New Jersey: Unemployment Compensation Update

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The New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL), which runs the New Jersey Unemployment Insurance Program in New Jersey, has created a page with unemployment benefits information related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The website is available here. Generally, employees who have been laid off will apply for unemployment in the normal course, as if the pandemic had not occurred.

Recently, the NJDOL has posted Frequently Asked Questions, which address questions individuals may have related to unemployment benefits and situations related to COVID-19. The FAQs address the following: (i) expanded unemployment benefits provided for in the federal CARES Act, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits for individuals who are not otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits under New Jersey law; (ii) Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides for an additional $600 benefit for those collecting regular unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance; and (iii) Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which provides an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits to all recipients. The FAQs can be found here.

Additionally this week, the NJDOL published guidance on filing for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits for self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and others who are otherwise ineligible for regular unemployment benefits. That guidance provides step-by-step instructions for what those individuals should do and how they should complete the electronic application for New Jersey unemployment benefits. It explains that individuals should collect the following information in order to fill out the application:

  • Social security number (or alien registration number, for non-US citizens)
  • Driver’s license or state ID number
  • Pension information
  • Amount and duration of any separation pay
  • Recall date
  • Union hiring hall information
  • Military form DD-214
  • Name and address of employer
  • Employer’s phone number
  • Occupation with employer
  • Beginning date and last dates worked for each employer
  • Reason for separation

The NJDOL guidance provides that, once an individual has been denied normal New Jersey unemployment benefits, he or she likely will be eligible for the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. These individuals will need to gather the last two years of tax returns or other evidence of income history, which will be necessary for processing their claims.

On a webinar on April 16, 2020, the Commissioner of the NJDOL explained that the NJDOL is currently working with the USDOL to develop a process to assess applications for the newly expanded federal unemployment programs.

Moreover, another FAQ issued by the NJDOL, entitled “Self Employed NJ Workers: Frequently Asked Questions During the Coronavirus Emergency,” addresses the following:

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance potentially provides the same amount as regular unemployment for up to a total of 39 weeks. Recipients also are eligible for the additional $600 a week payment provided for under the expanded benefits. This additional $600 weekly payment is available through July 31, 2020.
  • Provides that individuals who have filed for unemployment on the NJDOL’s website do not need to take any additional action at this time, as their claims will be reviewed by the NJDOL.
  • Suggests that individuals who believe they have been misclassified by their employers as an independent contractor apply for unemployment benefits and that they may report their potential misclassification to the NJDOL.
  • Explains that the Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides for tax credits to self-employed individuals, as described in the leave provisions contained in that legislation for emergency paid sick leave and expanded public health emergency family and medical leave. Although self-employed individuals will not receive direct payments for those leave entitlements, they are eligible for the tax credits.
  • Finally, a bill (S2293/A3846) before New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy would create a “Temporary Lost Wage Unemployment Program,” which would provide for the following:
  • First, the Unemployment Program provides up to $10 million for actual lost wages in an amount that is equivalent to an individual’s average weekly rate of compensation from the past calendar year, if fully paid leave is not available. This category includes those who have suffered actual lost wages as a result of COVID-19 due to: (1) absence from work to care for a family member; (2) absence from work for the individual’s own illness; (3) absence from work due to school or childcare facility closure; and (4) such other purposes as identified by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. A qualified individual must fill out an application and provide supporting documentation as required by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. S2293 will not provide monetary relief for any period for which someone receives benefits pursuant to the Unemployment Compensation Law.
  • Second, the Unemployment Program provides up to another $10 million to employers who pay wages to workers ordered under quarantine by a licensed healthcare practitioner as a result of COVID-19. To seek payment from the fund, an employer must file an appropriate application and provide documentation as required by the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
  • Under S2293, any employee or individual who makes a willful misrepresentation or omission of fact in his or her application for monetary relief from the fund will be subject to fines.

It is unclear at this point, whether Gov. Murphy will sign this bill, as some of the concerns to be addressed by this legislation have been covered by other, recently enacted legislation.

The above represents the current state of unemployment benefits and implementation of the federal expanded unemployment benefits in New Jersey.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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