Unemployment Resource Guide
(UPDATED: NOVEMBER 2020) My staff and I have assembled this guide using answers directly from the Maine Department of Labor, with some minor updates, to help the thousands of Mainers who have lost their jobs or can’t find work due to the coronavirus. Our goal is to help you understand the options available to you and decide on a course of action. We took the questions we were hearing most consistently from our constituents, answered them if there are answers available, and put them all in one place. We know this will be a difficult, frustrating process for many workers and we want to be a resource. Members of my staff are also prepared to assist you with questions, helpful resources, and other urgent needs. If we can’t help or answer your question, we’ll quickly connect you with someone who can.
You can find contact information for my nearest office here. During business hours, you will nearly always be able to connect directly with a member of our staff who will do their best to help you.
Beginning on Sunday, October 4, 2020 all claimants must participate in work search-related activities. The only exception is for individuals in medical quarantine due to potential COVID-19 exposure.
This requirement now applies to those who are self-employed and workers planning on returning to their employer. Work search-related activity requirements for those who were permanently separated from their employer were previously reinstated on August 9.
Beginning with the weekly certification covering the week of October 4-10,, all unemployment claimants will be required to answer questions about their work search-related activities.
It is important to note that options that satisfy this requirement include more than just applying for jobs. In response to the circumstances created by the pandemic, MDOL expanded its definition of "work search" to include work-related activities such as attending skill development seminars or job networking events.
Self-employed individuals will need to attest to engaging in activities designed to fully reopen their business. Examples of this could include: marketing your business, attending networking events, participating in relevant workshops or meeting with the Office of Business Development to understand the resources available to small businesses.
Other work search activities include:
Attending a job fair/virtual job fair hosted by a CareerCenter;
Participating in CareerCenter virtual reemployment services;
Participating in a CareerCenter virtual workshop;
Applying for a job for which you are reasonably qualified;
Interviewing for a job for which you are reasonably qualified;
Contacting an employer to inquire as to whether the employer is hiring;
Participating in professional job-related education or skills development;
Participating in networking events related to a job or occupation for which you are reasonably qualified.
For example, taking a class with Coursera counts as a work search activity. MDOL announced in August that Maine has partnered with Coursera in its Coursera Workforce Recovery Initiative.
This initiative provides unemployed workers with free access to 3,800 online courses. Up to 5,000 unemployed Mainers can sign up to take classes through the Coursera platform.
The registration period for Coursera has been extended through October 31, 2020. Learners enrolled will have until the end of the year to complete the courses. For more information on how to sign up, please contact a CareerCenter: https://www.mainecareercenter.gov.
As part of the work search requirement, you must also be registered on the Maine JobLink, a free job search tool, where you can upload your resume and employers can post their job openings: https://joblink.maine.gov/.
The CareerCenters hold frequent virtual workshops on how to use the Maine JobLink. To register for any of the CareerCenter workshops, please visit: http://www.mainecareercenter.com/employment/workshops.shtml.
You can also call your local CareerCenter to schedule a one-on-one appointment with a CareerCenter Consultant to explore work search activity options specific to your individual situation.
FAQs: FOR EMPLOYEES
What kinds of unemployment claims do I qualify for?
Congress enacted, and Maine opted-in to, new temporary federal unemployment programs created by theCARES Act. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released program guidance and the Maine Department of Labor (Maine DOL) is working to implement them as quickly as possible. Once the new programs are in place, claims filed will be processed retroactively to the dates in the law.
Now in Operation:
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): Provides unemployment for those who are not eligible for regular unemployment, including the self-employed or those who’ve had to stay home to take care of children when schools or daycare are closed due to COVID-19. This program provides up to 39 weeks of benefits, through December 31, 2020.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): Offers up to 13 more weeks of unemployment to those who’ve already exhausted theirs. If you have already enrolled in the current unemployment program, you should continue filing your weekly certifications (each week, please avoid the very busy Sunday and Monday). This program is available through December 31, 2020.
