Amendments to Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act Signed Into Law

Jun 9, 2020

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Written by Catherine R. Locallo and Matthew M. Swift

On June 5, 2020, Governor Pritzker signed HB 2455 into law as Public Act 101-0633. The legislation is effective immediately and makes changes in the state’s Unemployment Insurance Act (“UI Act”) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation also makes pandemic-related changes to workers’ compensation and police and firefighter death benefits, a summary of which will be included in a separate, forthcoming In Brief from our firm about the special legislative session. 

One of the more significant, temporary changes to the UI Act is that non-professional employees (defined as “any services other than an instructional, research, or principal administrative capacity”) may now be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits over the 2020 summer break period (which may be longer than normal), even if they have a reasonable assurance of continued employment in the immediate next school year. Prior to this change, Illinois applied the “between terms” denial provision under the UI Act to non-professional employees, like educational support personnel. With this change, Illinois is exercising its discretion to carve out non-professional employees from the “between terms” denial provision for the period from March 15, 2020 through December 30, 2020.  This means that educational support personnel, who were paid in full during the 2019-2020 school year and who have a reasonable assurance of continued employment for the 2020-2021 school year, may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits over the summer break period. It is unclear whether IDES will deem such claimants as “unemployed” and/or  require such claimants to be “actively seeking work” (other than just being prepared to return to work when school resumes) over the summer break period in order to qualify for benefit payments – conditions normally required to receive benefits. IDES has rulemaking authority with respect to this legislative change and it is anticipated that IDES may publish rules or guidance soon on this subject. 

The above amendment does not change the general fact that if an educational employer released or reduced the hours of educational support personnel before, during or after the summer break period, they may be eligible for unemployment benefits because such separation or reduction is not because of a normal break period between two school/academic terms.  

Other changes include how much of the unemployment benefit charges employers will be responsible for. When an employer can show that the unemployment “was directly or indirectly attributable to COVID-19,” the employer will at most be only partially responsible for such benefits for a week of unemployment beginning on or between March 15 and December 30, 2020. Namely, benefits under such conditions may not be charged if the employer makes contributions to the state’s unemployment insurance program (referred to as “contributing employers”). In contrast, nonprofit organizations and state and local governments that make direct unemployment payments instead of contributions (“reimbursable employers”) will be chargeable for 50% of the benefits paid.   

Note that since the normal separation during the “between terms” summer break period is not attributable to COVID-19, it appears at this time that the educational employer will be responsible for any benefit charges (without reduction or exception) for claims made by educational support personnel who have a reasonable assurance of continued employment for the 2020-2021 school year. 

Educational employers should assess options to protest unemployment claims for the summer break period filed by educational support personnel who were employed and paid in full during the 2019-2020 school year and who have a reasonable assurance of continued employment for the 2020-2021 school year or, at the very least, complete the questionnaire typically sent by IDES for claims made by individuals employed by an educational entity. Keep in mind that instructional and administrative personnel remain ineligible for unemployment benefits over the summer break period.  

We continue to watch for IDES guidance on these changes. Please contact your Robbins Schwartz attorney with any questions about the impact it may have on you.