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Offices of the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation in Las Vegas. (Daniel Clark/The Nevada Independent)

More than a year after suspending the rule, the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) is bringing back a requirement that claimants search for work in exchange for their benefits.

The new policy takes effect for the week that begins Sunday, so claimants filing through any benefits program for that week will need to certify and document that they are engaged in activities such as applying for jobs, networking, retraining or promoting their business if they are self employed. DETR director Elisa Cafferata said it’s a logical time to reinstate the requirement because counties will assume control of COVID restrictions on May 1, capacity limits are increasing and additional business types — such as nightclubs in Clark County — are allowed to reopen.

“Just to be very clear, this is a requirement that people engage in work search activities. It's not that they have to take the first job that comes along,” Cafferata said. “So it's sort of good, as businesses are opening up, that people are starting to be out there looking and having those conversations. And it's all part of a process of transitioning back to sort of regular life.”

Work search requirements have long been a fixture of unemployment programs, but were paused on the premise that it could be unsafe to carry out activities such as interviewing at businesses and that with a precipitous drop in jobs, there were few opportunities in the early stages of the pandemic.

Historically, few claims are flagged for possible work search requirement violations. In 2019, a year when more than 119,000 initial claims were filed, there were 177 issues on claims related to work search, but Cafferata said few would have been denied benefits because claimants ultimately resumed search activities.

Even though many Nevada businesses say they need workers and are having trouble recruiting them, some claimants want the requirement postponed, saying certain industries such as convention support have not rebounded but likely will in the near future and are the right fit for the people who used to work there.

Cafferata spoke with The Nevada Independent on Tuesday to offer particulars about the new paradigm. Below are highlights from the interview, which have been edited for length and clarity.

What constitutes a work search? 

The work search is sort of a good faith effort. … There's no specific number of applications you have to put in. It's what is customary for your occupation, and the market conditions that you're in. So if it's customary that you go to five networking events in a month, then that's what's customary. And basically, we just want you to document what it is in your field. 

Claimants are required to keep track of their activities. And really it's a good faith effort. 

It's not just applying for jobs. There are a lot of other things that can go into sort of getting ready to go back to work. If you go on EmployNV, there's a tab where you can work on building your resume, or you can put your profile on LinkedIn or another networking site, training, and even in things like how to interview — that all counts as sort of work search. 

So it's really getting you ready to go back to work. And good faith is one of those terms — it’s what would a reasonable person consider a good effort to go back to work and what makes sense for you?

What about people who want to leave their previous field and train for a new kind of job?

People have about four months (until the latest round of unemployment benefit extensions expires). If they want to retrain, this is a great opportunity. They know they'll be supported, it counts as work search, and they can continue to get their benefits. It's a unique opportunity.

We actually developed a list that's on the website ... just all the trainings that are four months or less that people can sign up for. 

How do claimants prove they are searching for work?

It's different on the different systems. And in the UI system, UI.nv ... there's a form that you fill out with sort of the day-to-day activity that you undertook — which business you approached or training you did. So you just fill out that form at the beginning of your application.

In PUA, it's a checkbox certification that you have done the activities, which makes sense, because … if you are in the gig worker side, you're not so much applying for jobs as doing some of these other activities like networking, putting your profile online, that sort of thing. You have to keep track of that input still in case you get asked about what you're doing. But you're basically certifying each week that you are undertaking those activities.

Does this apply to all programs, including Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), extended benefits and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)?

Yes. To be clear, everyone needs to be doing something to prepare to go back to work.

What should people do if they are in a field, such as live entertainment, that has not fully come back by May?

If there really are very few jobs out there in live entertainment, for example, I would encourage people to apply for them, just because there are few and it's a long shot. One, you might get it, which would be great. And two, it's always good to sort of keep these skills going, of applying for jobs and interviewing.  

There are a lot of related activities, like networking, updating your resume, even adding skills.

