COVID-19 Resources for Unemployed and Frontline Workers 

In this unprecedented moment, workers are coming together to fight for their health, safety, and economic security. For 50 years, NELP has advocated in partnership with working people and we believe the only way forward is together. We are in this with you. Please use and share these resources for unemployed and frontline workers. Check back frequently for updated materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have lost my job or my hours have been reduced. Can I get unemployment insurance?

Unemployment Insurance, commonly referred to as UI, is a benefit earned by workers during their employment that is intended to be paid out to the worker if they become unemployed. UI temporarily provides workers who have lost their jobs involuntarily with income to replace a part of their wages.

A new federal law has created an emergency unemployment assistance program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). PUA was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic in order to provide income to unemployed workers who are left out of regular state UI or who have run out of their state UI benefits.This includes people who are self-employed (ie, independent contractors and freelancers), as well as those who have irregular or insufficient work histories to qualify them for regular state UI benefits. In many states, app-based or other 1099 or “gig” workers should be considered “employees” and eligible for regular UI. In the states where they have been carved out of protection, they may receive PUA.

This new law also created Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC). PUC is an extra $600/week that will be paid to all workers receiving state UI, PUA, or Short-Time Compensation (work-sharing benefits). PUC will be paid starting the week ending April 4 and though the week ending July 26th. It is a flat rate and will not be pro-rated for anyone receiving any sort of partial benefit of they are only partially losing their hours and wages.

The other program it created is Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) which provides workers who have run out of regular state UI benefits with an extra 13 weeks of benefits.

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Could I qualify for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?

There are many ways you might qualify: 

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis.  
  • You had to quit your job(s) because you have tested positive for the coronavirus or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and cannot telework. 
  • You had to quit your job(s) due to coming in direct contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus or have been diagnosed by a medical professional as having COVID-19, and, on the advice of a qualified medical health professional you must quit in order to quarantine.  
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.  
  • You are providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.  
  • You have primary caregiving responsibility for a child or other person in your home who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and that caregiving prevents you from working. 
  • You are unable to reach your place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  
  • You are unable to reach your place of employment because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.   
  • You were scheduled to start a job but now cannot start that job due to the coronavirus. 
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.  
  • You had to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19. For example, if you were diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and after the infection passes, it caused health complications that make it impossible for you to perform your old job. 
  • Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  
  • You are classified as an independent contractor or are self-employed and are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited your ability to do the work you usually do.   
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I am working but am worried about my health and safety on the job. What can I do?

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have issued guidelines for employers to follow to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

This toolkit, Worker Safety & Health During COVID-19 Pandemic, explains what employers should do to protect workers. For example, in all non-healthcare workplaces, employers should ensure that workers are six feet apart, provide you with cotton masks or allow you to bring in your own cotton masks, place hand sanitizers around your workplace, and provide time for you to sanitize workstations.

If your employer is not providing these measures, or workers are getting sick in your workplace, you and your co-workers can join together to demand that your employer provide these measures. The NELP toolkit and this FAQ: Immigrant Workers’ Rights and COVID-19 contain information about workers’ rights to engage in legally protected collective action.

If the employer fails to implement protections, you can also file administrative complaints:

  • Call your local county health department and let them know the employer is not protecting workers from the spread of COVID-19. Inform them of any cases in your workplace.
  • File a complaint with OSHA. However, OSHA is not conducting inspections for violations of CDC guidelines in non-health care workplaces related to COVID-19. However, they may conduct an inspection if the company is violating existing OSHA standards — such as the standard to provide soap and water. They will only contact your employer by email or phone, but they will keep your name confidential.

The complaint should detail how the workplace is violating the OSHA and CDC guidelines. The complaint should also list any existing OSHA standards the employer is violating. The worker, or a representative of the worker (e.g., a union, worker center, legal advocate, or family member), can file a complaint by phone or through the OSHA website.

If your immune system is compromised because you have a serious health condition and you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine in order to avoid the greater-than-average health risks if you were to contract COVID-19, you should be able to remain home and apply for unemployment insurance.

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I am an immigrant worker and have lost my job. Am I eligible for unemployment insurance?

To be eligible for regular state unemployment insurance (UI), immigrant workers must satisfy the same basic requirements as other workers.

  • First, they must be unemployed “through no fault of their own.”
  • Second, they must have enough wages earned or hours worked in their “base period” to establish a claim.
  • Third, they must be “able and available” to work.

The general rule is that workers must have valid work authorization during the period they were working, at the time that they apply for benefits, and throughout the period during which they are receiving benefits.

It is still unclear whether more stringent requirements might apply to federal unemployment insurance under PUA.

Under the current state and federal systems, undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment benefits. For more information, see NELP’s fact sheet: Immigrant Workers’ Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance.

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I filed for unemployment insurance but was denied. What can I do?

If you are rejected, especially if you earned any W-2 wages, you should file an appeal. When the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance application is available in your state, you may need to re-apply for that assistance, or your state might reconsider your rejected claim.

Check with your state agency for more information. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance covers far more workers than regular unemployment insurance.

If you are still rejected, file an appeal. That information should be available on your state website and it is your right to appeal whether you are informed of that right or not.

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Learn more about Unemployment Insurance

FAQ for Workers: Unemployment Insurance

Resources to Learn More about Unemployment Eligibility

  • Are you out of work because of COVID-19? Read this fact sheet to find out more about new and expanded unemployment benefits.
  • What are the three new unemployment insurance programs in the CARES Act? This fact sheet explains the programs created in the latest federal stimulus bill in three languages:
    ENGLISHSPANISH | CHINESE
  • What are the existing laws and new changes state unemployment programs have made? Download this data brief for a state-by-state summary.
  • What else do I you need to know about the CARES Act? Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus What you need to know about the CARES Act AFLCIO-Relief-for-Workers-CARES-Act-Chart

Resources for Immigrant Workers

Learn More about Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave

FAQs are for workers about the various benefits they may be entitled to during this pandemic, and whether they should apply.

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