State Extended Benefit (EB) Program: Provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits for Maine people who exhausted their 13-weeks of federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) by the end of August.
All of these unemployment benefits will be administered through the Maine Department of Labor (Maine DOL). Please check their website regularly for the latest updates on these benefits.
What will be the duration of these UI benefits?
Traditionally, people are eligible for unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, but that period was extended to 39 weeks in the beginning of July through the federal CARES Act. With the recent extension under the EB program, benefits can be available for up to 52 weeks.
What is the maximum UI benefit and what is the average UI benefit?
In Maine, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $445.00. The average weekly benefit amount is roughly $340.00.
What is the best way for me to file my unemployment claim?
You can file an unemployment claim online 24/7 at the Maine DOL website or you can call 1-800-593-7660 between 8am and 3pm Monday through Friday.
MDOL has implemented an alphabetical call-in schedule to help reduce phone line congestion to receive and process claims. Those with last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday, I-Q on Tuesday; and R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time.
What do I do if I call and there are long wait times?
Maine DOL is receiving a high volume of calls about and claims for unemployment benefits. Claims are accepted online 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it is best to file from a computer and in the evening when internet traffic is reduced. If your question isn’t answered there, you can submit a new question through the online Customer Message Portal (CMP). Questions are being answered as quickly as possible and MDOL is training and bringing on more staff to answer calls and messages. There is still a significant wait period.
What if I don’t have a computer or access to the internet?
If you do not have access to a computer or the internet, you can call 1-800-593-7660. Please be sure to follow the new protocols above about the appropriate time to contact Maine DOL.
I’m using my phone to try to apply for unemployment. Why can’t I see the whole page?
It’s best to use a desktop, laptop or tablet to file for unemployment rather than a cell phone.
How can I avoid getting locked out of my unemployment account?
There are two common issues that are locking up unemployment accounts. First, usernames are case-sensitive so: do not use capital letters. Second, as soon as you create an on-line account, verify your email. This will help you reset your password later if needed. To do that, log into your account, go to the “Benefit Maintenance” tab on the home screen, click on “Update Claimant Profile,” and then “Verify Email.” Enter the code sent to the email on record in the text field.
If you’ve tried to log into your account two times and the password still isn’t working, hit “Forgot Password” and follow the instructions. MDOL currently has eight staff members dedicated solely to password resets.
Why must I register with the Maine JobLink when I apply for unemployment?
Registering on the Maine JobLink—a public job database which gives job seekers access to thousands of jobs at any time—and is required for those receiving unemployment benefits as part of work search. When individuals register and submit a new unemployment claim, the UI system creates a partial Maine JobLink account for them, assigning a generic username and a temporary password with a social security number. Once they log into Maine JobLink with the login information provided, Maine JobLink will respond that the assigned password has expired and require they create a new password.
Why does MDOL contact my employer when I apply for unemployment?
Determining a person’s unemployment eligibility is a two-part process. Maine DOL’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation (BUC) receives an individual’s initial unemployment claim with the information required on the application. BUC Claims Representatives also gather information from the employer, analyze all the available wage and separation information and then make a determination, which is communicated to the individual who has applied through their ReEmployME account.
What does “able and available” mean?
Individuals who think they may be eligible for unemployment benefits should apply (online, available 24/7). Under the law, individuals applying must be able to work and available to work in order to be eligible for unemployment. Under the new state temporary unemployment measures, individuals must stay in contact with their employer and make sure the employer has current contact information.
Do I have to wait to get unemployment benefits?
For claims filed under the new, temporary emergency unemployment legislation, the “waiting week” has been waived as of the date of the Governor’s Emergency Declaration on March 15, 2020. Initially, it may take up to 10 to 14 days to receive a payment, as they need to program the unemployment claim system to carry out the emergency law changes. You will not lose any benefits as a result, but you may receive multiple payments in the first week after the programming changes have been completed. After this, individuals filing for benefits can expect to receive payments weekly as long as weekly claims are filed timely and people remain eligible to collect benefits.
