Pellettieri Rabstein & Altman is eager to help our clients and friends navigate the new normal facing all of us right now as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the most significant current issues is unemployment without pay. According to the New Jersey Department of Labor, the following persons are eligible to collect unemployment benefits:
- Worker who has COVID-19, or symptoms of COVID-19
- Person who is out of work because employer voluntarily closed
- Person who is out of work because employer was ordered closed
- Worker has less hours available due to business slow down or lack of demand
- Employer stays open in defiance of State closure or public health order, and worker refuses to work
- Worker is advised by healthcare provider or public health authority to quarantine
- Health care provider exposed at work and recommended by medical professional to self-quarantine
- Freelance, independent contractor or “gig” worker has no work or lost hours due to public health emergency
- Worker received 26 weeks of unemployment; worker remains unemployed.
See NJ Dept. of Labor Benefits and Scenarios Chart – (click here) COVID-19 SCENARIOS & BENEFITS AVAILABLE
Below we provide some general information related to several of the above scenarios. As to all of them, however, it is strongly suggested that at your first opportunity you begin the process of applying on line at www.myunemployment.nj.gov for unemployment compensation.
If you are out of work without pay because of the Governor’s Order closing non-essential businesses, your paid Earned Sick Leave is available to you. It covers time that an employee is not able to work because of closure of the employee’s workplace by order of a public official due to an epidemic or other public health emergency.
If Earned Sick Leave is exhausted, and you still cannot return to work, which is likely to be the case with the pandemic, unemployment benefits will be available. According to the State of New Jersey, your claim will initially be considered a “temporary layoff,” which means that you would not be required to actively seek out work in order to collect. Presently, a layoff lasting longer than eight weeks would require you to be able, available and actively looking for employment. That may change, however, depending on the length of the Governor’s Order.
In addition to the amount that you would normally receive from the State as unemployment compensation, the new federal CARES Act provides an additional flat payment to you of $600 per week for approximately four months. There are no additional forms to fill out or criteria to meet in order to receive this increased benefit. The website for State of New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development (the “NJ DOL Website”) reports that new filers for unemployment are eligible to receive the additional $600 per week retroactive to the week of March 29.
If you have already exhausted your unemployment benefits, you are likely to be eligible under the new federal CARES Act for 13 additional weeks of regular benefits, plus an extra $600 per week until July 31. The NJ DOL Website advises to check back frequently for updates on this subject matter because the State is waiting for federal guidance on the specifics of the 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.
If you are freelancer, independent contractor or a gig worker (income-earning activities outside of traditional, long-term employer-employee relationships) who has lost hours or has no work, even though under normal circumstances you would not be eligible for NJ unemployment compensation, you should nevertheless apply online for benefits at www.myunemployment.nj.gov. If you are denied, you are likely eligible for benefits under the new federal CARES Act, because ineligibility for regular unemployment is a prerequisite for receiving benefits due to COVID-19. Here too, the NJ Department of Labor is awaiting guidance from the federal government with respect to the particulars on this new program; therefore, it is important to frequently check the DOL Website for updates, including the documentation you will need to gather and submit in support of your claim. At minimum you should gather the last two years of your tax returns, or other evidence of income history.
If you are still employed but with reduced hours, you may be eligible for partial benefits; therefore you should apply for unemployment compensation (click here for link). Eligibility depends on the number of hours that have been reduced and the amount of earning for the week. Generally, to be eligible, the employee cannot work more than 80 percent of the hours normally worked. You will be asked to supply all of this information during the application process.
Finally, you should be aware that reports are that the unprecedented volume of on line applications for unemployment compensation is taxing the DOL Website to the limit. As it result it may take significant time and numerous attempts to complete the application process.