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State hopes employers avoid layoffs with work share program

Work share allows employers to keep employees working with reduced hours.

DENVER — As more than 20 Colorado counties move to the 'severe risk' level on the state's COVID-19 dial, Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment wants to raise awareness about a program that they say could help employers avoid layoffs.

The work share program allows employers to retain their workforce with reduced hours. Those employees are still eligible to collect regular unemployment benefits.  

To answer questions about the program is Cher Haavind, spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

(Editor's note: Responses may have been edited for context and clarity.)

9NEWS: What kind of outreach to employers are you doing this week?

Haavind: So, there are about 160,000 employers in Colorado, who are what we call insured employers, in other words, they participate in the state's unemployment insurance program. We actually have email addresses for about half of those. We can break this email list down by industry so that we can get really specific in the message we're trying to convey. Today, we decided, while we can focus on restaurant and hospitality, that we would initiate a campaign to all employers that we’re able to contact this way with a couple of pieces of information about some opportunities available to them when they're looking at perhaps a layoff situation or a workforce reduction. Our goal today is to conduct some outreach, let them know that there are a number of programs available, one of which is work share.

9NEWS: What are the benefits of the work share program?

Haavind: As an example, with what we're seeing with the looming closures in the restaurant industry, it would be a great program for a restaurant owner to consider for a number of reasons. Number one, it allows you to keep your workforce intact. Instead of having a furlough situation or a layoff to your entire workforce, you can reduce the hours of either your entire workforce or a subset. Those individuals would continue working you spread the hours across the workforce, and then they're able to collect partial unemployment benefits. Let's say you have 30 employees, instead of laying off 30 workers and having 30 unemployment insurance claims filed against this employer, potentially, you have a lower benefit amount that's paid. It's also good for morale you get to keep your workforce intact somewhat, retain your employees, and then, hopefully, when you are ready to return to a full workforce situation, you still have your employees intact and you don't need to go through the effort of recruiting or training.

9NEWS: How many people have taken advantage of this program?

Haavind: During the beginning of the pandemic we did see an immediate surge in interest in participation in the program. We have seen that level off but we do expect, or we hope at least, to see greater participation. We have just under 900 employers participating in the program. That represents about 1200 workers. Right now, our staff is poised to begin taking applications for the program. Typically, when an employer submits a plan, it then goes into the team review process. Certainly, we’ll be expediting those reviews because we know there are so many businesses right now facing a reduction in workforce that need to look at all opportunities to layoff to avoid a layoff.

9NEWS: What will this mean for unemployment claims?

Haavind: Under the CARES Act, which is the federal act that provided a number of relief measures, the federal government is actually reimbursing any benefits associated with workshare. So, right now is actually a good time for an employer to consider this because instead of that claim hitting their account if you will, those costs are reimbursed by the feds. We understand we will either see an influx of new claims or a potential reopening of claims. If you remember when we had some closures in the Spring, we saw an influx of initial claims it's likely those same workers now will be needing to reopen a claim. Either way, the goal is to help employers know this program available to them. Also, keep your workforce intact to the best of your ability.