Some of these shows may not come back for quite a long time, but we know the unemployment benefits are ending in September ... I think it's important for folks to think about ‘What does Nevada look like in the future? And do I have all the tools that I need and all the skills I need ... to sort of make sure I'm able to work and be successful going forward?’ 

We really see it as an opportunity right now. And hopefully, we're prompting a lot of folks to think about ‘What does the future look like? And what ... do I need to be successful?’

What if a claimant expects a prior job to come back, but not for several more months? Do they still have to search for work?

You have to do work search activities. Again, there are quite a few things you could do that don't involve actually literally applying for a job, like retraining. And especially with PUA, we did ask the Department of Labor for additional guidance, because those are really sort of a unique situation. And because it's a new program, we haven't gotten the guidance there. They're still developing it. 

So right now we have to go with — what else could you be doing, like networking, like ... creating a profile online for your self employment gig. 

Your Cirque show might not come back, but there might be one off activities that you could be doing. It is asking folks to think about sort of how the world has changed and what other possible avenues there are for them. 

But to be clear, there's nowhere where we're telling people they should take jobs that are not appropriate. That's not what this is about.

What if you can’t get a COVID vaccine and fear contracting COVID if you return to work?

With all of our programs, there's a lot of guidance around the various elements of the requirements. So work searches — you have to be doing work search activities to continue to claim your benefits. And then there's a refusal to work — if you refuse a suitable job, then you would not be able to continue to collect unemployment. 

And then of course, there's an exception to that, which is COVID exceptions. So if you've got an underlying health condition or a COVID-related reason for not accepting a job that otherwise would be suitable, under the current regulations, that is allowed. 

If there's a protest, you're probably into adjudication and then somebody evaluates … the reasonableness of all of it. 

There are medical reasons not to be vaccinated and not to go back into the workforce, and that is also protected by the regulations.

Are employers supposed to report claimants who don’t accept a suitable offer?

That's always been the standard.

It comes back to a reasonableness question. If it fits into your skill set, something you would have done in the past, and it's a salary that is a reasonable salary, something you've made before, not significantly less than you made before, then the employer reports that as a refuse to work. 

There has to be a bona fide job offer. It can't just be ‘I posted a job online and you didn't take it.’ That's not what it is. It's you were offered a specific job, with specific duties, and a specific salary, that a reasonable person would consider a good fit, and you refused — then essentially, you've taken yourself out of the job market at that point, if you're not taking, basically, the job you had before.

What resources is DETR offering to help people connect to a job? Are JobConnect offices open yet for in-person visits?

We still have a lot of those [JobConnect] folks redeployed working on unemployment claims, because we still have some work to do, and especially getting through the UI adjudications. So the JobConnect offices are not opening immediately. 

But what is available are all of the online services. So if people go through EmployNV.gov, all of the online resources are there, the work on your resume piece, the access to all the training that's listed is there. And then we have partnerships with local workforce boards and organizations that are really helping us … many of them are reopening or have services available in the local community. 

Does DETR staff review every single weekly claim to verify people are meeting the work search requirement, or is it more of a spot check?

I'm pretty sure it's a spot check.

Whenever you're filling out a form with us, you're sort of certifying that you're telling the truth. And misrepresenting things on your unemployment application is not a good way to go. 

And then in PUA, you'll be certifying that you have the activities and that if called, you can show us your documentation of the activities that you're undertaking. So we do encourage people to keep track. 

There's a couple ways to do it. There is a form that's available on the EmployNV site. You could download and print and just track there, or put it in a spreadsheet, however you want to keep track of it, but you just need to keep track of it.

If you sign into EmployNV, it keeps track of your activities. If you can apply for jobs there, it will keep track of that. You can go to the trainings, it'll keep track of that. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We're just in a period that's so much bigger than just what DETR is doing. The whole state, the whole economy is really changing. It's going to be a challenging transition. And for so many of us, whether we were ever unemployed or not, the world is going to look a little bit different after COVID. 

And so we're all trying to make it work out and work better. We really want to focus as much as we can on this opportunity of this time, where the benefits are still there and the training and the support is there for folks. 

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