COVID-19: Can I Get Unemployment Benefits?

General Eligibility Requirements For Unemployment Benefits

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many employers are being forced to lay off, furlough, and/or reduce employee hours as a result of slow or nonexistent business. If you find yourself out of work, or working a reduced work schedule through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to unemployment insurance (UI) benefits and should file a claim with the California Employment Development Department (EDD) https://edd.ca.gov/ Benefits range from $40 to $450 per week depending on your earnings history within the base period, and other factors, such as whether you are receiving any wages or pay. Although there is normally a one week waiting period for unemployment benefits, the order issued by the California Governor waived that period.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must meet the eligibility requirements including that you:

  • Earned enough wages during the base period to establish a claim;
  • Have legal authorization to work in the U.S.;
  • Are totally or partially unemployed;
  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own;
  • Are physically able to work;
  • Are available for work;
  • Are ready and willing to accept work immediately; and
  • Are actively looking for work (note: this may not apply if you are working reduced hours)

 

Reduced Hours

If your employer reduces your hours due to COVID-19, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits. Even if you are still working some hours, you may be entitled to partial wage replacement. If you expect to return to work with your employer within a few weeks, you must meet the eligibility requirements listed above, but you are not required to actively seek work each week. However, you must able and available to work during each week that you receive unemployment benefits.

Generally, to be eligible for partial unemployment benefits, your hours must be reduced by at least 50%. However, because of the continuing developments, we suggest that if you have suffered any wage loss due to your hours or pay being cut, you should file an unemployment claim to determine if you are eligible.

 

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Under the recently passed federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which was enacted on March 27, you may be eligible for an additional $600 per week, on top of the regular unemployment amount, through the end of July. In addition, the CARES Act extended unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks.

It is unclear how this benefit will be paid, and to date, the California EDD is awaiting guidance from the Department of Labor. We recommend that you continue to check for updates on the EDD website: https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm

 

Independent Contractors

Typically, independent contractors are not eligible for unemployment benefits (and their employers don’t pay unemployment insurance payroll taxes).

Under the recently passed federal CARES act, independent contractors may be eligible for unemployment insurance as well as the additional $600 per week provided for under that new law.

In addition, there have been a lot of changes to the law on who can properly be classified as an independent contractor in California. If you have been classified as an independent contractor, it may be that this was inappropriate and you may be reclassified as an employee, and therefore entitled to receive unemployment benefits.

At the moment, California’s EDD website has not been updated to include the new provisions for independent contractors, but if you are out of work, or working a reduced work scheduled due to COVID-19, you should apply for unemployment insurance.

 

Self-Employed Workers

As with independent contractors, normally self-employed workers are not entitled to unemployment insurance (and do not pay unemployment insurance payroll taxes). However, under the CARES Act, many self-employed individuals will qualify for unemployment insurance as well as the additional $600 per week benefit for up to four months. 

At the moment, California’s EDD website has not been updated to include the new provisions for independent contractors, but if you are out of work, or working a reduced work scheduled due to COVID-19, you should apply for unemployment insurance.

 

Undocumented Employees

Unfortunately, undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment insurance. However, under California law undocumented workers may be entitled to income from State Disability Insurance (SDI) (https://www.edd.ca.gov/disability/), Paid Family Leave (https://www.edd.ca.gov/disability/paid_family_leave.htm), Workers’ Compensation (https://www.dir.ca.gov/dwc/)  and Paid Sick days (https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/paid_sick_leave.htm)

 

Quit Your Job?

Normally, if you quit your job, unless you did so for very limited reasons, you will not be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. However, under the expanded coverage of the CARES Act, employees who quit because they contracted COVID-19, or because they were required to leave their job to provide full-time care to family and other relatives but did not have access to paid leave benefits, may be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits. Prior to quitting your job, you should see, what other possibilities may be available to you including FMLA/CFRA, Paid Family Leave, and the expanded child care leave under the FFCRA. Blog Article: New Protections for Workers Under the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act

Because changes are occurring daily, we recommend that you continue to check the EDD website for updates at https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019.htm