Utahns who have been laid off from their jobs or have seen a substantial reduction in hours are likely to be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). A worker who has exhausted their weeks of UI benefits will then be eligible for the federal government's Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). When these benefits are exhausted, the claimant will be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Self-employed people and independent contractors will be eligible for PUA. Utah has waived the unpaid waiting week during the pandemic.
Weekly Benefit Amount
The minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) in the state of Utah is 1/26 of a claimant’s wages in the highest paid quarter of their base period, minus $5; the maximum WBA is $580. Certain individuals who file for traditional unemployment benefits and lost at least $5,000 of self-employment income in the tax year before they opened their regular UI claim may also be eligible for Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation. This extra payment is $100 per week.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) can deduct retirement income, including disability, from a claimant’s WBA. A claimant is required to report holiday, severance or separation pay to DWS’ Claims Center. Such payments are usually considered earnings.
Payment Methods for UI Benefits
An individual is paid by direct deposit into their bank account or with money downloaded to a U.S. Bank Visa Reliacard. DWS recommends direct deposit as the preferable method of receiving payments. The Reliacard is a debit card, and a user may be charged a replacement fee for requesting a new card. The number to call for a lost or stolen card is 855-279-1274.
Work Search Requirement Reinstated
DWS reinstated its work search requirement on August 15, 2020. Since this date, claimants have been required to register for work with DWS as well as to make and report at least four new full-time job contacts per week. A new contact is defined as an employer the individual has not contacted before or a previously contacted employer on a newly listed job opening.
Recording the Job Search
The claimant is required to keep a detailed record of their work search activities. The record should contain the date of the contact; the name of the company and other identifying information such as a job reference number, the company’s address, phone number, email, web link or contact person and title; the method of contact, like phone or email; and the results of the contact.
A claimant must register within 10 working days of filing the application for benefits or the ending of their job attachment. A claimant is expected to seek full-time work even if they are employed part time or attend school. If an employer temporarily closes, DWS will review work search requirements when the claimant files. The claimant may be granted a work search deferral, which means they will not need to make the four new weekly job contacts.
A person who is high risk for the coronavirus should apply for jobs that they could do safely. Job seekers are required to report that they are not available for work when a condition exists that could prevent them from working, accepting work or looking for full-time work. DWS offers tools and services online and in-person at its employment centers.
DWS Claims Assistance
A claimant can ask questions of DWS’ Claims Assistance and Re-Employment Team by phone. For Salt Lake and South Davis counties, call 801-526-4400; Weber and North Davis counties, call 801-612-0877; and Utah County, call 801-375-4067. For the remainder of the state and out-of-state residents, call 888-848-0688.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Utah unemployment insurance benefits last for a 52-week period called a benefit year. This year begins on the date of the claim and ends 52 weeks from that date. At the end of the benefit year, the claim will end whether or not the individual has received all their benefits.
File an Unemployment Insurance Claim
DWS says a claimant should file on a Sunday or as soon as possible after the Saturday week-ending date. The Utah UI claim filing website is available from 2:00 a.m. to 11:45 p.m. seven days a week. A person who attempts to submit a claim after 11:45 p.m. will not be able to complete their claim, but their data will be saved. They will be able to complete their claim if they return to it within 24 hours.
The claim-filing website has multiple steps. A person must save all data before submitting a step. If a user remains on a page for over 20 minutes, the session will time out, and they will need to log in again to continue.
Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Benefits
PEUC is available for 53 weeks or until September 4, 2021, as of the signing of the American Rescue Plan Act into law. Processing times are 21 to 30 days of the date of the application. If a person’s benefit year has expired, they will need to file a new claim or reopen their previously filed claim. DWS’ system figures out whether they are eligible for an extension through PEUC or a traditional unemployment claim.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
PUA is available for a maximum of 79 weeks, up until September 4, 2021. If an individual is receiving PUA and then becomes eligible for a new traditional UI claim, they are no longer eligible for PUA. A claimant can upload documents regarding a PUA claim after they have submitted their application. DWS is paying PUA claimants with paper checks, not by direct bank deposits or Utah debit card for PUA at this time.
An individual filing for PUA must share certain forms with DWS. A former or part-time employee must supply 2020 and 2021 W-2 forms for all the employers they worked for during that year. A self-employed person must supply all 2020 and 2021 Form 1099s and Schedule C from their 2019 and 2020 tax returns. Alternatively, they can file all 2020 and 2021 Forms 1065s, a general ledger or a check register and their highest 2020 and 2021 quarter earnings.
