Employers facing layoffs and vacations must pay close attention to state unemployment laws, which are in flux and in some cases can place extraordinary burdens on employers. For example, Georgia has extended unemployment benefits and is now requiring employers to claim benefits on behalf of some workers affected by COVID-19, due to certain changes to government unemployment benefits regulations enacted on March 19-25.

The Georgia Emergency Rule extends unemployment qualifications to those who are involuntarily unemployed due to a COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Georgia Department of Labor passed certain emergency rules, including Emergency Rule 300-2-9-0.9, which provides for people to be removed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency are unable to work and who are expected to return to work if the emergency ceases to be considered involuntarily unemployed through no fault of their own. This rule applies to all claims filed on or after March 14, 2020 by anyone who:

(a) Quarantined or placed under quarantine on the advice of a licensed medical practitioner;

(b) sixty (60) or more years old;

(c) with a recognized illness that makes that person particularly susceptible to COVID-19;

(d) Who is a carer and lives with someone identified in part (b) or (c) of this sub-paragraph? or

(e) Who is the custody parent or legal guardian of a minor whose school is closed due to COVID-19 and who cannot provide childcare?

Employers must assert partial claims on behalf of their full-time employees if it is necessary to temporarily reduce working hours or if there is no work available for a short period of time.

Workers who work all available hours (i.e. part-time if available) and who have not worked during a particular week or week simply because of a lack of work with the employer are eligible for Partial Unemployment Benefit in Georgia. According to the new regulations, however, only the employer can apply for such benefits. The required DOL 408 form must be submitted online by the employer after the week for which benefits are being requested (ie retrospectively).

Any employer found violating this rule must reimburse the Georgia Department of Labor for the full amount of unemployment insurance benefits paid to the employee.

Form 408 is partly filled out by the employer and partly by the employee and requires the employee to confirm that “I only didn’t work because of a lack of work”. Accordingly, employees who do not work because their children are not in school or in daycare are not entitled to partial unemployment. Partial unemployment is also not available if an employee is unemployed due to a disability, compensation or medical leave.

States across the country are taking steps to make it easier for workers to claim unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis. Employers should constantly monitor the laws of any state where they are required to fire or leave workers.