If someone is out of work due to childcare and school closures, what is the unemployment process?
Please see information on the website www.maine.gov/unemployment/pua which will explain how you can file for unemployment under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, a federal program launched May 1 to provide unemployment to workers not typically eligible to receive unemployment in the past. Individuals should file for unemployment (online is the best way, available 24/7).
I have filed an unemployment claim through the online system, but I can’t tell whether my claim has been accepted and I didn’t get a receipt showing I applied?
Due to an unprecedented volume of claims, at the moment it might take up to two days for the claim to show up on your account. For your records, please print or take a screenshot of the final confirmation page where the screen says the claim has been successfully submitted so that you have proof that Maine DOL received it. (Usually, in times of lower volume claims, the new claim would show in the individual’s portal account within 24 hours. With high volumes, it is taking longer for every item to post to accounts.)
What if my claim was denied? What do I do now?
If an individual is denied, they will receive a written determination from MDOL in the mail. There are a number of reasons a claim could be denied. This will be explained in the determination letter they receive. They will need to follow the instructions in that written determination letter. If they have additional questions, they can submit a question at this link: https://www.maine.gov/labor/contact/index.html.
If the claim under regular unemployment has been denied for insufficient wages, no further action is needed as the person will be eligible for PUAThe claim is in the system and will automatically transfer to PUA. For more information, visit: www.maine.gov/unemployment/pua.
Is there an appeal process if my claim was denied?
If you are not going to be paid unemployment benefits for any reason, Maine DOL will inform you in writing. If you are "denied" benefits, "disqualified," or found to be "ineligible" to receive benefits, or if it has been determined that an overpayment has been made, you have the right to file an appeal to review that decision.
Employer Right of Appeal: If your former employer does not agree with a decision in which the employer is involved, such as a separation from work or refusal of an offer of work, then that employer may also file an appeal on the decision.
Appeal of Monetary Determination: If you believe your monetary determination is incorrect, call the Claim Center. You will be advised to file an appeal. While the appeal is pending, Maine DOL will investigate its accuracy and completeness. If Maine DOL finds any errors, Maine DOL will correct the amount of the wages. If Maine DOL does not find any errors, you will be scheduled for an appeal hearing.
You must file an appeal within 15 calendar days of the mailing date of the Deputy’s Decision or Monetary Determination. An additional 15 days for filing an appeal may be granted if you have good cause for late filing. More information on how to file an appeal can be found here: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/docs/2018/UIGuide2018.pdf.
What is the best way to receive unemployment payments, direct deposit or debit card?
Maine DOL recommends that all individuals opt for “direct deposit” as a payment method. It is the fastest method to receive payments. For instructions on choosing direct deposit, see the yellow box on the Maine DOL Unemployment webpage: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/. For a step-by-step walk through of the process, please go to: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/reemploymeguide/.
If instead an individual chooses to use a debit card, please be advised that U.S. Bank handles the Visa debit cards for unemployment benefits, not the Maine DOL unemployment program. Cards are mailed out by the U.S. postal service. US Bank can be contacted at : 800-872-2657.
I’m now on unemployment due to a COVID-19 lay-off. Do I still have to do work search?
The Governor’s recent extension of the Civil Emergency due to COVID-19 has also extended the work search waiver for those who are unemployed. There are two groups each with different extensions:
Those who are not expecting to return to their previous employer were required to search for work starting August 9, 2020 in order to continue receiving benefits. The department encourages everyone to use this extra week to create a Maine JobLink account, update their resume, and explore online CareerCenter services. The Maine JobLink can be found here: https://joblink.maine.gov/ada/r/
Those who are expecting to go back to their previous employer do not need to search for work until 30 days after the end of Maine’s Civil Emergency which the Governor recently extended to November 27th. Currently, this group of people do not need to start searching for other work until December 27th.
NOTE: Even with work search waived, individuals must still file a weekly claim in order to get unemployment payments.
When the work search waiver is lifted and work search is required again, will people be cut off from their benefits if their employer has not yet brought them back?
