Georgia Expands Unemployment Compensation Benefits Program
In response to the recent increase in unemployment compensation claims and in preparation for the federal funding programs created by the Coronavirus Assistance, Recovery, and Economic Stimulus Act (CARES Act), the State of Georgia has implemented a handful of new emergency rules and procedures regarding unemployment compensation benefits.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler recently stated: “We understand Georgia businesses and workers are anxious during the COVID-19 public health crisis about how to take care of themselves, their families, and their businesses. . . . We are making unprecedented modifications to policies to help all Georgians survive this economic hardship and get us all back to work.”
Below is a summary of recent developments in Georgia’s unemployment compensation program.
Increase in Number of Weeks for Unemployment Compensation
By Emergency Rule on March 26, 2020, the Georgia Labor Commissioner extended the length of time an individual can collect Georgia unemployment compensation benefits from 14 weeks to 26 weeks.
As a result, and in combination with the additional 13 weeks guaranteed by § 2107 of the federal CARES Act (“Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program” or “PEUC”), an individual in Georgia now may be eligible for up to 39 weeks of unemployment compensation. For more on the PEUC program, please see the related article on this webpage titled “Federal Government Gives Boost to Unemployment Compensation.”
New Maximum Allowable Pay That will Not Decrease Unemployment Compensation
By Emergency Rule on March 26, 2020, the Georgia Labor Commissioner declared that an individual’s first $300 of wages earned in a week (from any source) will not count against eligible unemployment benefits paid (i.e., the Weekly Benefits Amount, or “WBA”). The usual maximum amount is $50 per week. For example, if an individual is laid off, but finds a part-time job, he or she now can earn up to $300 each week and still receive the full unemployment WBA. Any additional income above $300 will reduce the WBA dollar-for-dollar.
As a result of this new rule, an unemployed individual in Georgia potentially can earn each week, at least through July 31, 2020: (1) a WBA of $365 (the maximum WBA in Georgia); (2) $300 in part-time wages, which do not reduce the maximum WBA; and (3) the supplemental $600 in federal compensation under § 2104 of the new CARES Act (“Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation,” or “FPUC”) – for a total weekly benefit of $1,265.00.
Note: For more on the FPUC program (the federal supplemental $600 per week), please see the related article on this webpage titled “Federal Government Gives Boost to Unemployment Compensation.”
Requirement for Employers to File Partial Claims on Behalf of Employees
By Emergency Rule on March 16, 2020, the Georgia Labor Commissioner will require an Employer to file a partial claim on behalf of any affected employee who is furloughed or subject to a reduction in work hours due to a partial or total company shutdown caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency. The purpose of the rule is to expedite partial claims. Filing by the employer eliminates the employer certification stage, thus significantly expediting the process and the issuance of payment.
Partial claims are filed online, for each applicable pay period and must be filed for both full-time and part-time employees. Details about the procedures for filing partial claims are on the Georgia Department of Labor website, available here.
Penalties may apply. An employer that does not file a partial claim under the emergency rule will be liable to the State of Georgia for the full amount of benefits paid to the employee.
Suspension of Work Search Requirements
By Emergency Rule on March 16, 2020, the Georgia Labor Commissioner temporarily suspended the usual work search and other in-person requirements through (at least) July 14, 2020, for all claimants. This rule likely will be extended by the Commissioner.
Employers’ Unemployment Insurance Taxes will Not be Increased due to Covid-19 Related Claims
By Emergency Rule on March 16, 2020, the Georgia Labor Commissioner declared that Employers will not be charged for COVID-19 related unemployment compensation claims. If an employee is receiving unemployment compensation due to any COVID-related claim, the benefits paid out will not adversely affect the employer’s future tax rate.
New Procedures for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) Program
Section 2102 of the federal CARES Act creates the temporary “Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program” (“PUA”) (effective through December 31, 2020), which will grant unemployment compensation coverage to many individuals who would not otherwise be eligible for such benefits (e.g., self-employed persons, independent contractors, gig workers, part-time employment seekers, those who lack sufficient work history, and those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits under existing programs). The Georgia DOL has modified its current online unemployment compensation application, adding new questions to identify those individuals who may be eligible for PUA. Detailed instructions for filing these types of claims are on the Georgia DOL website at https://dol.georgia.gov/pua.
To assist applicants in the claims process, the Georgia Department of Labor has implemented a new Claims Status Dashboard, which will allow an applicant to track the status of a claim online. Information about filing an unemployment compensation claim, details about how employers must file partial claims, and other resources regarding unemployment compensation are available on the front page of the Georgia DOL website, dol.ga.gov.
For more information about the new Georgia rules regarding unemployment benefits, or about any of the new developments in employment-related laws as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, please refer to the HGRS LLP Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center, at www.hgrslaw.com, or contact our firm at (404) 442-8776.