S.C. employment agency gives advice to laid-off employees


In the wake of many businesses, especially in the hospitality and tourism industries, having to lay off workers due to the coronavirus, many may wonder what help is out there for displaced workers.

Communication officials Heather Biance and Dorothy Weaver with the state Department of Employment and Workforce spoke Monday about who may qualify for unemployment insurance benefits and various resources the agency has placed online as helpful guides.

To reduce the call volume of claims associated with COVID-19 and also expedite the vetting process for unemployment benefits, the department is encouraging employers to file claims on behalf of laid-off workers.

That online procedure is called the "employer-filed claims" process and allows the employer to do a mass upload of files as opposed to individual inputs for all affected employees. It has been an option through the state agency for years for employers in situations such as short-term layoffs and shutdowns and when employees' hours are severely cut back.

Many variables weigh into eligibility for unemployment insurance, Biance and Weaver said, but there are a few rules of thumb.

- If an employer temporarily closes and lays off its staff due to the coronavirus, laid-off employees who are not receiving wages are eligible for unemployment insurance;

- If an employer remains open but lays off some staff due to lost business caused by COVID-19, laid-off employees who are not receiving wages are eligible;

- Conversely, however, if the affected employee(s) is still earning wages (salary, accrued paid leave, etc.), they are not eligible for that particular week.

There are various other scenarios that can get complex, however, given extenuating circumstances, especially when the affected employee is still working and the hours are only reduced, the officials said.

That's why Biance and Weaver said DEW is encouraging people with questions to apply online.

"The eligibility has so many variables in it," Weaver said, "it's very hard to say, 'If this, then you are eligible. If this, then you're not.' That's why we are encouraging people, if they have a question, or are not sure, to apply. Then, if they are not eligible, the online system will tell them why."

In recent years, the unemployment application process has become 100% online and available 24/7.

"If there is confusion or they need clarification," Biance said, "our message to them is to apply, and then our team will look at their specific scenario and let them know."


The agency also is trying to get the word out now to affected employees about other job sectors where business has ramped up in the wake of the coronavirus.

Many of those businesses, including grocery stores, Walmart, Sam's Club, Amazon and others, are desperate for additional workers at this time, Weaver said.

This could be an alternative option to unemployment for many, she said, that may also pay higher wages than weekly unemployment benefits.

"Job opportunities are out there," Weaver said. "People don't have to just sit at home and collect unemployment insurance benefits and feel panicked and scared. They can actually find other work in the interim, which could pay more than the UI benefits they would get and have work in-between time."

She also noted that the construction industry is continuing to do well and is having trouble hiring workers.

Weaver added those jobs also allow people to maintain "social distancing," where they don't have to be too close to others.