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Michele Heckmann

Virginia’s UI System will be Offline During Transition to New System

The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) is cutting over to a new, modernized system beginning on Wednesday, September 29 at 12:00 pm EST for VEC online systems and at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 30 for VEC telephone services. This transition will last approximately 5-7 calendar days. This transition period will impact both claimants and employers. Claimants and employers should take any necessary time-sensitive actions prior to the changeover period. If this is not possible, you will need to complete these actions once the changeover period has ended.

VEC will be in a changeover period after the dates mentioned above. The “changeover period” is the period of time in which the current Unemployment Insurance system, including Gov2Go, will be down in preparation for the go-live of the new Virginia Unemployment Insurance system (VUIS).

Employers and third-party administrators like Thomas & Company will not have access to any VEC services other than Appeals during the changeover period. Appeals functions (such as filing an appeal, participating in a scheduled appeal hearing, and registering a telephone number for an upcoming appeal hearing) will continue without interruption.

  • This means that VEC will not be issuing claims during the changeover period so you may see a decrease in activity temporarily in VA. We will not be able to receive or respond to SIDES claims during this time period and will resume normal correspondence with the state once the new system is operational. If you have any claims that have a due date between September 29 and October 6, 2021, please try to provide the information to Thomas & company prior to September 29th to minimize any delays in adjudicating the claims.
  • Thomas & Company will be able to submit evidence, a request for postponement, letter of representation, or withdrawal letter concerned with a pending appeal or hearing before First Level Appeals or Commission Appeals during the transition using all means of correspondence outlined on the Notice of Appeal.
  • During normal operation hours, Thomas & Company will only have access to the staff in the Administrative Law Division to discuss procedural matters concerning a pending appeal case or how to file an appeal.  All other questions concerning a claim (including resumption of payments based on an examiner’s decision) will be directed to the Customer Call Center by T&C once the changeover period has ended.
  • If you have a VA Gov2Go account, you will no longer have access after the cutoff date. The new Virginia Unemployment Insurance System (VUIS) will completely replace Gov2Go and all actions you previously took in Gov2Go will need to take will occur in VUIS.

Claim Activity will also be halted during this transition.  Claimants will not be able to file a new, additional, or reopened claim while the system is offline. Once the new system is online, claimants will be able to request the claim be made effective for the week originally filed while the system was down.

  • Claims in pending status will remain in this status and VEC staff will not have access to claims or benefit information during the transition.
  • Claimants will not be able to upload any documentation or forms during this period. It is suggested to upload any documents prior to the September 29 cut off.
  • Claimants will not be able to file their weekly claims during the transition. In order to avoid a delay in payment, it is suggested that weekly claims for the week ending September 25 be filed between September 26 and September 30 before the changeover period initiates.
  • Claimants will not receive benefit payments during the transition. Individuals who have not yet filed for the week ending September 25 prior to the changeover period will be able to file a weekly claim following the changeover period.
  • The Customer Contact Center will not be able to take any calls during the cutover period.

For more information on the transition, please visit https://www.vec.virginia.gov/node/13530. We will continue to monitor the VEC website for updates and will notify you when normal operations resume.

 

Leave Time Allowed in Missouri for Victims of Domestic/Sexual Violence

Employees in Missouri who are victims of domestic or sexual violence or have a family or household member who is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, may take unpaid leave from work to address such violence by:

  • Seeking medical attention for, or recovering from, physical or psychological injuries caused by such violence.
  • Obtaining services from a victim services organization.
  • Obtaining psychological or other counseling.
  • Participating in safety planning, temporary or permanently relocating, or taking other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family or household.
  • Seeking legal assistance or remedies to ensure health and safety.

Individuals who work for a business with 50 or more employees are entitled to up two work weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period to address the related matters listed above.  Leave may be taken intermittently, or they may work a reduced schedule.  The employee shall provide to the employer 48-hours’ notice unless such notice is not practical.  Businesses employing 20-49 employees are entitled to up to one work week of unpaid leave with any 12-month period.

What do I need to do as an employer?

Employers must deliver the notice of the availability of this unpaid leave for domestic or sexual violence to each person employed by the employer in Missouri no later than October 27, 2021. For each person hired after October 27, 2021, the notice must be delivered upon the start of employment.  The State of Missouri has a poster that can be sent to each employee or posted in areas visible to employees such as breakrooms.  https://labor.mo.gov/sites/labor/files/pubs_forms/LS_112.pdf.  Thomas & Company does not have access to the information needed to deliver this notification to impacted Missouri employees.

If an employee elects to take the unpaid leave for domestic or sexual violence, will they be eligible for unemployment benefits for those weeks?

