Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq. – Looking For Work? Prove It!
WORK SEARCH REQUIREMENTS, PART I
UNEMPLOYED AND LOOKING FOR WORK? UIA SAYS “PROVE IT’
QUESTION: I’ve been out of work since the pandemic began, and have been receiving unemployment benefits. I’ve never had to show that I’m looking for work — and I am looking — but I heard the Unemployment Insurance Agency now wants people to submit some kind of record. What kind of proof do I need?
ANSWER: If you haven’t already started submitting a record of your job search when you certify for unemployment benefits, you may already be in trouble. As of May 30, work search requirements, which had been suspended since March 2020, have been reinstated. Every week, you must engage in and document at least one “work search activity.” Beginning with the weeks ending June 5 and June 12, you were required to provide proof of your job search when you certified for benefits. If you do not provide this information for any week, you will not be eligible for benefits for that period.
The requirement was reinstated based on fears that beefed up benefits are discouraging unemployed workers from looking for work and contributing to a shortage of qualified workers. The validity of those fears has been disputed, but employers, especially those in the restaurant and hospitality industries, have complained they cannot find workers.
Work search activities include applying for jobs in person or online, putting your resume on a professional networking or job site like MiTalent.org or LinkedIn, or attending a job fair or workshop. When you certify for benefits, you must list the name and date of each activity, the name and address of the employer/organization/job fair etc. and the method of contact (online or in person, etc.). The Unemployment Agency may later ask you to provide documentation of your efforts to find a job — and something more than a hand written note is needed. For instance, you could document an online search with a screenshot of your application; documentation of attendance at a job fair could include a copy of your registration and, if possible, your signature on the sign-in sheet. You should keep a folder of all your work search and documentary support for at least three years.
In certain cases, the Agency has up to three years to review a claim — even if the claimant has exhausted benefits and/or found a job. Recently, hundreds of claimants who applied for and received benefits under the CARES Act in March and April 2020 have been asked to pay the Agency back thousands and thousands of dollars after the Agency belatedly determined they were never eligible for benefits in the first place (for example, being physically unable to work, claiming benefits as a freelancer without proof that they ever made a living from such work, or claiming benefits in Michigan based on losing a job performed in another state).
Some work search activities can only be used sparingly. For example, setting up a new account with Indeed, LinkedIn, MiTalent.org, or Monster can only be used once in a benefit year. Once registered, you can only use each site as part of your work search activities once a month — so you may want to register for several job sites.
If you are not registered with the state’s online site, Mi-WAM, now is a good time to register. Details of your job search can be easily added after you complete the online certification questions every two weeks. While the UIA advises people who certify over the phone that they can continue to do so — just by staying on the phone to speak with an agent after answering the automated questions — there have been reports that the system is not working well. After completing the questions, the claimant waited, and waited, and waited but no agent came on the line. Unfortunately for people certifying by phone, the certification is incomplete until a claimant speaks to an agent and provides job search information, and the claimant will be ineligible to receive benefits for that period.
Some workers may be eligible for a waiver of the work search requirement for reasons related to COVID-19, such as having been advised by a medical professional to self-isolate or quarantine.
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ASK THE LAWYER
By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
GWINN LEGAL PLLC
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0311 facsimile