The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) recently issued emergency regulations creating a new “standby” status for employees who find themselves out of work as a result of COVID-19.
"Standby" refers to a claimant who is temporarily unemployed because of a lack of work due to COVID-19, with an expected return-to-work date within eight weeks. These employees are relieved of the requirement to search for work, so long as they take reasonable measures to maintain contact with their employer.
According to the DUA website, “[s]tandby status is meant to help both employers and their employees in situations where the unemployment is expected to be temporary. Employers maintain contact with their workforce during the period of unemployment and have experienced employees ready to return when work becomes available again. Employees who find themselves in those situations due to COVID-19 will be approved for benefits more quickly, and will be relieved of traditional work search activities.”
Notably, claimants on standby status must be available for all hours of suitable work offered by their employer. In determining whether work is suitable, the DUA will consider whether the claimant has a “condition” that prevents him or her from performing the essential functions of the job without a substantial risk to the claimant’s health or safety. A “condition” is expansively defined to mean a request to a claimant from an employer, medical professional, local health official, or any civic authority, that the claimant, or a member of the claimant’s immediate family or household member be isolated or quarantined because of COVID-19, even if the person has not actually been diagnosed. This is a much broader definition than we have seen in recent Federal COVID-19 legislation.
Standby unemployment benefits are initially granted for a four-week period, regardless of whether the employer confirms the claimant’s employment status. However, once confirmation is received from the employer, the benefits period is extended to eight weeks. There are narrow provisions for extension of benefits beyond eight weeks, but only if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case at the employer’s place of business that causes it to close or curtail operations for a longer period.
Found at 430 CMR 22.00, the emergency regulations had a retroactive effective date of March 16, 2020.