How unemployment benefits could help keep you afloat if your job is impacted by coronavirus



As the threat of the novel coronavirus looms over the workforce, many working people are concerned about balancing their financial stability and the need to stay home from work in order to prevent the spread of the virus. For many workers who don’t receive paid sick leave, staying home from work is impossible.

Restaurant servers are wondering: “Am I eligible for unemployment if my restaurant closes for several weeks?” Gig workers are concerned: “If I’m required to quarantine, how can I get paid?” Other employees in the service, tourism, and airline industries are facing temporary schedule cuts and wonder if it’s possible to collect unemployment even if they’ll be returning to their jobs in the future.

Luckily, your state’s unemployment office may be able to provide some relief, and laws are currently changing to accommodate coronavirus-related claims.

New Coronavirus-Related Guidance

On Thursday, March 12, the Department of Labor announced new guidance to provide “significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide [unemployment insurance] (UI) benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19 [the disease associated with the novel coronavirus].” Under this guidance, states may amend their UI laws so that you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits in the following cases:

  • Your employer temporarily ceases operations due to coronavirus-related concerns, preventing you from going to work
  • You are exposed to the coronavirus and are required to quarantine by a medical professional, with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over
  • You are unable to go to work due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member

In addition, states like Washington have relaxed the “work search” requirements normally associated with unemployment benefits — which require you to demonstrate you are looking for work — for those required to quarantine by a medical professional, provided you intend to return to work after the quarantine period.

State laws determine who qualifies for unemployment, and their laws vary substantially. The process for applying for unemployment also varies from state to state, and many require you to have worked a certain number of hours in the past year to collect benefits. Generally, you will only find out how much assistance you will receive after you file a claim and receive an unemployment claim determination.

At this time, requirements for collecting unemployment benefits are changing rapidly at both the state and local levels. If your ability to work is impacted by coronavirus, and you meet the criteria above, it’s a good idea to file a claim and familiarize yourself with your state’s laws.

To find out more about the law, your eligibility and the process of collecting benefits in your state, click here.

Ensuring that you’re eligible

Sometimes employers offer workers they’re terminating an option to resign so the employers don’t have to pay increased unemployment insurance premiums or announce layoffs. If your priority is to be able to receive unemployment, put in writing that you have no intention of quitting; be sure to bcc your personal email so you have a record.

Sample letter:

I was very surprised and saddened to be laid off on [date]. While our team has experienced its share of challenges, I have been fully committed to working here for the past [length of your employment]. I want to make it clear that I am not quitting and did not resign.

When is a good time to discuss my severance?

Thank you for the opportunity to work together.

You can ask how your employers will refer to your lay off when speaking to the state unemployment office. You can ask the company to agree to not fight your unemployment application. If your former employer refutes your unemployment claim, each state unemployment office has an appeals process.

If you are struggling with a coronavirus-related issue at work, consider reaching out to our team to share your experience at [email protected].