We will be monitoring this situation with the state of Missouri.  In many states with similar provisions, the victims are eligible for benefits.  If you have an employee who request an unpaid leave for domestic or sexual violence, you should document the following for the potential claim:

  • How much notification was provided by the employee prior to taking the leave?
    • The employee should provide the employer with at least 48 hours advance notice of their intention to take this unpaid leave, unless providing such notice is not practical.
  • When an unscheduled absence occurs, can I take any action against the employee?
    • You should not take any actions against the employee as long as the employee, upon request of the employer and within a reasonable period after the absence, provides certification that they are a victim of domestic or sexual violence.
  • What kind of documentation does the employee need to provide to prove they were a victim of domestic or sexual violence?
    • The employee can satisfy the certification requirement by providing a sworn statement of the employee and one of the following:
      • Documentation from an employee, agent, or volunteer of a victim services organization, an attorney, a member of the clergy, or a medical or other professional from whom the employee, their family or household member has sought assistance in addressing domestic or sexual violence and the effects of such violence.
      • A police or court record.
      • Or other corroborating evidence.

For more specifics on this Subsection of the Missouri Code, see https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=285.630&bid=49910&hl=.  For a definition of the terms outlined in the code, please refer to https://revisor.mo.gov/main/OneSection.aspx?section=285.625&bid=49909&hl=.

As always, we will continue to monitor any unemployment cases in Missouri related to this unpaid leave and provide additional guidance and updates as they become available.  If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website for the latest news and updates.

UI Modernization Plans

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March of 2020, and employers across the U.S. started to shut down their businesses to limit the spread of the disease, it became quickly apparent that the State Workforce Agencies were not prepared for the influx of unemployment claims. Due to outdated systems and tremendous volumes, the states struggled to quickly make the changes needed to support federal programs enacted to help those who found themselves out of work due to the pandemic. States were thwarted in their efforts to get crucial benefits to impacted workers by outdated technology and a lack of resources after years of record low unemployment.  The same outdated technology and urgency to payout benefits made the states vulnerable to fraud from international and local crime rings. When adding all the challenges together, this made it difficult for states to deliver benefits to unemployed workers quickly and equitably. Even as economic conditions have improved, states continue to face significant backlogs that have delayed benefits to workers and have struggled to address fraud perpetrated by sophisticated crime rings that are continuing to use new techniques to attack UI systems.

The U.S. Department of Labor recently announced details on how they plan to assist State Workforce Agencies in addressing these critical issues. While the core of these challenges will need to be addressed through comprehensive UI reform, the USDOL aims to address the most acute challenges states have faced over the last year with $2B allocated as a part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

American Rescue Plan Act Unemployment Insurance Funding

The American Rescue Plan Act grants broad authority to the Department of Labor to help states address these challenges by using $2 Billion to:

  • prevent and detect fraud,
  • promote equitable access,
  • and ensure timely payment of benefits.

These funds will be used to address common problems facing the system in the short-term “while also working to address long-term challenges by improving state processes and building a modern, modular IT system that will make the UI system easier to access, better prepared to prevent fraud, and more resilient to prepare for future surges in initial claims.” The USDOL has outlined a plan to spend the funding by focusing on 4 key areas to address systemic deficiencies in access based on proven strategies:

Direct assistance to the states through “Tiger Teams”:

Preventing and detecting fraud, promoting equitable access to benefits, and eliminating backlogs and ensuring timely payments are challenges that all states are facing to some degree. The USDOL is going to address these challenges by sending experts to the state to work hand-in-hand to find solutions. Deploying team resources directly to the states will help them zero in on what’s working and should be shared and what’s not and should be addressed. These “Tiger Teams” have been deployed into an initial six states on a voluntary basis – Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin – to help identify process improvements that can speed benefit delivery, address equity, and fight fraud. The department will expand the Tiger Team supports to additional states throughout the year.

Tools to states to help address immediate fraud concerns by facilitating more effective ID verification:

The past year has shown that the nature of fraudulent activity in UI will continue to be highly dynamic and states will require additional support and continuous monitoring for evolving threats. The department plans to take a more active role in helping states improve their identification verification processes by making identification services available to states to purchase. The hope is that these services will cut down on fraud which is contributing to large backlogs and the stealing of benefits that workers need.

Developing IT solutions to modernize antiquated state technology by centrally developing open, modular technology solutions that can be adopted by states as needed:

The pandemic has only underscored the desperate need for technological support and improvements. Many state systems are operating on outdated technology, which made it difficult for them to respond rapidly to changes in law and economic conditions. The solution proposed will develop open, modular technology solutions that states may adopt as part of ongoing modernization and improvement efforts. The USDOL hopes to provide software that can be adopted by the states to support end-to-end administration of UI, including benefit delivery, employer tools and appeals.

