With the expiry of pandemic unemployment programs (PUA, PEUC and $300 FPUC) and resurgence of COVID-Omicron cases, many workers are asking if they would qualify for unemployment if they are unable to work and/or face a full or partial loss of income.
Under the Pandemic programs, the answer was YES – after all that was one of the key reasons Congress created these federally funded unemployment programs. But following expiry of these programs, the answer is NO as you can see in the sections below.
COVID related absence after expiry of pandemic unemployment programs (under traditional state unemployment)
Individuals who test positive for Covid-19 and stay home to recover and isolate from others aren’t eligible for traditional state unemployment benefits because they don’t meet the key criteria that they be “able and available” for work to qualify and certify for the assistance.
Instead employers are meant to provide employees with sick leave (paid or unpaid) to cover missed absences due to COVID. This is because unemployment insurance benefits are not intended to be used as paid sick leave according to guidance from the US Labor Department to state workforce agencies.
COVID sickness and absence under Pandemic Unemployment Programs (now expired)
Several employers and business’ are reopening as states relax lock-down laws and/or as the government starts making more progress on getting small business PPP loans disbursed. As a result more and more workers are being asked to return to work and are about it start getting paid by their employer. But many of these workers are also now getting unemployment insurance along with the extra $600 per week payment, which in total could be more than what they make if they return to work! Furthermore safety concerns around getting Coronavirus are giving pause to many older workers and those with direct or indirect family health issues.
Unemployment insurance benefit rules across almost all states are pretty clear that if an employee returns to work full time, they would not be eligible for UI benefits and should stop requesting payment once they begin working. However there is an exception if an employee returns to part time work, where they may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits because of reduced hours and pay. The amount of wages they receive based on what their employer is paying under their new reopening conditions (subject to constraints with their PPP loan), would determine if they are eligible or not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
As a reminder, the additional weekly payment will occur automatically (unless specified by state unemployment site) for anybody eligible for any amount of state unemployment benefits — even as little as $1. The payments, including retroactive or backdated payments for eligible weeks, will continue through July 31.
If an employee doesn’t feel safe going back to work, they may be able to still be eligible for unemployment insurance compensation under new COVID-19 emergency provisions. The local state unemployment agency will evaluate cases on an individual basis (which could delay payments), against the following eligible employee refusal reasons under COVID-19 protection provisions:
- The employee or one of their household members is in a “At High Risk” category, which refers to people 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19 (Source DSHS website).
- The worker or a household member was/is diagnosed with COVID – the individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by as confirmed via an officially recognized and is not recovered or still in the quarantine period (14 days).
- Child care – Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.
Also note that business’ who follow government mandated safety measures will likely be recognized as providing “suitable” work conditions for their employees. So employers are within their rights to call workers back to their former jobs under the same conditions of their pre-Coronavirus setup. In this scenario it will be hard for most workers to refuse going back to work, unless they meet PUA criteria above, which could mean losing all existing and any kind of unemployment benefits.