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Coronavirus Update! -- What Pennsylvania Residents Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing in every state. If you have lost your job in Pennsylvania, apply for unemployment benefits at the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation. Learn about how unemployment claims relating to COVID-19 will be handled in Pennsylvania.

A record-shattering 10 million claims for unemployment benefits were filed in the last two full weeks of March 2020, and experts predict claims could rise even higher due to COVID-19 and the steps state and local governments have taken to contain it, from orders shutting down nonessential businesses to shelter-in-place restrictions, school closures, and more.

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in Pennsylvania to learn more about these programs. 

How Unemployment Programs Are Adapting to COVID-19

Federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly.

Federal CARES Act Expands Benefits to Workers in Pennsylvania

Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program. Employees eligible for unemployment in Pennsylvania will receive an additional $600 per week of federally-funded benefits, on top of what Pennsylvania already pays. These additional benefits will be available through July 31, 2020. And, unemployed individuals who run out of state-funded benefits will receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits, available through December 31, 2020.

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How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in PA?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, some states are imposing restrictions on people gathering in public locations. This may affect your ability to access physical offices of the the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation in person. Check Pennsylvania's unemployment insurance agency website for more information. And, read on to find out how you can file for unemployment insurance benefits in Pennsylvania online or by phone.

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in Pennsylvania to learn more about these programs. And, if you are out of work or your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, you may be entitled to enhanced unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

Pennsylvania's unemployment insurance agency website gives you the information you need to apply for unemployment insurance in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation’s website tells you:

  • What information you’ll need on hand to apply for unemployment insurance benefits
  • How to apply online for unemployment insurance benefits
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Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

You qualify for unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania if you meet two basic requirements:

  • you must have earned at least a minimum amount in the time before you lost your job, and
  • you must be out of work through no fault of your own.

If you meet these two qualifications when you apply, you will likely be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (To keep receiving benefits after you are found eligible, you will also have to meet your state’s job search requirements; to learn more, see What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?)

Coronavirus Update: In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES" Act, which we cover here), which greatly expands eligibility for unemployment. A number of states are also easing their eligibility rules to ensure that more people who are out of work due to COVID-19 qualify for unemployment benefits.

At our last check, Pennsylvania announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes mean that you may receive benefits if:

  • your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19,
  • your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19,
  • you have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19, or
  • you have been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts.

Employees will not have to show that they are actively seeking work while out, will not have to prove that they are "able and available to work," and will not have to wait the usual one-week waiting period before receiving benefits.

 

Eligibility Requirement 1: Minimum Earnings

In every state, unemployment benefits are available only to those who are temporarily out of work. If you apply after being out of the workforce for years, for example, you won’t qualify for benefits. You must have been employed relatively recently, and earned at least a minimum amount, to be eligible.

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How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you can earn up to $572 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"), Congress has authorized an additional $600 in benefits per week, on top of your state benefit amount. These additional benefits, called federal pandemic unemployment compensation, expire on July 31, 2020.

Every state has its own rules for calculating unemployment benefits. Typically, the amount you receive each week is based on your earnings when you were employed. After all, unemployment benefits are intended to replace some of the income you lost along with your job, and tide you over until you find new work.

Calculating Your Benefit Amount

Your weekly unemployment benefit amount depends on your earnings during the base period.

You can look up your weekly benefit amount for Pennsylvania in the chart at Financial Charts.

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How Long Will My Unemployment Benefits Last in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks under state law. 

Once your Pennsylvania benefit entitlement runs out, you will be entitled to an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program; see below. 

Each state sets its own rules for how long unemployment benefits last. Until quite recently, virtually all states offered a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits. In the last five or six years, however, some states have changed their rules on duration of benefits (in most cases, to offer benefits for a shorter period of time).

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What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly. These changes may affect waiting periods, job search requirements, and availability of benefits to those who are still working part time. These changes include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program, including continuation of benefits. Keep in mind that you are entitled to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits under the federal CARES Act after your state benefits are exhausted if you are unemployed due to COVID-19.

Because this situation is changing daily, check the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation for the latest developments.

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Can I Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

If the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation will send you a written determination of your eligibility for benefits and, if it finds you eligible, how much you will receive in benefits. But, if the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation finds that you are not eligible for benefits or grants you benefits in a lower amount than you believe you are entitled to, you can appeal that decision. And, if the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.

If you want to appeal the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation decision, check the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation website and handbook for:

  • Any forms and instructions for filing your appeal
  • The deadline for filing your appeal
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Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Unemployment Benefits in Pennsylvania?

Having your own lawyer to represent you in the unemployment insurance benefits process in Pennsylvania will level the playing field for you—because your ex-employer will be represented. Your ex-employer is almost certainly going to have a lawyer or two offering guidance through the Pennsylvania unemployment process. This legal advice can give your ex-employer an edge over you in the process, especially if they intend to challenge your claim for benefits. Your own lawyer can:

  • Help you figure out if you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in Pennsylvania
  • Tell you if your employer’s stated reason for terminating you is valid and will bar benefits
  • Guide you through Pennsylvania’s unemployment insurance benefits claim process
  • Advise you on how to keep receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and
  • Assist you if you need to appeal a denial of unemployment insurance benefits by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation

Check the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation before you see a lawyer to get information about applying for unemployment benefits and your rights and obligations under the unemployment laws of Pennsylvania. The website and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation claimant handbook, Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Handbook, have answers to your questions about the filing process. To find a lawyer in Pennsylvania, check the Pennsylvania Bar Association lawyer referral services and the lawyer directory of Nolo.com.

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Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You in Pennsylvania

If you have a straightforward unemployment claim, you will likely be able to file for unemployment benefits on your own, without any help from a lawyer. Your claim is relatively simple if you can easily meet the Pennsylvania earnings requirements to qualify for benefits, and you and your employer agree that you lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, because you were laid off or had to quit when your military spouse was transferred to another state).

But if your case is more complicated, it might make sense to consult with or hire an unemployment lawyer to represent you. An unemployment lawyer can help you if you are facing any of the situations described below.

1. Your Employer Claims You Were Fired for Misconduct

You may not be eligible for benefits in Pennsylvania if you quit your job for willful misconduct or for failing or refusing to take a drug or alcohol test. 

 If your employer fights your claim for unemployment on the grounds that you were fired for misconduct, you should consider talking to a lawyer.

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Paying an Unemployment Lawyer in Pennsylvania

If you are out of work and you may be – or already have been – denied unemployment benefits in Pennsylvania, you may be wondering whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. It all depends on your financial situation and how (and how much) the attorney charges. In some situations, an unemployment attorney may be willing to offer you a contingency fee arrangement. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award. 

Below, we explain some typical attorney fee arrangements in unemployment cases. 

Initial Consultation

Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether it makes sense to fight your employer in an unemployment claim, appeal, or lawsuit – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together. 

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