Providing direct grants to states to promote timeliness and equity and fight fraud:

According to the USDOL, “States lack the resources they need to manage the current volume of claims quickly, accurately and equitably. As a result, far too many workers, underrepresented populations, those with limited English proficiency, or low-income claimants face barriers in accessing unemployment insurance. To address that challenge, the department plans to make $700 million in grants to states available to promote equity and fight fraud.”

These modernization efforts will be the first step in overhauling the UI System. Thomas & Company is monitoring the plans for modernization and we will continue to engage with the USDOL and states to make sure that your voice is heard on changes that may impact you and your employees.  For more information on the UI Modernization plan, please visit https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/pdf/FactSheet_UImodernization.pdf

Georgia Modifies Partial Benefit Reporting Rules

During the pandemic, contributory employers were relieved of unemployment benefit charges for claims filed on behalf of individuals who were unemployed or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 if they filed through the GA DOL Partial Claim process.  Effective June 27, 2021, the relief for unemployment benefit charging will end regardless of the reason for unemployment. Unemployment benefits paid for weeks ending on or after June 27, 2021, will be charged to the most recent employer under the law section OCGA 34-8-43.

Employers who need to temporarily lay off employees will now only be allowed to submit six consecutive weeks of partial claims with no earnings. Individuals that are unemployed more than six consecutive weeks will be considered separated and subsequent claims filed on their behalf by the employer will not be processed or paid. In such cases, employers are encouraged to convert claims from “partial” claims to “regular” claims to allow the individuals to file and claim their own weekly benefits and report gross earnings if they work.

  • Following those six (6) consecutive weeks of total unemployment for any worker reported on Form DOL-408, an employer who requests permission and shows justifiable cause may, upon approval of the Commissioner report four (4) additional weeks of total unemployment on Form DOL-408, provided the employer provides a firm return to work date for such employees within the four (4) week time period.
  • If the employer can provide no firm return to work date or upon expiration of the approved time period for acceptance of partial unemployment claims, or when an employer ceases to file Form DOL-408 for any totally unemployed worker, the employer shall immediately advise the employee to report in person to the nearest local career center of the department for the purpose of registering for work and reporting on his or her claim. At this point the employer should use the conversion process if they have been filing partial claims to GA.

Employers can find the instructions for filing Partial claims and for converting partial claims to regular claims using this link https://dol.georgia.gov/employers/employer-filed-claims

As always, we will continue to monitor for changes in reporting layoff or reduction of hours in Georgia and provide updates as they become available.  If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website for the latest news and updates.

New York Modifies Partial Benefit Calculations

Effective August 16, 2021, New York State has modified the rules for partial unemployment eligibility. NYS DOL has now switched to an “hours-based” approach. Under the new rules, a claimant can work up to 7 days per week without losing full unemployment benefits for that week, provided they work 30 hours or fewer and earn $504 or less in gross pay excluding earnings from self-employment. With this change, the claimant’s benefits will not be reduced for each day they engage in part-time work. Instead, benefits will be reduced in increments based on their total hours of work for the week.

For comparison, NYS DOL’s previous system for partial UI counted part-time work in full-day increments. Under this approach, a claimant who worked part time would lose 25% of their weekly benefits for each day worked regardless of the number of hours worked on each of those days. For example, a claimant who earned just $45 during a three-hour shift would have lost a quarter of their weekly benefits. Under the new approach, the claimant would still be entitled to their full weekly benefit amount.

How it Works

If the claimant lost work and they are working part time 30 hours or fewer a week and making $504 or less per week, the following guidelines apply when reporting their part-time work (round up to the nearest hour), effective August 16, 2021:

  • 10 or fewer hours of work = No reduction in weekly benefit rate
  • 11 – 16 hours of work = 75% of weekly benefit rate
  • 17 – 21 hours of work = 50% of weekly benefit rate
  • 22 – 30 hours of work = 25% of weekly benefit rate
  • 31+ hours of work = 0% of weekly benefit rate

*Note: If the claimant worked more than 10 hours in one day, they should only report the first 10 hours from that day in their weekly total. The hours cap does not change the $504 gross weekly payments rule – they must still report their total earnings for the week. If they earn more than $504 in weekly gross pay (the amount of money they earned before taxes and deductions are taken out), they will not be eligible for benefits regardless of the number of hours they worked.

This update will apply to the benefit week of Monday, August 16, 2021 to Sunday, August 22, 2021 and all benefit weeks going forward. When certifying for benefits, New Yorkers should refer the new guidelines for reporting part-time work. For more details on how this change will impact your employees, check out the NYS DOL site at https://dol.ny.gov/unemployment/partial-unemployment-eligibility

As always, we will continue to monitor for changes in benefits and provide updates as they become available.  If there are any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us or visit our website for the latest news and updates.