Church employees have historically not been eligible for unemployment benefits since churches are exempt from paying unemployment taxes. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on the economy, recent federal legislation has opened the door for individuals usually ineligible for unemployment compensation, including church employees.
On April 5, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor issued its Unemployment Insurance Program Letter No. 16-20 regarding the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program created by Section 2102 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The Letter explained the provision of temporary benefits for those ineligible for regular unemployment compensation, including “clergy and those working for religious organizations who are not covered by regular unemployment compensation.”
The PUA program provides up to 46 weeks of unemployment benefits (through January 26, 2020) to eligible claimants. PUA benefits are not available for individuals working remotely with pay or individuals receiving paid sick or other leave.
Unemployed workers may qualify for PUA benefits for any of the following reasons related to COVID-19:
- Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or has symptoms and is in the process of getting a medical diagnosis.
- Has a household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Is providing care for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- Is the primary caregiver for a child or other household member who cannot attend school or other facility that has been closed due to COVID-19, which directly impacts the worker’s ability to return to work.
- Is unable to reach their workplace either because of (1) a government-imposed quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, or (2) advice provided by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns.
- Has been scheduled to return to work but no longer has a job or is unable to reach their workplace due to COVID-19 public health emergency.
- Has become the primary supporter of a household because of the death of a head of household due to COVID-19.
- Has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19.
- Closure of an individual’s workplace due to COVID-19.
Church employees can check on the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance website for more information and to file a claim.
Provident Law’s church and nonprofit attorneys are here to help answer questions and with establishing and crafting policies governing employment issues. We recognize how essential good employment practices are to a church’s ongoing mission, and we stand ready to counsel and serve the churches of Arizona. Contact us to learn more.