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Maine: Governor Janet Mills signs LD 1564 – Multiple Unemployment Updates

Governor Janet Mills of Maine signed into law LD 1564 on July 12, 2021. This legislation defines numerous changes to Maine’s unemployment systems.

1.    The legislation redefines the legal definition of “Unemployment…partial.” The updated definition states that employees are not eligible for partial unemployment if they receive wages of $100 or more of the maximum weekly benefit amount. It further states that an employer will not be required to issue a partial unemployment claim form in this case as well.

2.    LD 1564 also expands the conditions which a claimant must meet to receive benefits for separations due to a voluntarily quit. The state now provides that a claimant will be eligible for unemployment benefits when the “[voluntarily quit] was due to the unexpected loss of child or elder care for which the claimant was not at fault and for which no work alternatives such as changes in hours or a leave of absence or alternate child or elder care options were available despite good faith efforts made by the claimant to resolve the issue and continue working.”

3.    Although smaller in impact but equally important, LD 1564 updates language concerning the issuance of determinations after an unemployment hearing. Most notably, it states that a deputy (judge) will issue a determination based “solely on any written statements of interested parties…together with the evidence presented by interested parties who participated in the interview by telephone or e-mail or other electronic means.”

4.    The legislation also increases the benefit amount per dependent from $10 to $25.

5.    LD 1564 also introduces the “Alternate Trigger” (26 MRSA §1195, sub-§1-A) for State Extended Benefits. In the event that the state equals or exceeds an unemployment rate of 6.5%, then this could trigger State Extended Benefits. The legislation goes on further to state that “the total extended benefit amount payable to any eligible individual with respect to his applicable benefit year shall be the lesser of the following amounts: eighty percent of the total amount of regular benefits which were payable to him under this chapter in his applicable benefit year; or twenty times his weekly benefit amount which was payable to him under this chapter for a week of total unemployment in the applicable benefit year; or forty-six times his weekly benefit amount which was payable to him under this chapter for a week of total unemployment in the applicable benefit year, reduced by the total amount of regular benefits which were paid, or deemed paid, to him under this chapter with respect to the benefit year.”

What does this mean for employers?

Employers may be significantly impacted by the updated definition of partial unemployment. Expanding the wage requirement for partial unemployment eligibility means that more employees will be able to collect benefits. Currently, Maine’s minimum weekly benefit amount is $89 (as of July 20, 2021). This legislative change will mean that any employee working less than full-time and making up to $189 will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Also, the expansion of good cause for voluntary separations will increase a claimant’s eligibility collection of unemployment benefits. An employer has the ability to make accommodations for employees affected by the unexpected loss of a child or eldercare, which could preserve the employment and at the very least, prevent a claimant from being able to collect unemployment benefits from being collected, which would be charged to the employers’ unemployment tax account.

The impacts of a higher dependent amount will initially be minor to an employer’s tax rating account ($10 to $25), but over time, it is likely employers will see the higher costs.

Finally, employers should pay attention to the introduction of an “Alternate Trigger” for Extended Unemployment Benefits. Although Corporate Cost Control has seen Alternate Extended Benefits Triggers in other states and this is not a new idea, the trigger increases the number of weeks a claimant is collecting benefits. While employers are not liable for the charges due to Extended Benefits, they may be responsible for the traditional benefits a claimant does collect and must exhaust traditional unemployment benefits to then be eligible for Extended Benefits.

 

Please contact your CCC Account Executive if you have any additional questions, comments, and concerns.


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