By Francine Foner, Esq., Ty Hyderally, Esq.
The New Jersey Department of Labor (NJDOL) recently published additional guidance on the expansion of unemployment benefits available to New Jersey workers impacted by COVID-19 through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and possibly the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). You can learn more about this on the NJDOL website, at: (https://myunemployment.nj.gov/labor/myunemployment/assets/pdfs/CARES_FFRCA.pdf).
New Jersey’s self-employed workers, freelancers, platform workers, gig workers and independent contractors who are impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible to receive PUA, retroactive to February 2, 2020. According to the NJDOL’s guidelines, “PUA potentially provides the same amount as regular unemployment (60% of your average weekly salary, up to a maximum of $713 per week) for up to a total of 39 weeks,” based upon the prior year(s) tax returns if wages are not reported through wage records. Id. The minimum amount of PUA, for businesses operating at a loss or with insufficient income to qualify for benefits, is $231 per week. PUA recipients are also eligible for an extra $600 per week. The $600 per week is retroactive to the week ending April 4, 2020, and ends the week of July 25, 2020. Id.
In order for self-employed employees to be eligible for PUA, they must be negatively impacted by the coronavirus emergency and certify that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work for any of a list of coronavirus related reasons. Id. The NJDOL is working with the U.S. Department of Labor to develop the process to assess applications for this new federal program of PUA. The NJDOL advises that applying for unemployment insurance is the necessary first step in the meantime. Id.
Some self-employed workers may also be eligible for assistance under FFCRA, which took effect on April 1, 2020. Although a self-employed worker may not be entitled to direct payments for paid sick leave or emergency FMLA childcare leave, self-employed workers may be eligible to receive a tax credit worth up to 80 hours of emergency paid sick leave to care for themselves or a loved one impacted by the coronavirus, and up to 12 weeks (2 weeks unpaid, 10 weeks paid) emergency FMLA childcare leave to care for their child at home because they have no school or childcare due to coronavirus. Id. Such tax breaks are provided to a worker who “carries on a trade or business” and who would be entitled to FFCRA paid leave if he or she were an employee of an employer. Id.
These are interesting times. Just a few months ago, the idea that self-employed workers in New Jersey could get a tax break for taking sick leave would have been unthinkable. But COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on all aspects of the economy, and an increasingly large section of the economy depends on self-employed workers. Thus, it is critical that all workers, even those who are self-employed, be offered some assistance so that they can make it through the effects of the pandemic.
This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, and may not reasonably be relied upon as such. If you face a legal issue, you should consult a qualified attorney for independent legal advice with regard to your particular set of facts. This blog may constitute attorney advertising. This blog is not intended to communicate with anyone in a state or other jurisdiction where such a blog may fail to comply with all laws and ethical rules of that state of jurisdiction.