A claimant must also provide a driver’s license or Utah identification card, or their alien registration documentation, if they are not a U.S. citizen but legally authorized to work in the U.S. DWS will send an email to a claimant every week with an update on the status of their claim. The claimant can also check the status of their claim on their pandemic unemployment page. There is no phone number for a claimant to call. DWS may reach out to claimants by email or phone.
Who Is Eligible for Benefits?
A claimant establishes eligibility for UI and later PEUC benefits if they have been connected to the workforce long enough to meet monetary eligibility rules, a period of approximately five quarters. They must be able and available to work and were laid off through no fault of their own. They are also eligible if they were furloughed; are quarantined due to the coronavirus, but are not showing symptoms and will return to work; or they are able and available to work, but unable to do so because their place of employment has been quarantined.
Definition of Able and Available
An individual is not considered able and available if they cannot work due to a health condition or schedule restriction. An individual who has COVID-19 may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. DWS will review unemployment benefit claims on a case-by-case basis. Individuals who may not consider themselves able and available are still encouraged to file a claim.
Return to Work
A claimant who returns to work may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. They should continue filing their weekly claim and reporting their gross earnings. The system will adjust their WBA based on the gross wages they report.
If a claimant works and earns income equal to, or more than, their WBA for four consecutive weeks, the system will close their claim. If their earnings dip below their WBA during the fifth week, the claimant should reopen their claim online.
Finding a Job
DWS has suspended onsite workshops, classes and trainings until further notice. Some offices may be holding onsite recruitments. DWS is holding virtual workshops and classes. DWS’ online offerings include career counseling, job searches, resume assistance, workshops and re-employment services.
Questions About Back Pay
A worker who is receiving back pay from an employer will see their unemployment benefits impacted. The claimant should notify DWS as to the number and amount of back weeks of normal salary and the fact that they filed for unemployment benefits for these same weeks. The claimant may be required to repay the UI division benefits for the weeks. An individual who is starting to receive back pay and will continue to receive their regular salary moving forward will not be eligible for unemployment benefits and should stop filing their weekly claim.
File an Appeal
A claimant can file an appeal of determination of benefits or denial of benefits online or by mail or fax. If they file online, they should note the confirmation number to prove their claim was submitted successfully. They must file their initial appeal within 15 days of the date of the DWS’ decision. If the claimant does not agree with the administrative law judge’s decision, they can appeal it to the Workforce Appeals Board within 30 days. A late appeal can be considered if the individual can show good cause for filing late.
Appeal hearings take place by phone. A claimant is required to call the Appeals Unit ahead of the hearing to confirm the telephone number they want to use for the hearing. Otherwise, the hearing may be canceled or the claimant may not be able to participate in the hearing. When a claimant fails to participate in their hearing, it will be dismissed.
Utah Schools Reopening
Utah public and charter schools are reopening for in-person instruction according to different models. Some schools are offering in-person learning for half-days while others are providing full-day instruction. A parent or guardian’s ability to work is likely to be dependent on the in-person learning schedule for their child. A parent may not choose virtual learning and claim unemployment benefits based on that choice if the school is open for in-person instruction for their child.
Unemployment Fraud and Penalties
A failure to report all earnings while filing for benefits or failing to accurately report the reason the claimant is not working is considered unemployment fraud. Penalties for fraud include repayment of at least twice as much as the benefits paid, denial of future benefits for up to 49 weeks, incarceration and court fines. An individual cannot delegate the responsibility for filing weekly claims to any other party, including their spouse. The claimant will be held liable for all false information provided relating to their claim.
Overpayment and Waiver
When DWS pays unemployment benefits to a claimant who was not entitled to receive them, its system indicates there was an overpayment. DWS will then generate an overpayment notice, which may accompany or follow a notice of denial of benefits. A claimant should contact DWS’ Collections Department at 801-526-9235 to repay the amount they owe. If DWS determines that a claimant was not at fault in creating an overpayment, and the claimant meets the poverty guidelines, they can request a waiver of the non-fault overpayment.
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Unemployment Insurance
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Work Search Requirement, Frequently Asked Questions
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Initial Claim
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) Frequently Asked Questions
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Filing Unemployment Insurance Appeals
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: COVID-19 and Unemployment Insurance Frequently Asked Questions for Employees
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Mixed Earner Unemployment Compensation (MEUC) Frequently Asked Questions
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) Emergency Extension of Benefits Frequently Asked Questions
- Utah State Board of Education: Coronavirus Information and Resources
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Department Events
- Department of Workforce Services: Job Search Tools
- Utah Department of Workforce Services: Guide to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Process
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.