NH WorkShare program helps employees, employers weather pandemic

Amid economic turmoil, initiative helps businesses retain their employees
Hart's Sign

Since May, 30 full-time employees at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith have been participating in the WorkShare program.

With pandemic-induced record levels of unemployment in New Hampshire, people receiving unemployment insurance can qualify for WorkShare – a program offered through New Hampshire Employment Security may be the answer for both  employees and employers.

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, which 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 for unemployment, added to the 85,994 receiving benefits through continuing unemployment claims.

Employees across the state have to see a reduction of 10% to 50% in their hours in order to be eligible for the WorkShare program, and the reduction has to among all employees at the business that employs them.

Employees also have to prove that they have filed for unemployment. The amount of time that they are allowed to be on the WorkShare program cannot exceed 26 weeks.

Spreading awareness

Since May, 30 full-time employees at Hart’s Turkey Farm in Meredith have taken advantage of the WorkShare program, said manager Andrea Weeks. Most of their hours were cut because of the coronavirus pandemic – Hart’s Turkey Farm,  a well-known restaurant in the Lakes Region, only had nine full-time employees from mid-March to May while serving only 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 U.S. Department of Labor is paying for 100% of all of the WorkShare benefits New Hampshire is giving out through the federal CARES Act.

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 started taking part in the WorkShare program, not many employees were hesitant to go back to work over fearing that they may make more through unemployment insurance.

Amy Landers, 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.”

Through WorkShare, employers are able to “respond quickly as business increases,” something Landers said has happened this summer in the Lakes Region tourism industry.

The weeklong waiting period for employees to sign up for the program has been waived because of the ongoing pandemic. Find information at nhes.nh.gov.

This article is being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborative.org.

Categories: Government, News