Can I collect unemployment benefits if I leave my job because of COVID-19?

Unemployment insurance programs are generally administered by the states, with eligibility rules that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The federal government has taken a role in temporarily expanding unemployment benefits eligibility during the COVID-19 crisis.  The following general principles apply in all situations, but you should always check with your local and state affiliate for the specific rules in your state.

If you want to claim unemployment benefits, states traditionally require you to show (1) that you became unemployed through no fault of your own (meaning you did not quit or get fired for serious misconduct), (2) that you meet certain thresholds for work and pay history, and (3) that you are able, available, and actively seeking work.

Shortly after the COVID-19 crisis began, Congress passed the CARES Act, which expands the grounds on which a worker can be considered eligible for unemployment. Even if a worker does not qualify for unemployment under the state’s usual standards, she can still qualify for benefits under the CARES Act if she leaves her job because:

  • she has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • a member of her household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • she is providing care for a family member or member of her household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • a child or other person for whom she has primary caregiving responsibilities is unable to attend school or a caretaking facility because it is closed as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • a quarantine prevents her from reaching their place of employment;
  • a health care provider advised her to self-quarantine, thereby preventing them from reaching their place of employment;
  • she was scheduled to commence employment but no longer has the job or is unable to reach it as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • she became the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • she quit her job as a direct result of COVID-19 (g., she contracted COVID-19 and no longer has the disease, but the illness caused health complications that leave her unable to work); or
  • her place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19-19.

Notably, the CARES Act does not make you eligible for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job out of a general concern about exposure to COVID-19.

How much will I receive from unemployment and how long will the benefits last?

Each state has its own formula for determining the amount of the benefit you would receive under either traditional unemployment or the CARES Act. The CARES Act also added $600 per week to the amount calculated under the state unemployment benefits formula, but that supplemental funding is due to expire on July 31, 2020.

The duration of benefits is also generally determined by each state. Many states require a one-week waiting period before benefits begin and allow benefits to continue for up to 26 weeks. But, at least until December 31, 2020, the CARES Act will provide funding for states to waive the one-week waiting period and extend benefits up 39 weeks.

Q: Where do I apply for unemployment benefits?

You apply for benefits with your state unemployment agency.

Additional information about your rights can be found here: 

Always check with your local and state associations about additional rights you may have under state laws, collective bargaining agreements or memorandums of understanding with the employer, or policies.  If you believe your rights have been violated or you need assistance filing a legal complaint, you should contact an attorney for legal advice

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