Like many other states, South Carolina has taken steps to ensure unemployment benefits are available to workers affected by COVID-19. The Department of Employment and Workforce reported that it is receiving more than 4,000 calls per day.
The latest development in South Carolina is Governor McMaster’s Executive Order providing that furloughed employees receiving voluntary support payments from employers can still qualify for unemployment benefits. The Order defines a furlough as “a temporary period of time during which an employee performs no personal services for the employer as a result of a layoff caused by economic impacts of COVID-19.”
Voluntary support payments are defined as payments “made by an employer to an employee in response to furloughing the employee, which is for services rendered by the employee in the past, which the employee or the employee’s estate is not obligated to repay, which is provided without obligation for the employee to perform or not perform any act in connection with the individual’s status as an employee, and which is made pursuant to a plan provided to DEW on a form that DEW shall prepare and publish on its website. . . .” Such support payments are considered “severance pay” and not “wages” for purposes of determining eligibility for unemployment benefits.
In addition to completing the COVID-19 Support Payments Plan Application (scroll to the link in the middle of the web page), employers must also file “employer-filed unemployment insurance claims” for the employees receiving the voluntary support payments. The DEW notes,
After submitting the plan, employers do not need to wait on specific approval from DEW in order to proceed with making COVID-19 Support Payments. However, please understand that payments made without the necessary certifications or not in compliance with Executive Order 2020-22 may affect your employees’ eligibility for UI benefits.
Other measures adopted by the DEW as a result of the COVID-19 crisis include the following:
Waiving the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment benefits.
Waiving the online work search requirement. Individuals are still required to “actively seek work,” but the DEW says this is satisfied if the employee actively and reasonably seeks to return to his or her employer after the COVID-19 layoff.
Automatically removing COVID-19 claims from an employer’s experience rating.
Extending the deadline for employers to pay first quarter 2020 unemployment taxes to June 1, 2020.
The DEW has also provided guidance regarding employees’ eligibility for benefits in different scenarios. Employees are eligible if an employer temporarily closes and lays off staff due to COVID-19 or if the employer remains open and lays off some staff due to loss of business during the pandemic.
Generally, employees will be ineligible for unemployment benefits if the employer remains open, unless
The employee cannot work because he or she is providing child care while schools are closed.
The employee cannot work due to illness or because he or she is quarantined and will return to work when medically cleared.
The employee refuses to work because he or she is afraid of contracting COVID-19 (unless the employee can show the fear was reasonable and the employer was unwilling to provide job protected leave).
The DEW encourages employers with questions to use the DEW’s coronavirus resource page and FAQs for more information and further updates. Employers should continue to check these sites as information is updated frequently.
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