Individuals who are still temporarily on leave of absence or lay-off with the expectation of returning to their regular jobs are covered by the emergency unemployment provisions that were enacted in response to the Governor’s declaration of civil emergency. These provisions remain in effect for 30 days beyond the end of the emergency declaration. Currently, the civil emergency declaration has been extended so the emergency unemployment provisions remain in place through December 27th. If the emergency declaration is extended, then these provisions would extend as well.
Are self-employed individuals required to look for work while waiting to reopen their own business in order to continue collecting PUA?
If their intent is to reopen their business and cannot due to the pandemic, they do not have to search for work. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program requires that all individuals receiving benefits under this program be subject to the same state unemployment laws regarding weekly eligibility responsibilities as those filing for regular state unemployment benefits. MDOL considers self-employed individuals waiting to reopen their business to be the same as an individual who is temporarily unemployed and awaiting recall to their jobs. As such, they would be covered by the emergency unemployment provisions tied to the civil emergency declaration which remain in effect for 30 days beyond the end of the emergency declaration. Currently, the civil emergency declaration has been extended so the emergency unemployment provisions, including a work search waiver, remain in place through December 27th. If the intent to reopen changes to closing the business, the self-employed individual becomes subject to Maine’s regular, non-emergency work search provisions in order to continue collecting PUA benefits.
How do these new UI measures address an employee who is out sick with the virus?
The new UI measures are not intended to provide sick leave or short-term disability payments. To receive unemployment, the employee must be able and available to work and maintain contact with the employer.
What if I am asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID-19, but I am not sick?
If you are following guidance issued by a medical professional or public health official to isolate or quarantine yourself as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. You must be able and available to accept any work offered by your employer that would not cause you to break isolation or quarantine, and you would need to make sure that your employer has your current contact information.
My boss just announced that my business must temporarily close and that everyone will be laid off until it reopens. Can I collect unemployment benefits and do I have to look for work until we reopen?
If the business is being temporarily closed as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 virus and you are expected to return to work once the business reopens, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. The work search requirement has been waived. You would not have to look for work as long as you remain able and available to work for your employer and make sure your employer has your current contact information.
My boss is allowing me to take an unpaid temporary leave of absence because I am considered high-risk for COVID-19 infection if I stay at the office, though I am not sick now. Would I be able to collect unemployment benefits until I am able to go back to work?
You may be eligible for unemployment benefits during a temporary, unpaid leave of absence if you are expected to return to your job at the end of the leave, so you should apply. You must remain able and available to work for your employer and make sure that your employer has your current contact information. In addition, you do not have to get documentation from a health professional.
What if my employer goes out of business permanently as a result of COVID-19?
You may be eligible for and should apply for unemployment benefits (available through online system 24/7).
Can someone be covered by unemployment for reduced or part-time work?
Yes, Maine has unemployment coverage for part-time work. The individual should file for benefits and Maine DOL will review and determine if the individual is eligible for partial benefit based on the number of hours worked.
If I have to quit, will I be able to get UI benefits?
It depends. Maine DOL will need to make a determination based on the facts of each situation once a claim for benefits is filed. Maine DOL cannot provide a definite decision prior to the separation from a job.
What if my employer says there is no work for me and I am not getting paid, but tells me I am not “laid off?” Can I get unemployment?
If you are not working and not being paid, Maine DOL encourages you to apply for unemployment.
The new legislation passed by the State Legislature includes those who “need to care for a dependent family member as a result of COVID-19.” What does that mean for me?
It depends. An individual should apply online for unemployment and Maine DOL will review and make a determination on a case by case basis. Under the new legislation, during such a temporary leave of absence, an individual may be eligible for unemployment if that individual continues to remain able and available to work for and maintains contact with the relevant employer. If the person has applied under regular unemployment and been denied for insufficient wages, no further action is needed. The person will be eligible for PUA, the claim is in the system and will automatically transfer to PUA. For more information, visit: www.maine.gov/unemployment/pua.
