COVID-19 Update: How We Are Serving and Protecting Our Clients

Coronavirus Unemployment Information

PA State Requirements on Businesses

On March 19th, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced that non-life-sustaining businesses in PA must immediately shut down as more cases of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) increase throughout the state and country. The objective of this order is to slow the spread of COVID-19.This is leading many people living in Pennsylvania to be laid off and file for unemployment. It is important for the residents of PA to know which businesses are open and which ones are closed for the time being. Only life-essential businesses in Pennsylvania will remain.

These life-essential businesses include:

  • Supermarkets and grocery stores
  • Big-box stores
  • Pharmacies
  • Convenience stores and discount stores
  • Garbage collection
  • Healthcare operations
  • Daycare centers
  • Hardware stores
  • Gas stations and auto-repair shops
  • Banks
  • Post offices and shipping businesses
  • Veterinary clinics and pet stores
  • Farmers' markets and food banks
  • Businesses that provide necessities to shelters and economically disadvantaged people
  • Educational institutions, for the purposes of facilitating distance learning
  • Food processing
  • Agriculture
  • Feed mills
  • Warehousing, storage, and distribution

Gov. Tom Wolf also announced a list non-essential businesses that are forced to close their physical operations. These businesses include furniture stores, lawn and garden stores, car dealers, specialty food stores, etc. The governor also ordered offices providing accounting, architectural, tax and legal services to close their physical operations as well. He did encourage these businesses to continue to operate with employees working from home if available.

The situation gets a little murkier when it comes to businesses that support those life-essential businesses. Manufacturers that create things that those life-essential businesses need also need to stay open to keep the lines of production up and running.

According to the.governor.pa.gov, “Businesses that want to request clarification on whether they are defined as life-sustaining should email the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) customer service resource account at ra-dcedcs@pa.gov, or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH and select option 1 to reach DCED staff. For businesses that determine from the list that they are non-life sustaining, but would like to seek a waiver, there is an online waiver application.

When a business completes a waiver form, a team of professionals at DCED will review each request and respond based on the guiding principle of balancing public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions. Those requesting a waiver will be notified via email if their operations may re-open. Businesses applying for a waiver must remain closed until a decision is made about their application.”

Nationwide and Statewide Unemployment Numbers

With the rapid spread of the life-threatening Coronavirus, multiple businesses across Pennsylvania and the United States are laying off employees due to government ordered closures. According to the Department of Labor, 281,000 people in the United States filed for unemployment benefits between March 8 and 14. Apparently, more than two-thirds of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Experts have predicted that people working in manufacturing, construction and service jobs will very likely be hit the hardest by the economic crisis. These workers represent more than one-third of the labor force in the US, about 53 million people. Since Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ordered a statewide shutdown on non-essential businesses, at least 120,000 people filed for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania. According to state and federal data, this is more than half of what the state reported for the entire first quarter of 2019.

The Unemployment Process: What is Unemployment Compensation?

Unemployment compensation are state mandated unemployment benefits that are designed to help people who are out of work through no fault of their own. These benefits are meant as a stopgap measure, a way to temporarily maintain a portion of income until someone can find a new job. In response to this coronavirus fallout, national lawmakers have made a broader group of people eligible for unemployment relief, including workers who are sick or have been quarantined, those who have been laid off or had hours reduced due to the outbreak, and people who cannot work because they have to care for children. If you are out of a job or have had your hours or pay reduced because of coronavirus-related business closures, you could get unemployment. If you are in that type of situation, you should apply for benefits immediately. Due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, the state has changed requirements so more people will qualify for benefits, and they can get them faster.

Eligibility for Unemployment in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Labor & Industry handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements in order to collect unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania:

  • Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds AND
  • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Pennsylvania law AND
  • You must be able and available to work, AND
  • Your employer cut your hours OR
  • Your employer has temporarily shut down OR
  • You quit your job because your employer was requiring you to work but you believed that it was unsafe. You must have tried to keep your job, though, which means that you need to bring up your concerns with your supervisor OR
  • You were fired because your employer was requiring you to work and you believed that it was unsafe OR
  • You can’t get to work because public transportation is shut down.

A lot of these requirements are uncertain as of right now due to the viral outbreak. For example, requiring people to be applying for jobs and going to interviews during a quarantine is difficult, if not impossible. Because of this, the state has eliminated this requirement, but has not clarified if the person must still be able and available to work.

This is an unprecedented situation, so there are no concrete answers as of yet to say what will and will not disqualify you form unemployment, so we recommend you do your best to try and meet all of the criteria.

How Much Will You Get?

The state calculates your benefit based on how much you have been making in the last year and a half. It’s never a full wage replacement, but for a lot of people, it is a substantial income. The benefit in Pennsylvania ranges from $68 a week to $561 a week.

When Will You Get Your First Payment?

After you file your initial claim, you will file your first claim two weeks later. You will get your first payment that week or the week after, in a best-case scenario. It could take longer because of high demand. Normally, there’s an extra waiting week to get your first payment, but the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has cut that out because of the crisis. It comes in a debit card or direct deposit, depending on what you choose.

What Benefits Changed Because of COVID-19?

According to Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensation’s COVID-19 and FAQ pages, the state has eliminated the normal week-long wait time, so eligible residents can get paid for the first week they are affected. The office is also waiving work search requirements, so people do not have to prove they are looking for a job in order to receive benefits.

This is very difficult for people trying to stay employed during this global pandemic. It is crucial for people who are unemployed to receive the benefits that they need in order to provide for their families. At O’Connor Law, we have lawyers with a lot of experience and expertise in unemployment law. They will most definitely ensure that all the proper steps are taken in order for you to receive the benefits you deserve. The attorneys at O’Connor Law can be reached at 570-874-3300 or 1800-518-4LAW(4529). You can also fill out our contact form, or chat with a chat support specialist to get in contact with us.

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