A North Carolinian is eligible to claim unemployment insurance (UI) after a layoff or a substantial reduction in hours. A worker can claim between 12 and 20 weeks of regular UI benefits in the state. When the UI amount is exhausted, an individual can claim federal government Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) for 53 weeks, until September 4, 2021.
After this point, the claimant will become eligible to claim Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for 79 weeks, until September 4, 2021. A self-employed person or independent contractor is eligible to claim PUA, also for 79 weeks, until September 4, 2021. North Carolina has waived the waiting week for unemployment benefits.
Weekly Benefit Amount
North Carolina’s minimum weekly benefit amount (WBA) for UI is $15, and the maximum amount is $350. In order to be eligible for UI, the individual must have worked in a job subject to UI tax and received wages in at least two calendar quarters of their base period. They must have been paid wages that total at minimum six times the average weekly insured wage during their base period. The base period is usually the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters; a calendar quarter is a three-month period.
Coronavirus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Claimants must submit proof of income to the Division of Employment Security (DES) to establish eligibility for PUA. Acceptable documents include 2019 tax returns for a 2020 claim and 2020 tax returns for a 2021 claim; recent paycheck stubs; bank receipts; 1099 forms; billing statements and notices; business licenses; contracts; invoices and ledgers. A claimant can also become eligible for PUA due to a COVID-19-related reason, such as a diagnosis of COVID-19.
Acceptable documents to submit to show loss of work include documentation from medical professionals related to diagnosis or isolation instructions; notices from school or childcare providers; notices from county or state government regarding business closures or stay-at-home orders; and documentation that a job offer or need for the claimant’s services was cancelled or delayed because of COVID-19.
Claimants can receive benefit payments through direct deposit or debit card. Bank of America offers the debit card. A claimant usually receives their payment within 14 days of filing the initial claim.
Increase in Identification and Security Measures
DES has partnered with ID.me to verify the identity of unemployment claimants. A claimant will receive an email from DES with a notification that they must verify their identity through ID.me to be eligible for benefits. A claimant should click on the link in the email to start the verification process.
When a claimant signs into their DES account, they will be asked to verify their identity using Multi-Factor Authentication. DES will send a passcode to their email address. The user must enter that passcode and their regular password to access their account.
Work Search Requirements Reinstated
North Carolina has reinstated work search requirements to establish eligibility to receive unemployment benefits. A claimant is required to make three employer contacts a week. Participating in approved and verified reemployment activities can count for two of the three required contacts. A claimant is required to register with NC Works as well.
Acceptable Job Search Activities
Acceptable methods to contact employers to find a new job include: submitting an application, resume or letter of interest to the employer directly or through an employment website such as NC Works; having a telephone conversation with an employer, although leaving a message or voicemail does not count; attending a meeting with an employer, including a contact at a job fair or a similar event; or engaging in a video interview and responding to a blind job advertisement with the requirement to keep a copy of the advertisement.
Reemployment activities that count as work search contacts include: taking skill set courses provided by NC Works Career Centers and/or partner agencies; industry or occupation-specific training; soft skills training like a social etiquette class; and taking a workshop on a subject like resume preparation or interviewing. Attending English as a Second Language classes and using online career tools, such as Indeed, provided by NC Works Career Centers, also count for work search contacts.
An applicant should keep a detailed record of their work search activities every week. North Carolina does not have a work share program, in which employers retain employees, but reduce the hours of a group of employees.
Assistance With Job Searches
NC Works Career Centers are reopening, but some are only open in limited capacities. The way to determine what services are available at a specific center is to check the NC Works page and determine how to get help. Some centers, like the Alamance Center, are open to the public, but limited staff and a limited number of customers are allowed inside at a time. Other centers, like the Alexander Center, offer virtual services only. The Mecklenburg/Charlotte Center, offers services virtually and by appointment.
Return to Work
A claimant who is receiving unemployment benefits and returns to work can earn up to 20 percent of their weekly benefit amount without seeing their WBA reduced. Earnings over 20 percent of the WBA will be deducted dollar-for-dollar from their weekly benefits. A claimant is required to report weekly earnings, retirement, severance, separation pay, wages in lieu of notice and workers’ compensation.
In certain cases, an employer will file an attached UI claim for an employee. The employer typically files an attached claim when they temporarily lay off an employee or the employee worked less than 60 percent of their usual scheduled full-time hours. An employer may file an attached claim for an employee only once a year. The period of partial employment for which the employer files the claim cannot exceed six consecutive weeks.
