Department of Labor Answers Employer Questions About Unemployment Process

Note that all Sheehey guidance regarding COVID-19 is subject to change, as the legal landscape is evolving rapidly. Please note the date of publication for this bulletin, and be aware that things may have changed since then. Please check our COVID-19 landing page for the most up-to-date posts and contact us with any questions.

The Vermont Department of Labor is fielding an unprecedented number of unemployment claims, and many employers have questions about their role in the process. On April 9, 2020, the Department held a Virtual Town Hall to guide employers with laid off employees. Below are a few common questions addressed by the Department’s presentation.

Do I need to return a separation form for each of my employees?

Under normal circumstances, separation forms are sent to employers upon receipt of a claim from a former employee as an opportunity for the employer to provide their side of the separation. The Department of Labor is still printing and mailing these forms, although it understands employers may not be at the office or receiving mail as normal.

Typically, the Department would assess a $100 penalty if the employer did not return the separation form within 10 days, but currently the penalties are not being assessed where there is no dispute that the employee is eligible for benefits because the employer caused the separation. Most COVID-related cases are not disputed, but the Department still asks that employers return separation forms for their employees when possible.

In the event of an adverse separation, like an employee quitting or being fired for misconduct, the claimant must prove that they meet one of the COVID-19 qualifying criteria to be eligible for benefits. If an employer experiences an adverse situation, it is advised to notify the Department as soon as it is able.

Note that the Department of Labor’s system is designed to assess penalties automatically and may mistakenly generate bills to employers. If you receive a bill assessing a penalty for a late report, the Department will work with you to address it.

Do I need to provide my employee with a return-to-work date?

Employers do not need to provide a return-to-work date for Department filings because the requirement that a claimant look for work is being waived. If you or your employee submitted a form that asked for a return-to-work date, you do not need to fix it. The Department has removed that piece of data from its system.

When business begins to open back up, the Department may reach out to claimants and employers for return-to-work dates at that time, but it recognizes that the restart of business may take some time and that employers may not be rehiring immediately.

Do I need to file my 1st Quarter Wage Report?

The 1st quarter wage report for Jan 1 – Mar 31 is due on April 30. As of the date of the town hall, that deadline has not been waived. The Department recommends that employers check its website regularly to see if that deadline becomes extended. Whether or not the deadline is extended, an employer should provide this information as soon as possible because it helps determine monetary eligibility for employees.

Department staff will be reaching out for wage information up to the date of claim. It’s important to return these calls promptly because it helps get people the support they need.

What should an employer do if it is expecting large-scale layoffs?

Although the federal WARN Act and state equivalent usually require significant advance notice of large layoffs or facility closures, they both have exemptions for circumstances out of the employer’s control. The Commissioner has determined that these COVID-related layoffs fall under those exemptions and notification is not required.

However, the Department of Labor still wants to be notified about layoffs so it can provide services through the Workforce Development Division. Rapid Response resources are available for employers who are both expanding and contracting their workforce. They can help reduce the economic impact to the business by coordinating with other state agencies. The Department encourages employers to utilize their regional resource center for these types of events.

If you are a Vermont employer with questions about how to navigate the COVID-19 crisis, our attorneys are here to help.  Contact one of our labor and employment lawyers at attorneys@sheeheyvt.com