Unemployment Insurance FAQs Regarding COVID-19:
Governor Mills’ COVID-19 emergency legislation (LD 2167), which was passed by the Legislature on March 17, included temporary measures to enhance the flexibility of the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program in order to support workers and businesses economically impacted by COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. These measures will help relieve the financial burden of temporary layoffs, isolation, and medically-necessary quarantine by making unemployment benefits available to individuals whose employment has been impacted by COVID-19. This helps not only individuals, but also employers by helping them retain their workforce and stabilizing local economies.
The legislation temporarily revises eligibility requirements to include situations not typically covered, such as:
- An employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19
- An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work once the quarantine is over
Please note, the legislation is not intended to provide sick leave or short-term disability payments.
The legislation also waives the work search requirement for individuals still connected to their employer and waives the one-week waiting period so that benefits will be available sooner. In addition, any benefits paid under these provisions would not affect the employer’s experience rating record.
IMPORTANT NEW NOTE (3/23/2020): Due to the widespread impact of COVID-19 and the volume of temporary business closures, MDOL is waiving the work search requirement through May 14th which is consistent with the current duration of the temporary emergency unemployment insurance provisions enacted by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Mills on March 18, 2020. Individuals still need to file a weekly claim in order to get unemployment payments.
FAQs FOR EMPLOYERS:
- Will my experience rating record be affected if any of my employees receive unemployment benefits because of COVID-19?
- If an individual receives unemployment benefits due solely to COVID-19, benefits paid to the worker would not be charged against the experience rating record of the employer.
- If I have to temporarily close part or all of my business operations due to the COVID-19 virus and lay off my employees, will they have to look for other work while they are collecting unemployment benefits?
- No. As long as you plan to return them to their jobs when you resume operations, and provided they remain able and available to work for you and provide you with current contact information by which to reach them, they will not have to seek other work.
- Can an employer who needs to temporarily lay off employees because of COVID -19 continue to pay health insurance premiums for the employee during the layoff period or will that negatively impact the employees’ unemployment benefits?
- Continuing to provide health insurance will not impact your employee’s ability to receive unemployment benefits.
- What if an employer is considering a reduction in work hours?
- Employers are encouraged to contact MDOL’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation to learn about Workshare, an unemployment option that helps businesses retain their workforce during a temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs. Employees of the business are allowed to collect a partial unemployment benefit to help them offset the loss of income. (https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/workshare)
- Is it better to lay off employees than have employees resign?
- It is easier to determine unemployment eligibility in the case of a layoff because there is a clear separation from work. To be eligible for unemployment, individuals must lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
- Is it possible to find out if an employee is eligible for unemployment before the person files a claim?
- No, MDOL can’t determine whether an individual would be eligible for unemployment before that person separates from the employer. An individual must separate from their employer and then file a claim. MDOL reviews the case to make a determination. If an individual is not sure whether they would be eligible, it is best to apply. The individual must still be connected to the labor market in order to receive benefits, be able and available for work and retain contact with the employer.
- What will be the duration of these new UI benefits?
- The same as regular unemployment benefits at any other time, a maximum of 26 weeks. If individuals are in a year of already receiving some unemployment, they may have already used up some of those 26 weeks. During times of high unemployment, extended benefits may be available based on guidance from federal partners. However, we’re not at that point yet.
- If the employer lives in Maine and owns a restaurant in New Hampshire and has employees who live in both states, in which state do the employees apply for unemployment?
- The work is being performed in NH so all claimants will need to file claims in NH regardless of their individual residences.
- Is an employer required to have employees exhaust all paid time off before putting them on temporary layoff after which they will apply for unemployment?
- No. Employers are not required to pay out all paid time off before a layoff but they are allowed to do so. Use of leave time during a temporary layoff depends on an employer’s policies. The employer may require use or payout of leave time. Payments received by employee may have an impact on unemployment benefits paid to an individual.
Bureau of Unemployment Compensation Contact:
If a worker is unsure if they would be eligible for unemployment insurance, the Maine Department of Labor recommends that workers apply.
More information on UI can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ Claims are best filed online at: