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With New Hampshire reaching new levels of unemployment from the coronavirus pandemic, those receiving unemployment insurance can qualify for WorkShare – a program offered through New Hampshire Employment Security (NHES) that helps both employees and employers get back on their feet.
Any worker across the state – as long as their taxes are up-to-date, and they are not considered a seasonal worker – is eligible to enroll in the program that allows employees to still collect unemployment insurance benefits alongside working minimal hours.
The program has proven to be especially popular in recent months, even though New Hampshire has experienced the largest percentage drop in unemployment claims across any New England state, according to NHES, as of July 2, 4,838 residents filed new claims of unemployment, adding to the 85,994 continued claims of unemployment in the state.
Employees across the state will have to see a reduction of 10 to 50 percent in their hours in order to be eligible for the program, and the reduction has to be seen across all employees at the business that employs them. Employees will also have to prove that they have filed for unemployment and the amount of time that they are allowed to be on the WorkShare program cannot exceed 26 weeks.
Since May, 30 full-time employees at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith, have taken advantage of the WorkShare program according to manager Andrea Weeks. Most of their hours were cut because of the coronavirus pandemic – Hart’s Turkey Farm, which is also a restaurant, only had nine full-time employees from mid-March to May while it only served takeout.
“Our owner, Sim Willey, and myself immersed ourselves with information,” Weeks said. “We read every article and attended every webinar we could about anything to do with coronavirus and the different programs being offered to small businesses. So when we became aware of the WorkShare program, we decided it was a good program to start with to help bring our employees back to work.”
The United States Department of Labor is paying for 100 percent of all of the WorkShare benefits New Hampshire is giving out through the CARES Act that was passed by Congress in March for coronavirus relief.
Weeks said some employees were hesitant to come back to work, mostly over the potential risk of exposing themselves or family members to the coronavirus.
“Some of our employees are older or have older at-risk parents they were taking care of, so they were nervous about returning at first,” Weeks said. “Others had to stay home to take care of their young children. Most people were OK with coming back and felt comfortable with the enhanced safety practices we had put in place.”
She said that since Hart’s was offering the WorkShare program, there weren’t many employees hesitant to go back to work over fear that they may make more through unemployment insurance.
Amy Landers, the executive director of Lakes Region Tourism Association, said she has tried to spread awareness of WorkShare to smaller businesses in the area that may be struggling from minimal business or having to pay their employees.
“A lot more employers would use it if they were aware of it,” Landers said. “I try to educate businesses through newsletters, and unemployment offices have had webinars. I think it’s building the education on it to get employees back to work.”
For employers through the WorkShare program, layoffs can be avoided and they can retain their employees that have already been trained and skilled, the NHES claims.
In addition, businesses are able to “respond quickly as business increases,” something Landers said has happened in the Lakes Region tourism industry this summer. Resorts in the area have gone from having five employees during the winter and spring months, to having and needing 1,050 employees overnight to keep up with the increase of tourism, which created planning challenges.
The tourism industry in New Hampshire typically relies on hiring J-1 visa workers from other countries, but J-1 workers are ineligible for the WorkShare program.
The waiting week for employees to sign up has been waived because of the ongoing pandemic. Find information at nhes.nh.gov.
These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborative.org.