Governor Roy Cooper (D) has issued Executive Order 118 addressing, among other things, unemployment benefits for those employees out of work due to the COVID-19 crisis. This Executive Order requires the North Carolina Department of Commerce, through the Division of Employment Security, to waive or interpret flexibly various provisions of the North Carolina Employment Security Law.
The Executive Order applies not only to those employees who are laid off or otherwise terminated due to COVID-19 but also to those employees who have had their hours reduced or are prevented from working from home due to a medical condition caused by COVID-19, or who are at home due to communicable disease control measures. All of these persons will be considered eligible for unemployment benefits, according to the Executive Order.
Ordinarily, when an unemployed person files a claim for unemployment benefits there is a one-week waiting period in which no benefits are paid. The Governor has ordered this provision waived so that eligible claimants can begin receiving unemployment benefits immediately.
Another temporary change is that eligible claimants do not have to be “available to and able to work,” nor do they have to actively search for work at least temporarily. Under normal circumstances, a claimant would have to make a least three contacts per week with prospective employers to remain eligible for unemployment benefits. Clearly the intention here is that the claimant will return to his or her previous employment shortly instead of having to accept suitable work when offered.
The Executive Order also contains some relief for employers in that benefits awarded under this temporary measure will not be charged to the employer. Instead, the Executive Order directs the Department of Commerce to separately account for money paid under the Executive Order so that reimbursement can be sought from the federal government.
The Department of Commerce has ceased in-person meetings for claims filing, including the initial Employment Suitability interview. Anyone seeking to file an unemployment claim must do so via telephone or online. Employers can direct affected employees here.
The Governor has also directed the Department of Commerce to review and identify any laws, regulations, or policies that might inhibit the timely delivery of unemployment benefits and to notify his office so that the Department may also interpret such broadly to effectuate the intent of the Executive Order.
The Executive Order did not increase the amount of unemployment benefits payable to claimants. Those benefits remain capped at $350 per week. The average claimant in North Carolina receives only around $250 per week. In addition, the Executive Order did not increase the number of weeks that a claimant can receive benefits. Currently, unemployment benefits stop after 12 weeks.
The Executive Order took effect at 5 p.m. yesterday and is to remain in effect until rescinded or superseded by the Governor.
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