How are “per diem” workers affected?
Per diem workers are covered under unemployment as long as they meet monetary eligibility, are able and available to work, and stay in contact with their employer. They should apply for unemployment; their application will be reviewed and Maine DOL will make a determination.
How long does the individual have to work to qualify for unemployment? What is “monetary eligibility”?
Unemployment insurance depends on being “monetarily eligible” by review of wages earned over the last five full calendar quarters. Four consecutive quarters within that timeframe must have earnings of at least $5,140.74, and two of the four quarters must have earnings of at least $1,713.58. These amounts are set annually based on the average weekly wages earned by Maine workers. The amount of benefits and the length of time someone can collect are based on how much you earn. For more information, please visit https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/claimsfaq/.
What is the maximum weekly unemployment benefit?
As of June 1 (and through May 31, 2021), the maximum weekly benefit amount for the state unemployment program has risen from $445 to $462. Claimants filing for a new benefit year on June 1 or after will have their weekly benefit amount range between $80 and $462 per week. The previous benefit amount, based on the 2018 average weekly wage, ranged from $77 to $445. Those who already have an active unemployment claim will not see a difference in their claim, this is for new claims filed on or after June 1.
Are immigrants and asylum-seekers eligible for UI?
If immigrants or asylum-seekers have work authorization to work in the U.S. and lose their job due to COVID-19, they should apply for unemployment (preferably through the online system, available 24/7). Maine DOL will review the claim on a case-by-case basis as they would all other claims and make a determination about eligibility.
What should a refugee or asylee—who has an 1-94 but not a green card or work permit—do when the unemployment application asks for their “A Number?”
Please use your 11-digit I-94 number for this purpose (even though the application will say “A Number,” it is the I-94 number that is needed).
Can I get unemployment if I receive Social Security?
Yes, Maine DOL does not offset benefits for Social Security payments.
I am a high school student with a part-time job—can I apply and qualify for unemployment?
Yes, workers—including those younger than 18 who earn wages (including part-time) in covered employment and who become unemployed— may file for unemployment. You may qualify for unemployment benefits under regular state unemployment, assuming you have enough wages to meet the monetary eligibility requirements and all other requirements (e.g., qualified job separation, are able to work and available to work, etc). If you do not qualify for regular state unemployment because you don’t have sufficient wages and you have been directly affected by COVID-19, you may be eligible for unemployment under a new federal program (PUA), regardless of age or student status. For example, a full-time student who works a few hours per week in a part-time job and becomes unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work as a direct result of COVID-19 may be eligible for unemployment under the federal PUA program. For more information: www.maine.gov/unemployment/pua
Can college students who have lost work study jobs get unemployment?
Generally, students who are in work study jobs are not (unemployment) covered employees. However, there may be special circumstances that could be considered if students also had other employment beside work study. They are encouraged to apply for unemployment through the online system (available 24/7): www.maine.gov/unemployment.
If my employer continues my health insurance while I am on temporary layoff or leave, will this affect my UI benefits?
No, this will not affect your weekly unemployment benefits.
I was just about to start a new job and my new employer does not want me to start it yet. Can I collect unemployment insurance?
It depends. You should file a claim for unemployment. Maine DOL will review your employment history and make a determination about eligibility.
Are employees of the federal government—such as employees at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard or Togus VA—eligible for unemployment benefits?
These employees are eligible for a separate unemployment program — Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE). Federal employees in Maine will need to apply through ReEmployME for UCFE (https://reemployme.maine.gov/accessme/faces/login/login.xhtml). This is an ongoing program and they can apply at any time. They will likely get a note about a monetary investigation on their account while Maine DOL reaches out for wages from the federal government.
I was laid off due to COVID-19 emergency and now my employer plans to re-open the business and has notified workers to return to do their jobs. I prefer to stay on unemployment rather than return to work. Can I still collect benefits?
