Legislature Approves Unemployment System Upgrades, COVID Legal Immunity for Businesses

The state Legislature has approved a plan to once again waive Wisconsin’s one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits, as well as move forward with updating the archaic technology behind Wisconsin’s unemployment system, and to give businesses and schools legal immunity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state Assembly voted 89-0 in support of the bill, which includes all three provisions, on Tuesday afternoon. The plan passed the state Senate last week and now moves to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk for his signature.

The proposal approved Tuesday does not include any state funding to begin the upgrades. Instead, it requires the workforce department to exhaust any available federal funds first and return to the Legislature’s state budget committee with a specific price tag for completing the work.

The bill would also extend a waiver of the state’s one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits until March 13. The waiting period is currently back in effect after a previous suspension, approved in last year’s COVID-19 response bill, ended Feb. 7.

Supporters of the plan argue it will protect them against frivolous lawsuits brought by people who cannot prove where they contracted the virus.

“For a lot of businesses, it’s just the risk of (lawsuits),” said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam. “They just want certainty, they want to know they’re doing the things they need to do to keep their employees and their customers safe, but they don’t want frivolous lawsuits hanging over their heads.”