Wyatt Employment Law Report

Kentucky Releases Unemployment Insurance Employer Handbook for COVID-19

By Michelle D. Wyrick

The Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet has published an employer handbook to answer employers’ questions about unemployment insurance and how it has been impacted by COVID-19 and the new federal programs enacted as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act. The handbook can be found here.

Congress included three programs in the CARES Act that provide assistance to unemployed workers – the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (“PEUC”) program, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (“FPUC”), and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (“PUA”) program. The PEUC program is a temporary federal program that allows states to provide up to 13 additional weeks of benefits to individuals who have previously exhausted all rights to unemployment compensation. Under the FPUC program, states will administer an additional $600 weekly payment to eligible individuals who are receiving other unemployment benefits. And the PUA program allows individuals who do not qualify for regular unemployment compensation and who cannot continue to work because of the coronavirus, including self-employed workers, independent contractors, and gig workers, to draw up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits. Individuals who are drawing regular unemployment benefits or benefits under the PUA program can obtain the $600 weekly benefit under the FPUC.

Under the PUA, an individual is considered to be unable to work because of the coronavirus if (1) the individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a medical diagnosis; (2) a member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; (3) the individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; (4) a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work; (5) the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; (6) the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; (7) the individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; (8) the individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19; (9) the individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19; or (10) the individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency. An individual who is receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits is not eligible for unemployment benefits.

Kentucky has also enacted a workshare program that allows employees who “have not been terminated or separated from employment but have a reduction in work hours or a reduction in pay of more than 10% but less than 60%” to claim unemployment benefits for their reduced hours. Affected employees may also claim the $600 weekly payment under FPUC. Employers who participate in the workshare program must continue to provide benefits if they previously did so.

Unemployment claims that are paid during the COVID-19 pandemic will not be charged to employer accounts. Kentucky has indicated that unemployment claims will have at most a “negligible” impact on employer tax rates because of the pandemic.

Although individuals who quit their jobs are not normally eligible for unemployment insurance, Kentucky has determined that individuals who leave work “due to a reasonable risk of exposure to infection (self-quarantine) or to care for a family member affected by the virus” have good cause for doing so. But, if the employer offers reasonable accommodations or provides a telecommuting option, employees must accept that option. An employee who refuses to work under those circumstances will be deemed to have quit.

The United States Department of Labor addressed the “good cause” requirement in its most recent guidance and stressed that states must continue their role in ensuring the integrity of the unemployment insurance program. Although states have some flexibility as a result of COVID-19, states must ensure that only eligible individuals receive benefits. The guidance further states that “quitting work without good cause to obtain [unemployment insurance] benefits is fraud.”

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