A local agency that serves job seekers and employers in Livingston County says it remains open to help but only virtual services are being offered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director of Michigan Works! Southeast Bill Sleight says for the safety of their customers, staff and the general public; they feel it’s best to respond to issues by phone or other virtual means. Sleight says it was a difficult decision that had to be done for public safety but they’ll continue to work with both employers and job seekers and help businesses fill jobs. If a company is laying people off, he says they can work with employees and provide information. While they won’t go on site, Sleight says they can provide services virtually or drop off information. He stressed they’re here to help employers with issues when it comes to laying people off or putting them on leave but also for the job seekers can help them find new or temporary jobs. Sleight added that if someone is in a position where want to look for a new careers or options, they can also help with job training and career counseling.

Sleight tells WHMI there are job openings but certainly the most pressing concern for most of their customers is filing for unemployment insurance. Sleight spoke with state leaders recently and says they’re doing everything they can to beef up the system such as adding capacity to their servers and adding more people to answer phones - it’s just unprecedented times and unprecedented measures.

Sleight says there are employers hiring right now and there are job openings - although some are temporary to deal with all of the issues with distribution systems and various stores and restaurants going to delivery services. He tells WHMI Amazon, Kroger, Meijer and other companies are hiring because of the increased demands they’re seeing for their services. For people looking for new jobs, Sleight says people can work with their career advisors and talk to staff for help with resumes and job search skills. He says they’re also putting together a number of virtual workshops and other online tools for their website. He noted it’s really not necessary for individuals to come in to the office and they can help people navigate through the unemployment process if they’re having trouble but can do that via phone just as easily.

Sleight says to the credit of the state and federal government, both have taken a number of steps to help those filing for unemployment and reduce the burden on them. He noted it’s no longer required that those applying for unemployment assistance in Michigan report to Michigan Works! as a condition of opening a claim and they also don’t need to meet work search requirements – meaning they don’t need to be looking for a job. With those restrictions lifted, Slight says it’s not really necessary for people to visit their office.

Sleight says virtually anyone getting laid off because of the COVID-19 issue will qualify for unemployment - which is in response to some of the Governor’s executive orders that were issued. Sleight advises people to just apply, even if they have doubts, as an unemployment insurance agent will tell them if they qualify or not. He added that most everyone they’re seeing now will qualify if they’ve been laid off because of the COVID-19 issue. Sleight encourages anyone applying to be patient through the process as the system is overloaded and wasn’t made to handle more than 100,000 claims in one week through the phone-in system or online. He says the system is slow because it just wasn’t set up to handle this volume of action so people really just need to be patient and work through the process, suggesting they maybe go online at low demand times late at night or early in the morning. Sleight stressed that people will not lose benefits if they don’t file right away – he says the benefits will still be there for them so just keep trying to apply. He noted huge numbers of claims are being processed, even though the system is slow, but people will eventually get through and get their claim filed.

Sleight added that employers don’t need to lay people off but can instead put them on a leave of absence for 120 days so they still have some form of attachment to the company. He says workers will still get unemployment benefits but it does help with some other issues that could help them retain healthcare benefits. Sleight advises employers to place employees on a leave of absence instead of separating them entirely and look into work share programs. Sleight says the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency has some guidance online for placing people on a leave of absence versus laying people off as well as the work share program. For example, instead of laying 10 people off because there’s only enough work for 5, employers can reduce the hours of the workforce and share the load. Sleight says then those workers can qualify for some unemployment benefits to make up some of the wages lost from not working all of their hours.

Sleight assured they’re here to help and people can call their Howell office at 517-546-7450. He says they’ll be glad to connect people with expert staff and do the best they can during these difficult times. A link to the Michigan Works! Southeast website is provided.