As most employers know, unemployment compensation (called reemployment assistance (RA) in South Dakota) is a program providing temporary financial assistance for people who lose their job through no fault of their own. It is not available in the case where someone quits or is terminated due to employee misconduct.

With regard to the current Coronavirus pandemic, South Dakota workers who become unemployed because their employer needs to temporarily reduce workers’ hours, shut down the place of employment, or isolate workers due to COVID-19 may be eligible to receive RA benefits. The South Dakota Department of Labor and Regulation (SD DLR) indicates that there are many variables that can affect a worker’s eligibility for (and an employer’s liability for) RA benefits and the SD DLR will examine each case on an individual basis in accordance with the law.

In addition, on March 27, 2020, President Trump signed into law the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). The CARES Act provides, among other benefits and programs, unemployment benefits for a limited amount of time for certain categories of workers who ordinarily would be ineligible for unemployment benefits (e.g., the self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, those workers who may have exhausted other unemployment insurance benefits, and those workers who may not have a sufficient work history to qualify for a regular state claim).

In addition, the CARES Act includes eligibility for those workers already receiving unemployment benefits in any amount to be paid an additional $600 per week benefit. This amount is fully covered by the federal government.

The SD DLR has several COVID-19 resources available on its website, including a listing of various proposed COVID-19 scenarios and what the eligibility for RA benefits might be.

The following are some of the examples provided:

• A worker has tested positive for COVID-19, and, as a result, is temporarily unable to work = ELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• A worker has his or her hours reduced by the employer because of a reduction in force related to COVID-19 = LIKELY ELIGIBLE for partial RA benefits
• A worker is out of work because their employer closed due to COVID-19 = ELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• A worker is sent home from work because their employer thinks they are a risk or they are a risk = LIKELY ELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• A worker chooses to self-quarantine and is unable to work = INELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• A worker is unable to work because they need to care for a dependent (such as a child) = INELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• A school worker is unable to work because their place of employment is closed = LIKELY ELIGIBLE for RA benefits
• An employer decides to temporarily close or do a reduction in force because of COVID-19 = LIABLE for RA benefits.

If a South Dakota employer is planning to lay off employees temporarily in conjunction with COVID-19, a recommended best practice is to issue a letter to the employees – as the SD DLR will ask individuals for a copy of the letter as documentation to show that the employer clearly expressed to them the duration of the temporary layoff. Employers should include the date the layoff will begin, the fact that the layoff is temporary, and a tentative call back date. The SD DLR recommends that the tentative call back date should be ten weeks from the date the layoff begins. It is also imperative that the employer does not guarantee a specific date for resuming normal operations, and do not guarantee employment, as this could be considered a contractual obligation.

It is recommended that South Dakota employers let their employees know how to file for RA benefits, and that workers should do so online if possible. Employees can visit As a general rule, South Dakota unemployment benefits generally equal approximately 50% of an employee’s average weekly earnings. South Dakota state law provides that the maximum amount a person may receive is $414 per week in benefits. In addition, individuals receiving unemployment benefits in conjunction with COVID-19 may be eligible for the additional $600 per week in their benefits under the CARES Act.

For further information on COVID-19 Pandemic Scenarios & Benefits available, click here.

Contact Jennifer Frank with questions:

(605) 342-2592
909 Saint Joseph Street, Suite 800
Rapid City, SD 57701

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