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How to Help Employees Navigate Unemployment During COVID-19

Source | www.shrm.org | Katie Navarra

As coronavirus-related claims for unemployment insurance reach historic levels, state systems are overwhelmed, laid-off workers are frustrated, and anxiety is mounting.

Employers can’t solve all these problems, but they can provide support to make the employees’ transition as smooth as possible. That begins by recognizing there may be a stigma around collecting unemployment benefits even in these unique times.

“For generations it’s been embedded in our culture that it’s shameful to collect unemployment,” said Deb Best, SHRM-SCP, a consultant near Schenectady, N.Y. “As HR professionals, we have to help normalize it.”

What Can Employees Expect?

The unknown is frightening. HR professionals won’t have all the answers, especially as state and federal orders and relief benefits change daily, or hourly. Best recommends sharing what is known and giving individuals an idea of what they can expect when they apply for unemployment.

[SHRM members-only sample form: Notice of Temporary Layoff or Furlough Due to Coronavirus]

“Be honest and let them know that telephone lines and websites are overwhelmed,” she said. “Let them know what is going on.”

Share the good news as well. For example, in New York, waiting periods have been waived, and the benefit is retroactive to the last day worked. Even if it takes a few days for people to file, they’re not losing money for those days.

Many states require that applicants for unemployment insurance submit a letter of termination, even if it’s in an e-mail. “The word termination is the worst to use right now. The term to use is ‘lack-of-work notice,’ ” Best said. “Have a well-written letter that is short and includes that the notice is because of the governor’s executive order [for people to stay home] and the lack of work, and include some of the benefits employees are eligible for.”

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