It depends. This is a complex situation and eligibility for unemployment depends on the employee’s personal circumstances. When those receiving unemployment benefits file their required weekly certification, they must answer questions regarding whether they have been offered any work in the past week. Employers notify MDOL if they have recalled employees back to work and if those employees have turned down the work offer. MDOL will analyze the circumstances on a case-by-case basis to see if there is good cause for refusing the work or not. (For example, under the new federal programs— e.g. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance-PUA— unemployment benefits are made available to a broader set of people with circumstances affected by COVID-19.) MDOL’s determination may also depend upon the circumstances of the particular workplace, such as if the work can be done from home, or whether the employer is taking steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure. If MDOL determines that an offer of suitable work was made and that there was no valid reason to refuse it, the person would no longer receive unemployment benefits
What do employees do if they are concerned about safety of their workplace?
If employees are concerned about the safety of their workplace, they should express their concerns to their employer or manager and let them try to address the issues. If employees are not comfortable doing that or if the issues are not resolved, they can contact OSHA (if employees work for a private employer or the federal government) at https://www.osha.gov/contactus/bystate/ME/areaoffice or the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Standards (if employees work for a state or local government) at 207-623-7900 to file a complaint. In addition, please see other items on the Maine DOL website for additional options, such as paid leave related to COVID: https://www.maine.gov/labor/covid19/.
What do I do if I think someone is using my personal information to file fraudulent unemployment claims?
The unprecedented increase in unemployment insurance claims due to COVID-19 means that Maine, along with the rest of the country, is experiencing an increase in reports of identity theft. This is when a person’s Personal Identifiable Information (PII) is stolen and used by someone else to apply for unemployment benefits. Scammers use stolen PII from outside data breaches or other illicit means to create fraudulent unemployment claims in our unemployment system. To report Identity Theft online you can use MDOL’s Online Identity Theft Reporting Form. For more information, visit the Maine AG Identity Theft web page and the Federal Trades Commission website to report identity theft and get guidance on steps you should take
What should I do if my unemployment claim has been put on hold?
In light of extensive identity theft and unemployment fraud being investigated across the country, the Maine Department of Labor is holding claims that might potentially be fraudulent and canceling those that have been identified as most likely fraudulent. In order to release the hold, the Department must confirm your identity. Please go online to the ReEmployME homepage at reemployme.maine.gov. Select “Upload Documents for Identity Verification” located just above the login link. Please provide TWO forms of identification (scans or photos are acceptable), one of which must be a government issued photo ID.
Government issued photo IDs (you must include at least one from this category):
Federal or State employee ID
Non-photo documentation (you may include an item from this category as the second form of documentation):
A recent utility bill that shows your name and residential address
Social Security Card
Information on the documentation must match the information in MDOL’s files. Experienced law enforcement will be reviewing the documents in the order it is received. You should receive a confirmation email upon submission. Once your identity is verified, the hold on your claim will be released and payment will be sent within 7-14 days.
What if I am receiving wages through my employer’s PPP grant/loan?
If you are receiving wages through the PPP, you must report those earnings as wages on your weekly certifications.
My employer has been approved for a Payroll Protection loan and is telling me that while the business is not yet open for employees to return to work, they would like to put me back on payroll to receive my wages. Can I refuse to be put back on payroll, and continue collecting unemployment benefits instead?
No, employees should go back onto payroll if they have the option to do so. An employee would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if they are receiving either their full wages, or more than $467 a week, as they would not be considered unemployed. When those receiving unemployment benefits file their required weekly certification, they must answer questions regarding whether they have been offered any work or been paid in the past week.
I’ve been receiving unemployment benefits. My employer received a PPP grant and has put me back on the payroll. What do I need to do in terms of ending unemployment?
You do not need to call the Department of Labor or the Unemployment Bureau. If you are fully back on payroll and receiving your normal wages, you are no longer unemployed and should stop filing weekly claims. Your claim will remain open through the remainder of your benefit year in case you become unemployed at a later date and need to access any remaining benefits for which you are eligible.
Is a person required to take a job earning less than they were earning before?
