Updates to Georgia Unemployment – What Does It Mean For Employers?

NOTE: This article was updated March 26, 2020. Because the COVID-19 situation is dynamic, with new governmental measures each day, employers should consult with counsel for the latest developments and updated guidance on this topic. 

The Georgia Department of Labor (Department), in response to COVID-19, issued an emergency rule1 on March 16, 2020 related to filing partial unemployment claims.  The rule will remain in effect for 120 days or until the Department adopts a subsequent rule.

What’s Changed?

Generally, employers are to file partial unemployment claims when a full-time employee works less than full-time and earns an amount not to exceed the employee’s weekly benefit amount, plus $50.

With the emergency rule, partial claims filed on or after March 15, 2020 are to be filed by the employer online2 for “any week3 during which an employee works less than full-time due to a partial or total company shutdown caused by the COVID-19 public health emergency.”4  The Department further clarified that employers may submit partial claims for full and part-time employees who are temporarily laid off or whose hours have been temporarily reduced because of a lack of work due to COVID-19.5  Employees, however, must be expected to return to work when the emergency related to COVID-19 ends. 

Employers do not need to submit claims for employees who:

  • are on scheduled/customary vacation;
  • are on a scheduled/customary plant shut down, or scheduled/customary plan closure;
  • are employed by a temporary agency and are currently working at the employer’s place of business;
  • were employed in another state in the last 18 months;
  • were employed with the federal government or on active military service in the last 18 months;
  • are 1099 contractors;
  • are voluntarily out of work, e.g., quit, requested leaves of absence, self-quarantined,6 etc.;
  • or have been permanently separated from the employer.

On March 26, 2020, the governor signed an Executive Order (EO) authorizing the Commissioner of Labor to suspend certain code sections pertaining to the calculation of deductible earnings and the 14-20 week limitation for claiming unemployment benefits.  Given that the EO allows the Commissioner to adopt emergency rules related to the EO, only time will tell what the rules will be and how the Department’s current guidance will change in light of the order.

Things to Keep in Mind

For filing, employers will need to have the following information at the ready for each employee: name; Social Security number; work authorization information for employees who are non-citizens; address; date of birth; whether the employee wants federal and/or state income taxes withheld; and earnings. Vacation pay, holiday pay, and/or earnings should be reported the week in which they were earned, not the week they were paid to an employee.

Employers filing on behalf of multiple employees can use a template spreadsheet provided by the Department as opposed to filing single claims.  Although employers will not be charged for benefits paid on partial claims they submit as a result of COVID-19, any employer found to be in violation of the rule will be required to reimburse the Department for the full amount of unemployment benefits paid to an employee. 

Employers should look for updated guidance from the Department, while also keeping in mind their potential obligations under other state and federal laws, including the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, and the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Companies with questions about their obligations under this new rule should contact experienced legal counsel for assistance.

See Footnotes

2 The employer portal is available here.

3 Claims should be submitted weekly, starting from the date of the first affected pay period.

5 Filing Instructions, available here.

6 The Department issued an employer FAQ that clarifies that employers need not file claims for employees who voluntarily choose not to report to work as a result of self-quarantine for fear of exposure to COVID-19.  Employers that direct employees not to return to work as a result of exposure, however, are still to file a claim on that employee’s behalf.  Those employees who voluntarily choose not to report to work must file their own claim.

Information contained in this publication is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, nor is it a substitute for the professional judgment of an attorney.