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Modifications To Massachusetts Unemployment Program Provide Relief To Businesses And Employees Affected By COVID-19 Pandemic

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020, Governor Baker signed legislation waiving the usual one-week unemployment benefits waiting period for Massachusetts residents unemployed due to the COVID-19 pandemic or the state of emergency declared by the Governor on March 10. The measure is effective as of March 10, 2020 and expires 90 days after the end of the state of emergency.

Also this week, the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance issued emergency regulations allowing employers to designate employees as on “standby status,” making them eligible for unemployment benefits during a temporary loss of employment. The regulation extends a lifeline to businesses and employees contending with short-term closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Standby claimants will be eligible for up to eight weeks of benefits, provided they have an “expected return to work date.” Claimants in standby status need not comply with the normal requirement to actively search for work but must be available to work for the employer during the standby period.

In addition, the longstanding Massachusetts WorkShare program gives employers another alternative to layoffs by extending unemployment benefits to employees who have had their work hours reduced by between 10 to 60 percent. Under the program, employees share reduced work hours while collecting unemployment benefits to supplement their temporary lower wages. Participating employees must be in full-time or permanent part-time status, and work in the same group (e.g., entire company, department, shift, job category). Participating employers must be current on their unemployment contributions.

SHPC is closely monitoring COVID-19-related developments affecting employers. If you have any questions about these issues, or any other labor and employment matter, please contact one of our experienced labor and employment attorneys.