Georgia's Odd Unemployment Rule Causing Major Confusion, Leaving Some Workers Without Payments

In late March, the Georgia Department of Labor instituted an unusual emergency rule during the coronavirus pandemic. Furloughed workers or those who have had their work hours reduced cannot file for unemployment themselves. Instead, it is up to the employer to do it each week under the new rule. It has led some furloughed workers nervous that their employers will skip filing, leaving them without the much-needed unemployment benefits.

The rule means the employers have to re-certify employees every week. It does not effect employees permanently laid-off, but it still affects about 75 percent of those who were filing for unemployment before the rule was put in place, reports Vox. It was meant to help employees, but many would rather file for unemployment benefits themselves than have to worry about someone else doing it on time.

"Every week that they don't file, we can't receive any money," John Woolf, an athletic trainer recently furloughed, told Vox. "I'm missing all these payments, and my employer is saying they're only going to file every two weeks." Woolf added that his employer already missed some weeks, and he was increasingly nervous as May 1 bills arrived. He said his wife is now working "just enough so that my daughter and I can get on her insurance."

Georgia Department of Labor spokesperson Kersha Cartwright defended the rule change, noting that employer-filed claims made up about three-quarters of the 1.1 million claims processed since March 16. "We mandated there be an employer-filed claim on behalf of that employee. It's a much quicker, much more efficient automated system," Cartwright told Vox, adding that it only takes a week to process claims from employers.

The changes to Georgia's unemployment insurance system comes as Departments of Labor across the country have seen the number of filings skyrocket. More than 3.8 million Americans filed for unemployment insurance during the week ending on April 25, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That brings the number of Americans filing for unemployment to over 30 million in the past six weeks. The Georgia Department of Labor only has less than 1,000 employees to handle claims, so the employer-filing rule was meant to make things easier.

However, the rule has only added to the confusion and concern among furloughed employees. Some employers might only do their payroll every other week and not realize they need to recertify employees' claims weekly. An employer might fill information incorrectly for an employee, or an employee might file their own claim by mistake, both situations that could hold up claims.

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"With employer claims, some employers do their payroll twice a month, some do it weekly, some do it every other week, and in Georgia some are allowed to pay once a month," Atlanta attorney Amie Willis explained to Vox. "If they're reducing [hours for] full-time employees or part-time employees, and they're just working as needed, they have to have specific information at the end of each week in order to file for that past week. But if they don't have access to that payroll information, that would prevent them from filing a claim immediately."

Cartwright said the state Labor Department did inform employers about the new changes and is sending out weekly reminders. "We sent out another one reminding them you need to make sure you're doing this," she told Vox. "We're trying to take care of that, but it's a better system for us, it's a better system for employees."