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Posted on: March 26, 2020

COVID-19: Employee Rights & Unemployment

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Getting Minnesotans the benefits they deserve as quickly as possible: The latest on Unemployment Insurance

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned people’s lives upside down – and at DEED, we’re focused every day on helping Minnesotans navigate this unprecedented and challenging time, and finding ways to get people the benefits they need as soon as possible.

I know that many of you are wondering about the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in late March. Here’s what you should know:

  • Today, we’re excited to announce that DEED authorized the first payments of the temporary additional compensation of $600/week for people receiving unemployment benefits. You don’t need to contact us or do anything additional; if you receive unemployment you will also automatically receive an additional $600 for every week you remain eligible.
    • The first week for which you can get the additional $600 is the week beginning March 29th.
    • You can request the week of March 29th on or after April 5th.
  • We are waiting on further federal guidance on two additional parts of the CARES Act and will provide updates as soon as we have more information, including:
    • A new benefit program for some independent contractors and self-employed people who are unemployed as a result of COVID-19 and who are NOT eligible for regular unemployment benefits.
    • The 13-week unemployment benefit extension.

On Monday, Governor Tim Walz signed Executive Order 20-29 to help us quickly approve thousands of Minnesotans who have applied and are waiting for their benefits. Previously, DEED was required to delay benefits for applicants who are taking vacation, sick pay or personal time off when they apply for Unemployment Insurance. Executive Order 20-29 suspended that requirement, meaning thousands more Minnesotans will begin receiving benefits very soon. This was a technical change, but one that will provide immediate relief to folks who have been stuck on this common eligibility issue – and we’re grateful for Governor Walz’s leadership to help us get it done.

But many Minnesotans still have pending “eligibility issues” on their accounts, and we’re working as fast as we can to clear those up. Our Unemployment Insurance program currently has more active applicants than it has ever had in the program’s 85-year history – more than 350,000 applications in the last three weeks alone, far exceeding our entire annual total for 2019. Despite this massive and unprecedented amount of applications, our team is working 7 days a week to review eligibility holds and resolve issues.

We have successfully processed initial weekly payments for more than 90% of eligible applicants – but until that number is 100%, we know that Minnesotans are still waiting and need our help. I assure you that we’re working overtime to get you the answers you deserve and the benefits you need.

Finally, we have fully reopened our call lines to assist with questions about your account, password resets and help completing your application – but are asking people to call on certain days and times depending on their needs: 

  • If you have a question about your account, call Monday - Thursday, between 8 am - 2 pm.
  • If you need help applying for unemployment benefits, call Friday between 8 am - 4:30 pm.
  • If you need help with your password, call anytime during business hours.
  • Our team is receiving around 800 calls per hour, so you should expect long wait times on the phones.

As always, uimn.org will remain your best starting point for information and we’re continually updating it with new information and answers to your questions in English, Español, Hmoob and Somali. 

I want to thank Minnesotans for your patience and bearing with us during this crisis. We’re all in this together – and please know that we won’t stop working until every Minnesotan who needs help is able to get through the Unemployment Insurance application process and receive the benefits you need to support your families and take care of yourself.

- Commissioner Steve Grove


Unemployment Insurance Question Information from DEED:

1) Background

This week, we are taking additional steps to serve the unprecedented number of applicants to our system over the past three weeks – far more than we served in all of 2019.

  • To put it into perspective, since just March 16 we have seen more than 120,000 more applicants for unemployment than in all of 2019.
  • More than 90% of new or reactivated applicants since March 16 who have been determined eligible have had their payments processed

2) Meeting the new demand

To meet the new demand DEED has taken new steps to help streamline its response to the most common eligibility issues in order to help process application and get payments to applicants more quickly.

  • We are no longer required to delay benefits for people who are taking vacation, sick pay or personal time off when they apply for unemployment insurance.
  • This change will also free up many of our staff to help assist other Minnesotans who are navigating this process and ensure more people get benefits as quickly as possible.
  • This change is authorized under Executive Order 20-29 signed by the Governor today, and will help ensure we are able to immediately get benefits to the folks who need it most right now.

3) Call lines are open for all applicants

Call lines are now open for general questions Monday – Thursday between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Customers needing help with their applications can call Friday between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. There will likely still be long wait times on the phone so direct them to uimn.org whenever possible.

4) There are additional resources available for other languages

5) We don’t have all the answers on the CARE Act implementation yet

We are still waiting for guidance from the Federal Government on implementation of these additional benefits. What we do know can be found online at: https://www.uimn.org/applicants/needtoknow/news-updates/cares-act.jsp

6) Additional things to remember

 The UI website - uimn.org - is still the best place for resources and answers to the most common questions. Many questions from UI applicants have been answered on the website, as well. Feel free to open this up when speaking to applicants and relay the information to them. More information is also available on the UI applicants need to know page. 


Families First Coronavirus Response Act

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide their employees with paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. 

► PAID LEAVE ENTITLEMENTS

Generally, employers covered under the Act must provide employees: Up to two weeks (80 hours, or a part-time employee’s two-week equivalent) of paid sick leave based on the higher of their regular rate of pay, or the applicable state or Federal minimum wage, paid at: • 100% for qualifying reasons #1-3 below, up to $511 daily and $5,110 total; • 2/3 for qualifying reasons #4 and 6 below, up to $200 daily and $2,000 total; and • Up to 12 weeks of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave paid at 2/3 for qualifying reason #5 below for up to $200 daily and $12,000 total. A part-time employee is eligible for leave for the number of hours that the employee is normally scheduled to work over that period. 

► ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES

In general, employees of private sector employers with fewer than 500 employees, and certain public sector employers, are eligible for up to two weeks of fully or partially paid sick leave for COVID-19 related reasons (see below). Employees who have been employed for at least 30 days prior to their leave request may be eligible for up to an additional 10 weeks of partially paid expanded family and medical leave for reason #5 below. 

► QUALIFYING REASONS FOR LEAVE RELATED TO COVID-19

An employee is entitled to take leave related to COVID-19 if the employee is unable to work, including unable to telework, because the employee: 

1. is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; 

2. has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19; 

3. is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis; 

4. is caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or self-quarantine as described in (2); 

5. is caring for his or her child whose school or place of care is closed (or child care provider is unavailable) due to COVID-19 related reasons; or 

6. is experiencing any other substantially-similar condition specified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 

► ENFORCEMENT

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has the authority to investigate and enforce compliance with the FFCRA. Employers may not discharge, discipline, or otherwise discriminate against any employee who lawfully takes paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave under the FFCRA, files a complaint, or institutes a proceeding under or related to this Act. Employers in violation of the provisions of the FFCRA will be subject to penalties and enforcement by WHD. 

► RESOURCES

Please see the resources provided below for employees who are experiencing changes in the workplace due to COVID-19.

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