Employer Costs and Massachusetts Unemployment Benefits During COVID-19

The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance has issued emergency alerts clarifying how the normal unemployment benefits program is modified during the COVID-19 emergency. Under the CARES Act, states that accept the federal program can offer additional unemployment benefits of $600 per week for COVID-19 related unemployment.

Who qualifies for the federal COVID-19 emergency unemployment benefits? The most common reasons for qualifying for the enhanced benefits, require an individual to certify that he or she is able to work but is fully or partially unemployed because he or she:

  • Was diagnosed with COVID-19, has symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking a diagnosis,
  • Has a family member or household member who has COVID-19
  • Has a child out of school because of the COVID-19 emergency and must care for the child,
  • Is unable to work because of a quarantine imposed by a COVID-19 public emergency,
  • Is unable to work because his or her healthcare provider advised the individual to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns,
  • His or her place of employment was shut down because of COVID-19 emergency.

Who cannot apply for COVID-19 related unemployment benefits? Individuals not qualifying for COVID-19 emergency unemployment benefits include employees on paid  leave and employees who can telework with pay.

If my employees’ hours are reduced but they are still on the payroll, can they receive Massachusetts unemployment benefits? Yes. Employees whose hours have been reduced but are still on the payroll may nevertheless get partial Massachusetts unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 emergency. The federal subsidy is added to whatever the state pays. 

How can the cost to the business of providing group medical benefits be defrayed? Businesses with under 500 employees that take SBA COVID-19 paycheck protection loans during the emergency may pay for group medical insurance with those loans. If various criteria are met, the loan can be forgiven.

What is the maximum period for Massachusetts unemployment benefits? Massachusetts unemployment benefits can continue up to 26 weeks during a year.

Can employees of an employer that has temporarily shut down because of the COVID-19 emergency qualify for Massachusetts unemployment benefits? Yes. Workers who are temporarily unemployed due to lack of work because of COVID-19 will be eligible for unemployment benefits. They will be considered unemployed due to lack of work regardless of whether they are quarantined, laid off, furloughed, or if their workplace is fully or partially shut down temporarily. 

Are self-employed individuals and independent contractors eligible for unemployment benefits? As of April 20, 2020, self-employed individuals and independent contractors are eligible to apply for federally subsidized unemployment benefits in Massachusetts

Answers to frequently asked questions about filing for unemployment during the COVID-19 emergency can be found here.

About the Author: Evelyn Haralampu

Evelyn Haralampu is a partner at Burns & Levinson. She specializes in assisting businesses, executives, and non-profit and governmental organizations in designing employee benefits programs and executive compensation to help clients meet their objectives, while saving and deferring costs through tax efficiencies. Evelyn has served on the ABA’s Subcommittee on Government Submissions, recommending regulatory policies to the IRS, and is a member of the Tax Council of the Massachusetts Bar Association, which influences the development of tax legislation in the Commonwealth. She can be reached at eharalampu@burnslev.com or 617.345.3351.

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