guidance to states that expands unemployment eligibility for workers impacted by the pandemic.
Unemployed workers who reject job offers because they don’t think the prospective employer provides adequate protection from the virus are eligible for unemployment benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
Workers who decline to return to the workplace due to similar concerns of employers taking insufficient COVID-19 precautions are also eligible for benefits.
The guidance expands eligibility to three categories of workers:
- Those receiving unemployment benefits who had their continued regular unemployment benefits claims denied after they refused to work or accept a job offer at a worksite that did not comply with coronavirus health and safety standards
- Those who were laid off, or had hours cut, as a direct result of the pandemic
- School employees who work without a contract or reasonable assurance of continued employment and who face pay cuts and no assurance of continued pay when schools are closed due to the coronavirus
The PUA program was included in the first pandemic relief act that Congress approved last year and marked the first time self-employed and gig workers were eligible for unemployment benefits.
The PUA program is 100% federally funded so it will not impact Connecticut’s beleaguered Unemployment Trust Fund.
The department said the expanded eligibility is retroactive—it applies as if claimants were included from the beginning of the PUA program.
“However, individuals filing their first initial PUA claim after Dec. 27, 2020 are limited to weeks of unemployment beginning on or after Dec. 6, 2020,” the agency said.
“Individuals must self-certify that they are unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of identified coronavirus-related reasons during the applicable time period.”
DOL said it anticipates expanded benefits will be available at the earliest by the end of March, but that eligible recipients should be able to receive benefits retroactive to their eligibility date.
The department will provide state unemployment systems with funds to update their systems to allow retroactive payment to eligible claimants.