V.I. Makes Changes to Unemployment Regulations/ Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Commissioner of the Department of Labor Gary Molloy testifies before an October hearing. (File photo)
Commissioner of the Department of Labor Gary Molloy testifies before an October hearing. (File photo)

The V.I. Department of Labor Commissioner Gary Molloy has announced an updated policy to safeguard employment security benefits and increase access to resources by waiving various work search requirements. On March 13, 2020, the President of the United States of America declared a National Emergency in response to the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Also, on March 13, 2020, the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands Declared a State of Health Emergency in response to COVID-19-Pandemic.

To flatten the curve and reduce the spread of the virus, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. issued an executive order. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) allows administrative dollars to be provided to States responding to the coronavirus. Based on the mandated steps, the Virgin Islands have taken to comply with social distancing, and there has been a significant increase in Unemployment Insurance claims.

Henceforth, Gov. Bryan has required the closure and cessation of all non-essential business activity in the Virgin Islands, especially events that lend to mass gatherings. This direction is essential to flatten the curve and reducing the spread of the (COVID-19) virus. This policy change shall remain in effect until December 31, 2020, and subject to change. The following information details the changes made to current the current policy.

Title 24 Section 304 (b) disqualifies an insured worker for benefits if they are not able to work or were not available for suitable work for such week or were as not making reasonable efforts in seeking suitable work on his own initiative in the light of prevailing economic conditions. Second, Title 24 Section 304 (b) (A)(ii) allows a claimant to be eligible for benefits if he or she has a “justifiable cause for his failure to participate in such services.”

Additionally per Title 24 Section 304(c)(2) the Commissioner of Labor in his authority can make a determination of “the existence of good cause for leaving or refusing any work, the Commissioner of Labor shall, in addition to determining the existence of any of the conditions specified in paragraph (1) of this subsection, consider the degree of risk to the claimant’s health, safety, and morals, his physical fitness for the work.”

A claimant shall be considered to be actively seeking work if he or she is following a course of action reasonably designed to result in prompt reemployment in suitable work. Failure to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Division that the work-search activities in which the claimant engages are reasonably designed to result in prompt reemployment may result in a disallowance of benefits. When the work-search requirement is waived, the Division may require that a claimant register for work with the online job database.

Therefore, Gary Molloy the Commissioner of Labor, now issues the following policy changes:

Beginning March 13, 2020, all work search requirements for persons receiving unemployment benefits territory-wide will be waived for following individuals who are affected during the health emergency.

  • Individuals who are suffering from symptoms of the COVID-19 virus or disease.
  • Individuals whose business has closed based on the mandates of social distancing.
  • Individuals who are in quarantine or displaced from work to be able to care for a child in elementary or secondary school who’s school or childcare facility has been closed in response to COVID-19.

Able and Available Policy: The requirement that a laid-off worker be “able and available” to work while receiving unemployment compensation benefits has been modified for claimants who are affected by COVID-19 in any of the situations listed above. Additionally, claimants will also not have to search for other work provided they take reasonable steps to preserve their ability to come back to that job when the quarantine is lifted, or the illness subsides. If any employee is affected by COVID-19, they will be deemed to have “justifiable cause,” as stated in Title 24 V.I.C 304(a)(A)(ii) for their failure to participate in such services.

Waiting week policy:  To be eligible for unemployment benefits, applicants are required to register for work search on www.vidolviews.org and meet a minimum number of work search activities per week, as found in Title 24 V.I.C. 304(a). This requirement shall be waived as a direct result of an order by the Governor in a State of Health Emergency regarding COVID-19 to ensure all residents can have access to resources when in need. The requirements shall be reinstated on December 31, 2020.

Employer experience rating “NON-CHARGING” Suspension: Starting March 13, 2020, and ending December 31, 2020, based on the EUISSA of 2020, the Department of Labor shall not assess benefit charges against employer’s unemployment insurance accounts. Therefore, the current flat tax rate of 2.0% (new employers) and 2.5% (experienced) shall remain during the state of health emergency.

It is also required in accordance with the EUISSA that all employers must communicate the following to their respective employees impacted by COVID-19 related employment interruption or reduction in work hours.

The model language in the notification to employees should be as follows and contain the following language:

  • Unemployment Insurance benefits are available to workers who are unemployed and who meet the requirements of the Virgin Islands U.I. eligibility laws. You may file a U.I. claim in the first week that employment stops or work hours are reduced to less than 20 hours in a week.
  • For assistance or more information on a U.I. claim you can call the St. Croix office 773-1994 on St. Thomas -St. John call 776-3700 or apply online at https://www.vidol.gov/applyforui/.
  • You will need to provide the following for applying

◦ Your full legal name

◦ Your Social Security number

◦ Your authorization to work ((if you are not a U.S. citizen or resident)

In addition to promoting virtual services, the VIDOL Team will also share updates and the following Unemployment Insurance Reminders.

Any employer that needs to reduce hours, furlough, layoff, or reduced staff hours, the Virgin Islands Department of Labor is requesting that employers do the following:

  1. Send a letter to the Unemployment Insurance Division that includes the names of the affected employees in advance of the reduction of hours to twenty (20) a week, discharge or layoff.
  2. You must also contact the Department of Labor directly at the following numbers to gain information on services that can be provided for affected individuals:
  • St. Thomas 776-3700 at the following extensions: 2094 or 2035
  • St. Croix 773-1994 at the following extensions: 2152 or 2154

Individuals affected by reduced hours, furlough, layoff or interested in finding out eligibility criteria, contact the Department using the following methods.

To file a UI claim by phone call: St. Croix District at 713- 3425 or contact the St. Thomas District at 715-5725.

To file a UI claim online, visit www.vidol.gov. If you have questions about the status of your UI claim, you can call the VI Department of Labor or email [email protected].