A record 3.3 million people applied for unemployment last week, according to a U.S. Department of Labor report. The sky-high numbers are no surprise as the COVID-19 pandemic forces employers to make difficult decisions about how to cease, suspend, or continue operations under extraordinary circumstances.
The State of Maryland recently relaxed its standards for benefit eligibility and updated its FAQs about COVID-19 and Maryland’s Unemployment Insurance Benefits. Among other things, the revised FAQs indicate:
- Employees receiving paid sick leave or paid family leave will generally not be considered “unemployed” for purposes of collecting unemployment benefits.
- Employees who meet the following criteria are recommended by DLLR to file a claim to determine eligibility for unemployment benefits:
- Employees quarantined by order of medical professional or government direction who are instructed not to return to work and have no option for telework;
- Employees who leave employment due to “reasonable risk of exposure or infection of COVID-19 or to care for a family member due to COVID-19;”
- Employees not under quarantine who need time off work for sickness and do not have paid leave available;
- Employees who experience job loss or reduced hours (including partial telework) due to loss of production caused by COVID-19;
- Requirements for employees to search for work may be relaxed in lieu of performing other reemployment activities.
- No search for work is required for temporary lay offs where a claimant has been provided a return to work date less than 10 weeks in the future.
While it’s understandable that businesses forced to make sudden and unexpected employment decisions may want to offer reassurance to employees about expectations for benefits, this unfortunately creates a risk of liability as guidance is rapidly changing and there is no guarantee as to how the State will view a claimant’s individual circumstances. Employers wanting to assist should instead direct employees where to apply and obtain information on their own, without making any representations about eligibility for benefits.