Refusal to Return to Work
An employee may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits and refuse to return to work if the reason they refused relates to specific, clearly stated risks regarding COVID-19. These reasons include complying with government orders regarding travel, business operations and mass gatherings, experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and being advised by a medical professional not to return to work, and providing care for a family member diagnosed with COVID-19. It is possible for an employee to return to work and then have to take leave again for an enumerated COVID-19-related reason.
Seniors and High-Risk Individuals
An individual may be 65 or older, or have a medical condition that puts them at a high risk for a severe illness if infected with COVID-19; work for an employer who is unable to offer a safe workplace; or have a job that does not allow for a reasonable accommodation like telework. If this is true, the individual may have good cause for not returning to work and can receive unemployment benefits. They should get a note from a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Osteopathy authorized to practice medicine as proof of having a high-risk medical condition.
Changes at the Workplace
An employee is within their rights to receive unemployment benefits if the employer substantially changes their work conditions or contract, and the employee quits the position. For example, if an employer reduces an employee’s pay by 30 percent, moves them to a facility with a substantially longer commute, or permanently changes their assigned shift without their agreement, these changes are considered a substantial change in the employee’s contract of hire.
Minor changes, such as requiring an extra hour of work a day or changing the employee’s work location in the same facility do not constitute a change in the contract of hire, and the employee would not be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. DES decides what changes are substantial on a case-by-case basis.
Schools Are Reopening
North Carolina’s public schools are reopening, offering in-person instruction to all levels of students. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction is still required to offer remote instruction to parents and guardians who want this option. If a parent or guardian chooses remote instruction when in-person learning is offered, they cannot claim unemployment for the times they chose to remain home to supervise their child’s learning.
Unemployment Insurance Fraud
An individual can commit unemployment insurance fraud by providing inaccurate information, including failing to report wages earned during a week that the individual receives a benefit payment. Penalties for UI fraud include having to pay an additional 15 percent of the overpaid amount as a penalty, a disqualification from receiving unemployment insurance benefits for one year and being prosecuted for a Class 1 felony, facing a fine and up to 12 months in prison. A claimant has a greater chance of being prosecuted when they are overpaid by more than $400.
Overpayments, Repayment and Waivers
When an individual receives an overpayment of unemployment benefits, they can either repay the overpayment balance in full or enter into a payment agreement with DES. An individual with an overpayment balance will receive a monthly statement that shows their current overpayment balance and minimum monthly payment. They will also see their federal and state tax refunds intercepted and any North Carolina lottery winnings intercepted. In addition, they may see their intangible property and/or wages attached or garnished.
When a claimant fails to repay an overpayment, all of their future UI benefits may be intercepted until the overpayment is resolved. When an individual is receiving benefits and has an overpayment, their benefits will be reduced by 50 percent for non-fraud overpayments and 100 percent for fraud overpayments. DES will consider waiving the repayment of non-fraud overpayment for good cause. A claimant should file a waiver request after their appeal rights expire on the determination of overpayment.
If they filed an appeal, the waiver request should be made after DES’ decision becomes final. A claimant can file a waiver request online or by fax. A claimant cannot seek a waiver for overpayment if fraud is the reason for the overpayment.
File an Appeal
An individual can file an appeal online using the DES benefits system. They can also file by sending a letter to the address in their determination. After a claimant files an appeal, DES will schedule a hearing on the matter. The claimant will receive a notice of hearing that contains the date, time and contact information for the designated appeals referee. A claimant cannot appeal a pending issue, an incomplete or pending claim, a monetary determination, including a “monetarily ineligible” claim status, a weekly benefit amount, requests to back-date an unemployment claim and a number of other concerns.
A claimant with a concern about such issues should contact the Customer Call Center if they are an employee and the Employer Call Center if they are an employer. There has been an increase in claims and appeals due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As of mid May, the North Carolina Division of Employment Security is scheduling appeals hearings three or more months from the date the Division receives the appeal.
Tax Base Reduced for Employers
North Carolina has reduced the amount that employers have to pay into the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund for 2021, from 2.4 percent to 1.9 percent. Employers whose tax rate for 2021 is already at the minimum rate allowed by law, 0.06 percent, will not be affected by the change. Employers whose tax rate for 2021 is already at the maximum rate allowed by the law, 5.76 percent, may or may not receive a rate reduction. Employers with the standard new employer rate of 1.00 percent are not affected by the change.
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Returning to Work
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Your Work Search Responsibilities
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: COVID-19 Information for Individuals
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: File an Appeal
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Debit Card Support
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: How to Repay
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Report Work and Earnings
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Unemployment Insurance FAQs
- North Carolina Department of Public Instruction: Truitt Statement on Bipartisan Legislation for School Reopening
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Homepage
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Overpayments
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Overpayment FAQs
- North Carolina Division of Employment Services: Filing Your Unemployment Application
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.