Labor officials promote solutions to help businesses, employees return to work

Tue, 06/23/2020 - 9:45am

AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Labor is reminding businesses and employees about important policies and programs to support Maine’s workforce during the unprecedented economic disruption caused by COVID-19.

As the economy gradually restarts, the Department noted in a news release workers can have part-time employment and not lose unemployment benefits in their entirety.

Workers who earn less than $5 over their weekly benefit amount remain eligible for partial unemployment benefits.

Plus, anyone who is receiving at least $1 in unemployment benefits will also remain eligible for the additional $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit through July 25.

“The pandemic has caused economic disruption for both businesses and workers,” Commissioner Laura Fortman said. “We want to highlight programs like WorkShare and partial unemployment that may benefit both employers and employees as businesses and the economy begin to reopen. We encourage businesses and employees to be in touch with us to learn more.”

The Department reminds all claimants to report any earnings they make in their weekly certification. If they are making partial earnings, the Department has a video that explains how to report those earnings: maine.gov/unemployment/covid19videos/index.shtml.

Employers are also encouraged to explore the WorkShare program, which helps businesses retain their workforce during temporary slowdown in work. The program allows employers to voluntarily reduce the hours of staff in lieu of layoffs.

Under WorkShare, employees may collect a partial unemployment benefit (including the extra federal $600 through July 25) to help them offset the loss of income. Information on WorkShare can be found on the Department’s website: maine.gov/unemployment/workshare.

“The WorkShare program is great advantage to businesses and organizations who are facing great uncertainty and disruption to operations and revenue from the impacts of the pandemic,” Shanna Cox, President of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said. “For an executive who is prioritizing retaining their staff while also balancing salary expenses, WorkShare helps ensure a level of continued work from your team, while also giving them some reliable income.”

As an additional support measure, the Department is extending the work search waiver that has been in place since the Civil Emergency Declaration on March 15.

Under typical unemployment situations, a person must certify that they are searching for work while collecting unemployment benefits.

The length of the extension now depends on whether someone is still attached to their employer or not:

Someone who is temporarily laid off or on a leave of absence from their regular job due to COVID-19 but are expected to return to that job: The work search waiver is currently in place through the week ending August 8, as long as they remain able and available to work for their employer.

Please note: If an employee refuses a recall to work by their employer, it will create an issue that requires a fact-finding interview.

If someone is permanently separated from their last job but now unemployed due to COVID-19: The work search waiver will remain in effect through the week ending July 11. If they are still unemployed as of that date, they will be required to start looking for work the week beginning July 12.