What Employers Need to Know About Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) has been confusing for both employees and employers. Here’s what you need to know.

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What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for Employers

Despite the emergency federal pandemic unemployment program officially ending in September 2021, many still had the ability to file claims in October. However, given that some claims could be retroactive and the rise of new strains, many employers are still curious how this assistance could influence them.

Unless the program is revived, this form of unemployment assistance has expired, and no new claims can come forward. If it does get reinstated, knowing how it works can help you understand where this benefit fits in as an employer.

What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

While most of the country is eager to put the pandemic behind them, some assistance still remains for those struggling with COVID-19. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was first introduced on March 27, 2020, when President Joe Biden signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Securities Act (CARES Act). This emergency form of unemployment insurance was meant to ease the economic stress of those recovering from, or caring for, those with COVID-19.

As a temporary pandemic unemployment compensation program, an eligible PUA applicant earns a specific weekly amount until they are recovered. Individuals can get up to $600 a week in benefits. These benefits are also taxable.

To be eligible for the PUA program, an individual must be unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work due to the pandemic. Self-employed and gig workers are covered under the PUA program. Other eligibility requirements include that the PUA applicant:

  • Was diagnosed with COVID-19
  • Has COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis
  • Is caring for a member of their household with a COVID-19 diagnosis
  • Cares for a child or dependent who cannot attend school or daycare due to COVID-19
  • Can’t reach work due to quarantine
  • Can’t attend work because he or she has been advised by a healthcare professional to self-quarantine
  • Is scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of COVID-19
  • Is the breadwinner of their household due to the death of the head of household as a result of COVID-19
  • Had to quit work as a result of COVID-19
  • Cannot attend work due to their place of employment being closed due to COVID-19

What companies should consider

For companies, there are many other things to consider, such as:

  • How PUA affects their other federal medical leave laws
  • Which of their former employees may be eligible for PUA

At the same time, as a temporary form of unemployment benefits, PUA eligibility is less stringent on work history. It focuses more on pandemic-related needs.

For companies, there are many other things to consider, such as how PUA affects their other federal medical leave laws and which of their former employees may be eligible for PUA.

How does PUA work with FFCRA and other forms of medical leave?

An employee who has availed of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave or Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) are not eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. It’s important to note that the FFCRA only applied to companies with fewer than 500 employees. Therefore, workers in larger corporations may be able to take advantage of the pandemic unemployment benefit.

Workers on unpaid medical leave may be eligible for the PUA program. This is the case even if they are unable to take out regular unemployment insurance.

Does PUA apply during the summer months?

Given that the PUA program stipulates that a primary caregiver of a child can receive PUA benefits during the school year, many employers wonder if that also counts towards summer methods. The answer is that the pandemic emergency unemployment compensation could continue to apply if the summer childcare program is closed due to COVID-19.

Can individuals get PUA if they aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits?

Yes, an individual can be eligible for PUA benefits, even if they are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits.

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Is there a minimum wage for qualifying for PUA?

There is no minimum wage required for a PUA claim.

If an employee refuses to return to work, can they still get PUA?

Yes and no.

If an employee refuses to return to work for a reason unrelated to COVID-19, they will forfeit their PUA benefits. However, if there is a reason related to the pandemic, the individual can continue to receive unemployment benefits.

More on compliance

While it’s unclear whether new COVID-19 strains will prompt an extension of the PUA program, there are plenty of other compliance deadlines and regulations to keep HR professionals on their toes.

To stay ahead of the curve, consider our easy-to-navigate guides and calendar integrations for maintaining compliance:

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