What Employees Need to Know About Unemployment During COVID-19

What Employees Need to Know About Unemployment During COVID-19

If you’ve lost your employment because of the coronavirus, you’re not the only one. Over 38 million people nationwide have filed for unemployment insurance (UI) over the past two months. Fortunately, the emergency relief bill that the government passed in March had made it easier for those who are out of work because of the pandemic to claim and keep unemployment insurance benefits.

Before the stimulus package was passed, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) provided unemployment benefits to people who were out of work for up to 26 weeks. The amount per week was determined by the individual’s income while working.

The stimulus package added an additional $600 per week on top of what the state’s UI program provided, and an additional 13 weeks. So, someone who applied for UI in Illinois and would regularly be provided with $135 per week for 26 weeks would now be eligible for $735 per week for 39 weeks. Another bill recently passed in the U.S. House that would further expand unemployment benefits, but it has yet to pass the Senate.

Am I eligible for unemployment insurance?

You are covered by the new stimulus package and eligible to receive UI if:

  • Your workplace closed due to the shelter-in-place order because it was a non-essential business;
  • You are unable to work because you need to care for children who are at home resulting from school closures;
  • You had accepted a job offer but were unable to start your new employment because of the pandemic;
  • You have COVID-19, or are experiencing symptoms and seeking diagnosis, or you are caring for a household member with COVID-19 symptoms, and are unable to work for fear of spreading the disease; or
  • You cannot go to work because a healthcare professional has instructed you to self-quarantine.

Part-time workers and self-employed workers may also be eligible for unemployment insurance because of the new bill. In short, if you are unemployed or partly unemployed because you are unable to work due to the coronavirus, you should be covered.

Am I ineligible for unemployment insurance?

People who are newly entering the workforce and applying for unemployment are not eligible. Neither are people who are able to do their jobs from home, or people who quit their jobs.

If you quit your job because you are afraid of contracting the virus, you are not eligible. But before resigning employment, it is always best to work with your employer to ensure the workplace is secure and that you and your colleagues are provided with all necessary safeguards, such as personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks. If your employer was not abiding by workplace safety standards (such as those set by OSHA or the CDC) and you resigned because you felt you were being compelled to work in unsafe conditions, you might have an employment claim and should contact an attorney.

If, however, a healthcare professional has recommended that you self-quarantine because, for example, you are a member of a high-risk population, you may still be eligible for unemployment. We recommend getting a doctor’s note recommending self-quarantine if this is your situation. Make sure to retain as much written documentation as possible, including e-mail correspondence with your employer, that you can provide to IDES if needed. Ultimately, the only way to know if you qualify with certainty is to apply.

How do I apply?

In Illinois, you find general information about UI on the IDES website and particular guidance on filing a claim on this page. Make sure to read IDES’ “10 Things You Should Know” page before you get started. If you live in another state, check this website to find out how to apply, and for more information about your state’s unemployment laws.

Contact our office if you have particular questions about how the new emergency relief bills may affect you or if you had to leave your place of work due to unsafe working conditions.

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