It’s possible, depending on a comparison of the similarities of the job offered to the individual’s prior job and how long the individual has been unemployed. The Maine law provisions for considering whether someone can refuse a job and still receive unemployment benefits, apply to both regular state unemployment and PUA programs. Refusal of ‘suitable’ work without good cause would result in a denial of benefits, but prior earnings is just one of the factors that is looked at in assessing whether the job that was refused was suitable work. Other factors taken into consideration include an assessment of degree of risk to the individual’s health and safety, the individual’s physical fitness, length of unemployment (under or over 10 weeks), and prospects in finding similar work to what the individual has held before and the distance of available work from the individual’s residence. As the facts of each situation vary, each must be looked at individually to determine if benefits will be allowed.
FAQs: FOR EMPLOYERS
If I must temporarily close part or all of my business operations due to the COVID-19 virus and lay off my employees, will they have to look for other work while they are collecting unemployment benefits?
No. As long as you plan to return them to their jobs when you resume operations, and provided they remain able and available to work for you and provide you with current contact information by which to reach them, they will not have to seek other work.
Can an employer who needs to temporarily lay off employees because of COVID-19 continue to pay health insurance premiums for the employee during the layoff period or will that negatively impact the employees’ unemployment benefits?
Continuing to provide health insurance will not impact your employee’s ability to receive unemployment benefits.
What if an employer is considering a reduction in work hours?
Employers are encouraged to contact Maine DOL’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation to learn about Workshare, an unemployment option that helps businesses retain their workforce during a temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs. Employees of the business are allowed to collect a partial unemployment benefit to help them offset the loss of income. (https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/workshare).
Is it better to lay off employees than have employees resign?
It is easier to determine unemployment eligibility in the case of a layoff because there is a clear separation from work. To be eligible for unemployment, individuals must lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
Will self-employed, sole proprietors be covered?
If the self-employed are incorporated, they will be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, most independent contractors, small business owners and other self-employed individuals are not incorporated, do not contribute to unemployment taxes and usually are not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, the self-employed are covered under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) which launched May 1.
To what extent are the changes in the new bill applicable to people who work for large (500+ employees) employers?
The new state temporary measures in the new legislation are for all covered workers in the state.
How will certain employers who pay unemployment benefits directly (“direct reimbursable employers”) be affected by state and federal pandemic unemployment relief measures?
Certain non-profit and government employers can choose to either pay into the unemployment trust fund or to cover the cost of any benefits paid out directly at the time when an employee leaves the job. All private employers must contribute to the unemployment trust fund; these contributions provide funding so unemployment resources are available during economic downturns. Those employers who choose not to pay the unemployment tax are typically responsible for 100% of the cost of any benefits paid as unemployment to former employees. The CARES Act provided federal funds to cover 50% of the state unemployment benefits that would have otherwise been charged to direct reimbursable employers. As of August 3rd, Congress passed and the President signed a bill allowing states to bill and collect the 50% due from these employers directly, a more streamlined and less onerous process than had been previously required (collecting 100% and reimbursing 50% back).
If an employer lives in Maine and owns a restaurant in New Hampshire and has employees who live in both states, in which state do the employees apply for unemployment?
The work is being performed in NH so all claimants (workers) will need to file claims in NH regardless of their individual residences.
Is an employer required to have employees exhaust all paid time off before putting them on temporary layoff (after which they will apply for unemployment)?
No. Employers are not required to pay out all paid time off before a layoff, but they are allowed to do so. Use of leave time during a temporary layoff depends on an employer’s policies. The employer may require use or payout of leave time. Payments received by the employee may have an impact on unemployment benefits paid to an individual.
Is it possible to find out if an employee is eligible for unemployment before the person files a claim?
No, Maine DOL can’t determine whether an individual would be eligible for unemployment before that person separates from the employer. An individual must separate from their employer and then file a claim. Maine DOL reviews the case to make a determination. If an individual is not sure whether they would be eligible, it is best to apply. The individual must still be connected to the labor market in order to receive benefits, be able and available for work and retain contact with the employer.
