In June 2011, the Pennsylvania General Assembly enacted a law amending the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law (“Law”). Many of the amendments’ provisions took effect January 1, 2012. In addition to providing for a severance pay offset against unemployment compensation benefits, the amendments added additional "active search for employment" eligibility requirements for claimants to collect UC benefits.

Specifically, a claimant who applies for UC benefits on or after January 1, 2012 must establish that he is in “active search for suitable employment” or, alternatively, that one of the exceptions to the requirement applies. The Law provides an exception to the active search requirement for a claimant “who is laid off for lack of work and advised by the employer of the date on which the claimant will return to work.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (“L&I”) established specific steps that a claimant must take to satisfy the active search requirement. L&I also added the caveat that, to be relieved from the active search requirement under the layoff/lack of work exception, the claimant must have a projected return to work date within 28 calendar days of when he last worked. The addition of the 28-day requirement caused significant concern for employers who engage in seasonal layoffs, particularly those in the construction industry. To be sure, these seasonal layoffs often last longer than 28 days. And with the 28-day recall requirement, employees laid off seasonally because of a lack of work would not qualify for the exception and would need to comply with the new active search requirements.

The cause for concern, however, was short-lived.

Even though the active search requirement has been in effect for only just over a month, L&I recently eliminated the 28-day return requirement for the layoff/lack of work exception.  While it is unclear what prompted L&I’s addition, and subsequent deletion, of the 28-day qualification, this is a noteworthy turn of events for employers who engage in seasonal layoffs.  Now, it appears that an employee who is temporarily laid off, yet has been advised by his employer in writing of an expected return to work date (regardless of how far away that date is) will be excepted from the active search requirement as a precondition for UC eligibility.

Under L&I’s revised active search requirements, an employer who places an employee on temporary layoff status with the expectation that the employee will receive UC benefits should advise him in writing of the projected return to work date.  The employee may be required to provide this return to work letter with his UC application to demonstrate that he is exempt from the active search requirement under the layoff/lack of work exception.

Ultimately, this recent change to the guidelines regarding UC eligibility is good news for both employers and employees.  With the elimination of the 28-day requirement, employers no longer face the possibility of losing workers who find alternative employment during a seasonal layoff, and employees who are temporarily laid off no longer face a loss of benefits because of non-compliance with the active search requirements.  As the recent flurry of changes demonstrate, however, these requirements are new and still in flux.  There is no guarantee that L&I will not further refine their rules and guidelines.  In other words…stay tuned.