March 18, 2020 Article

Alert: COVID-19 Update for ME and NH Employers

As the landscape of the COVID-19 global pandemic continues to evolve, employers across the country are looking for guidance on how to reduce the impacts on their businesses and their employees. Yesterday, the Maine Legislature and New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu both took steps to assist in these challenges.

Both States' actions are aimed at assisting displaced workers, minimizing potential confusion around the state's unemployment programs, and removing the burden of the costs of unemployment from respective employers.

Maine's COVID-19 Omnibus Bill

Tuesday evening March 17th, the Maine Legislature passed LD 2167, An Act to Implement Provisions Necessary to the Health, Welfare and Safety of the Citizens of Maine in Response to the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. The provisions of the bill apply for the duration of the current state of emergency, and for 30 days after it ends. Some of the major takeaways for employers are:

  • Employees will now be eligible for unemployment benefits under expanded categories of eligibility if they meet the following requirements:
    • They are subject to quarantine or isolation requirement
    • Have been temporarily laid off due to COVID-19 related closures, or 
    • Are on temporary leave due to quarantine, isolation, or need to care for a dependent family member as a result of COVID-19.
  • If an employee is receiving benefits as a result of one of these new categories, unemployment benefits paid to that employee will not be charged against the employer's experience rating, they must be charged to the general fund.

Governor Sununu's Executive Order

On Tuesday, March 17th, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu issued a series of Executive Orders. Executive Order 4 deals with expanded unemployment eligibility.

Details of the unemployment expansion include:

  • Individuals quarantined at the instruction of a health care provider, employer or government officials, or who is caring for a dependent under quarantine
  • Individuals who are unable to work or who have reduced hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic will have immediate access to unemployment benefits. This includes individuals whose employers have temporarily shut down or limited operations.

In addition to these expanded benefit categories, New Hampshire has temporarily suspended the waiting period for benefits and now can accept applications entirely online.

More significantly for employers, similar to Maine, unemployment benefits paid by reason pertaining to COVID-19 and Executive Order 2020-04 shall be charged to the New Hampshire unemployment compensation trust fund, and not assigned against the account of the most recent employer. This means the payment of these benefits will not be charged to the employer's experience rating, so it will not raise costs for employers going forward.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available. If you have questions on how COVID-19 could impact your company, please reach out to a member of our Employment Law Group.

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