November 8, 2016
More Seasonal Workers Granted Access to Unemployment Compensation Benefits
On November 3, 2016, Governor Tom Wolf signed legislation that will expand access to unemployment compensation benefits for many seasonal workers who previously were barred under the law. Until now, Pennsylvania law rendered employees earning more than fifty and one half percent of their overall wages in a single quarter ineligible for unemployment benefits. The change increases the threshold of percent of wages earned in a single quarter while still maintaining eligibility to sixty three percent. This change actually returns the threshold to where it was previously before the law was amended in 2012 by the signing of Act 60.
In addition to changing the earnings threshold, the legislation also includes an across-the-board two percent reduction in benefits and increases penalties for claimants who knowingly make false statements in order to obtain benefits. Governor Wolf’s office estimated that the changes will provide access to benefits for an additional 40,000 – 50,000 workers (most notably those working in construction) previously barred and save the state $44 million annually. The Department of Labor and Industry estimates that the change will save the unemployment compensation trust fund $1.5 billion over the next ten years. The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO endorsed the legislation and President Rick Bloomingdale attended the signing ceremony in Harrisburg.
The change obviously is welcome news to thousands of seasonal workers who for the past several years had been denied the opportunity to obtain unemployment benefits due to nothing more than the nature of their work. While unemployment benefits are not a dollar-for-dollar substitute for wages, they unquestionably ease the financial burden seasonal workers experience during their “off-season.” Unionized and at-will employees alike throughout Pennsylvania will benefit from this legislative action.