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.
Over the past month, the state of Georgia has enacted several measures, largely affecting unemployment and business operations, in response to COVID-19. The following provides an update on these statewide developments.
With two emergency rules1 adopted by the Georgia Department of Labor (Department), partial unemployment 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 This means employers should 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. Employees, however, must be expected to return to work when the COVID-19 emergency ends. Employers are under no obligation to file claims for certain categories of employees, including those:
- Employed by a temporary agency and currently working at the employer’s place of business;
- On paid vacation or leave;
- Employed in another state in the last 18 months;
- Employed with the federal government or on active military service within the last 18 months;
- 1099 independent contractors;
- Voluntarily out of work (e.g., quit, requested leave of absence, under self-quarantine, etc.), unless they fall within certain categories of employees specifically identified by the Department; or
- Permanently separated from employment and not expected to return to work.
For filing, employers will need the following information for each employee: name; Social Security number; address; date of birth; whether or not the employee wants federal and/or state income taxes withheld; and earnings, among other requested information. 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 by not filing will be required to reimburse the Department for the full amount of unemployment benefits paid to an employee.
Employers should also keep in mind that if they are filing partial claims on behalf of their employees, they need not submit a mass separation notice,5 nor issue a partial unemployment form (No. 408) from the Department.
Employees determined ineligible by the Department for state benefits will receive further information from the Department for filing a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application for potential benefits under the CARES Act. The Department is also currently working to implement the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation system.
Things to Keep in Mind
While Georgia has no state-mandated severance requirements, employers would be wise to heed the terms of their paid time off and/or vacation policies as most often the terms of any employer’s policy control. Employers looking to make changes to their paid time off and/or vacation policies or practices should consult experienced counsel.
Recently, on April 20, 2020, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued an Executive Order (EO) reopening certain businesses, including, among others, gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, estheticians, hair designers, and persons licensed to practice massage therapy by April 24, 2020. The EO directed that such businesses should implement measures to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19, but did not provide detailed requirements.
A day before some businesses were set to reopen, however, Governor Kemp issued another EO, providing additional guidance for reopening businesses. This EO, while requiring some businesses to remain closed, reopened non-“Critical Infrastructure”6 businesses and lifted the “Minimum Basic Operations”7 restrictions previously imposed. Such businesses are now required to implement 21 measures to mitigate the exposure and spread of COVID-19. The EO also specifies additional mitigating measures that either must or should be adopted for specific industries. Finally, the EO provides some basic measures that all businesses should consider adopting in order to minimize the spread of COVID-19.
On April 27, 2020, Governor Kemp issued another EO extending certain routine inspection timelines and defining hand sanitizer to mean any hand antiseptic, hand rub, soap, or agent applied to the hands for the purpose of removing common pathogens.
Given the continued updates in response to COVID-19, employers should reach out to experienced counsel with questions.
2 The employer portal is available here.
3 Claims should be submitted weekly, starting from the date of the first affected pay period.
5 Where there is a mass separation (25 or more employees separated on the same day, for the same reason, and the separation is permanent, for an indefinite period or for an expected period of at least seven days) an employer typically should provide the Department with forms DOL-402 and DOL-1 402A.
6 Defined as those businesses specified in guidance from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; also included are suppliers that provide essential goods and services to the Critical Infrastructure workforce as well as entities that provide legal services, home hospice, and non-profit corporations or non-profit organizations that offer food distribution or other health or mental services.
7 On April 2, 2020, Governor Kemp issued a shelter in place order, wherein Minimum Basic Operations is defined as those minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of a business, establishment, corporation, non-profit corporation, or organization, provide services, manage inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions; the minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees or volunteers being able to work remotely from their residences or members or patrons being able to participate remotely from their residences; and instances where employees are working outdoors without regular contact with other persons, such as delivery services, contractors, landscape business, and agricultural industry services. The April 20, 2020 EO reinforced this definition. See Leslie Dent and Pierre-Joseph Noebes, Georgia Issues State-Wide Shelter-in-Place Order, Littler ASAP (Apr. 3, 2020).