Can I layoff my employees and they get unemployment, can they come back and volunteer to work for me?
Employees cannot volunteer at a for-profit business. Employees cannot volunteer to perform the same work they would normally get paid to do for a public employer. If employees are laid off—by a private or public employer—and then go back in to perform work for their employer, they are employed (not laid off) and must be paid wages. If they are truly laid off, they can apply for unemployment benefits through the online system.
I am self-employed and trying to decide whether to file for unemployment or to apply for a loan or for the Payroll Protection Program. What should I do? Can I apply for both?
The decision of whether to file for unemployment or to apply for loans or for the Payroll Protection Program is a decision that must be made by individual businesses. However, if individuals are receiving their full wages, then they would not be considered unemployed, and therefore wouldn’t be eligible for unemployment benefits. If they are making partial wages, then they may or may not be eligible. Please check the MDOL website to learn more about eligibility.
As a business owner, I have been approved for a Payroll Protection loan to keep my business open and allow me to pay my workers their wages. While I am not ready to ask my employees to come back on the job yet, I would like to use the loan to pay them. Can my employees refuse to be put back on payroll, and continue to collect unemployment benefits instead?
No, an employee would no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits if they are receiving either their full wages, or more than $467 a week; by receiving these wages, they are not unemployed. When those receiving unemployment benefits file their required weekly unemployment certification, they must answer questions regarding whether they have been offered any work or been paid in the past week. Employers should let MDOL know if they have offered to put employees back on payroll and if those employees have turned down the offer.
MDOL has created a new electronic form to report potential refusals of work, which may be found at: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ucbr/. Please complete the form and provide as much information as you can so MDOL can follow up as needed.
I laid off workers due to COVID-19 emergency and now plan to re-open my business and have notified my employees I’d like them to return to do their jobs. However, many of them do not want to come back to work and prefer to stay on unemployment. Can they collect benefits even if I have told them I want them back to work?
It depends. This is a complex situation and eligibility for unemployment will depend on the claimants’ personal circumstances. When those receiving unemployment benefits file their required weekly certification, they must answer questions regarding whether they have been offered any work in the past week. Employers should let MDOL know if they have recalled employees back to work and if those employees have turned down the work offer. MDOL has created a new electronic form to report potential refusals of work, which may be found at: https://www.maine.gov/unemployment/ucbr/. Please complete the form and provide as much information as you can so MDOL can follow up as needed. MDOL will analyze the circumstances on a case-by-case basis to see if there is good cause for refusing the work or not. For example, under the new federal programs (e.g. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance-PUA), unemployment benefits are made available to a broader set of people with circumstances affected by COVID-19. MDOL’s determination may also depend upon the circumstances of the particular workplace, such as if the work can be done from home, or whether the employer is taking steps to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure. If MDOL determines that an offer of suitable work was made and that there was no valid reason to refuse it, the claimant would no longer receive unemployment benefits.
Will my experience rating record be affected if any of my employees receive unemployment benefits because of COVID-19?
If an individual receives unemployment benefits due solely to COVID-19, benefits paid to the worker would not be charged against the experience rating record of the employer.
I have laid off my employees and they have requested that their paid time off (PTO) is paid out to them. Will this affect their unemployment benefits?
If the employees have been truly laid off and are separated from employment with your business, then the payout of PTO will not count against unemployment insurance benefits (although any severance pay would cause a reduction in benefits in the week it is paid). If the employees are on an unpaid leave of absence due to COVID-19 measures, they can apply for and receive unemployment benefits. If employees are receiving pay while on a leave of absence (in any of these forms: sick leave, vacation pay or regular wages), they are not unemployed and would not collect UI on top of their earnings. New federal legislation was enacted March 18th on paid sick leave and paid family and medical leave.
There is more information for employees and employers on the website of U.S. DOL: on new federal paid sick leave or federal paid family and medical leave from U.S. DOL: https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/pandemic.