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Pennsylvania Amends its Unemployment Law in Response to COVID-19

On March 27, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 68, which amended Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law. The Bill was effective immediately. While the Bill largely focuses on the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, one provision of the amendment requires Pennsylvania employers to notify their employees at the time of separation that unemployment compensation may be available, whether or not the employer is liable for the payment of contributions to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation fund. Specifically, the employer is required to provide notification to the employee of:

  1. The availability of unemployment compensation benefits to workers who are unemployed and who meet the requirements of the Unemployment Compensation Law;
  2. The employee’s ability to file an unemployment compensation claim in the first week that employment stops or work hours are reduced;
  3. The availability of assistance or information about an unemployment compensation claim on the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s website or toll-free telephone number (888-313-7284), which the employer must provide; and
  4. That the employee will need the following information in order to file a claim:
    1. The employee’s full legal name;
    2. The employee’s social security number; and
    3. If not a citizen or resident of the United States, authorization to work in the United States.

Therefore, since March 28, 2020 and going forward, Pennsylvania employers must ensure they are providing this information to their employees at the time of employment separation. This would include when terminating employees, laying off employees, or furloughing employees.

In addition to the above, the Bill also makes it easier for employees affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to apply for, and receive, unemployment compensation benefits. Specifically, the Bill codifies the temporary changes already in place that waive the one-week waiting period ordinarily required before a person may obtain unemployment benefits, and the job search and registration requirements normally required of all claimants for the duration of the emergency declared by the Governor.

The Bill also automatically relieves employers from any charges to their unemployment compensation account if a claimant’s unemployment is related to either the COVID-19 outbreak or the efforts of public health officials to contain and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The emergency provisions addressing the COVID-19 pandemic sunset on January 1, 2021; however, and importantly, the new notice requirement does not. As such, Pennsylvania employers should be prepared to provide the new notice indefinitely. For most employers, the easiest method of compliance will be to have a pre-printed form that Human Resources will have for the employee to sign at the time of termination which can be copied and then given to the employee. Even if the employee refuses to sign, Human Resources should maintain a record that the information was provided.

Our Employment & Employee Relations Practice has been closely monitoring the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on employers. If you have any specific questions regarding House Bill 68, Pennsylvania unemployment compensation matters, or any of the employment implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, we encourage you to reach out to our team. We are here to answer any of your questions related to the Act and will continue to keep you informed on the latest employment-related developments in this fast-evolving area. We also encourage you to visit our firm's Coronavirus (COVID-19) Taskforce page, by clicking here for additional resources.