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Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, several companies across West Virginia have had to lay off their employees. Many of these positions are difficult to rehire, and are often the kinds of jobs where workers make too much to earn partial unemployment if they’re working less than full-time.
House Bill 3294, which passed the House of Delegates unanimously Thursday, creates an optional work-sharing program for West Virginia employers who would rather temporarily reduce their workers’ hours than lay them off.
If the bill becomes law, employers could follow a work-sharing plan for up to a year, reducing their workers’ hours by 10 to 60 percent. Workers would be able to backfill some of their losses with unemployment insurance, while still keeping their health plans and retirement benefits.
All plans are subject to approval from Workforce West Virginia, which oversees the state’s program for unemployment insurance benefits.
The legislation combines a couple bills that lawmakers were planning to introduce this year for the state’s unemployment program. It also creates an Unemployment Insurance Program Integrity Act to investigate and recover overpayments.
“I think a lot of issues were brought to light after some of the experiences that we had during the pandemic,” said lead sponsor and House Judiciary Chair Moore Capito. “But I think we’ve found some legislation here that, going forward, is going to help West Virginia in the in the workforce area.”
The legislation calls on Workforce West Virginia to have a work-sharing program up and running by July 2023.
Co-sponsor Del. Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, first introduced a work-sharing proposal in her House Bill 2924. Young is a small business owner who said she found herself unemployed last March as the state first began shutting down for the pandemic.
“The system just wasn’t built for what we dealt with last year,” Young said.
Although the bill’s work-sharing program is open to all contributing employers who pay into an unemployment insurance trust fund, Young said this legislation will especially help employees in manufacturing and coal mining.
“Oftentimes these businesses, they pay too much for partial unemployment to ever kick in,” Young said. “So it’s just a way for people to retain employees.”
Not only does the bill come with endorsement from the West Virginia Manufacturers’ Association, but in other states, the concept has drawn support from the U.S. Department of Labor, which has made funding available for states interested in setting up a short-time compensation program for work-sharing.
Scott Adkins, commissioner for Workforce West Virginia, said the state plans to apply for up to $500,000 in implementation grants from the USDOL.
There’s also a chance the state could apply for new funding that the USDOL began offering after the pandemic hit, which could potentially pay for up to three years of unemployment benefits as described in the bill.
There are 26 states that offer work-sharing plans to their employers according to the USDOL. That includes the neighboring states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
House Bill 3294 now moves onto the Senate for further consideration.
Emily Allen is a Report for America corps member.