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 more than 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.

From February 2020 to September 2021, this included 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.

Even after the federal pandemic programs expired, in many states, app-based or other 1099 or “gig” workers should be considered “employees” and eligible for regular UI.

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I am working but am worried about my health and safety on the job. What can I do?

Stunningly, the federal agency in charge of ensuring that employers provide safe conditions and protect workers from serious hazards—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)—has abdicated its responsibility for protecting workers in this pandemic. The agency has failed to issue any COVID-19-related safety provisions that employers must implement. Further, even though over 8,000 workers filed complaints with OSHA asking for an inspection of their workplace due to COVID-19 hazards, OSHA has only done a handful of on-site inspections. Existing worker protections are grossly inadequate to ensure safe workplaces and protect workers who speak up about hazards.

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. But OSHA is not even requiring that employers follow the specific CDC guidance for employers.

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.

While federal pandemic unemployment benefits were available, if your immune system was compromised because you had a serious health condition and you were 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 have been 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 involuntarily unemployed.
  • 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.

If you were found ineligible for regular state UI you may have been eligible for PUA benefits.

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.

Check with your state agency for more information. 

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

  • What are the existing laws and new changes state unemployment programs have made? Download this data brief for a state-by-state summary.

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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