How to file for unemployment during a pandemic

Coronavirus

Navigating Oregon and Washington's unemployment benefits

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — With businesses facing temporary or potential permanent closures across the country amid the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people may be asking themselves what options are out there in terms of receiving unemployment insurance (U.I.) benefits if they get laid off.

The U.S. Treasury Department said Wednesday it wants to set aside $500 billion for direct payments to Americans as soon as next month as part of a stimulus package to curb the economic fallout the virus may cause. Another bill that would provide sick leave to workers impacted by the virus also passed both houses of Congress and now awaits President Donald Trump’s signature. Even so, some may experience a permanent or prolonged job loss due to the outbreak and wish to sign up for state benefits for unemployment.

Job openings for those out of work due to COVID-19 response

For those in the Pacific Northwest, both Oregon and Washington state have laid out detailed information about available services — and any changes or enhancements to those services — for those seeking U.I. benefits in response to COVID-19. The two states, as well as the U.S., have declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

Oregon

On Wednesday, the Oregon Employment Department enacted temporary rules to make U.I. benefits available during temporary layoffs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. Employees can get U.I. benefits if a business is closed for a short period of time — like for cleaning after a coronavirus exposure or by government requirement.

Under these new, temporary rules workers can get U.I. benefits and don’t need to seek work elsewhere if their place of employment is only closed temporarily. Workers must still be able to work, stay in contact with their employer and be available to work when called back.

Click here for more information about the new rules or to file an online claim.

Those whose employers have temporarily closed, but have also ceased contact with their employer, may be eligible for U.I. benefits if they are actively looking for alternative employment. This may require keeping a written work search log during the layoff period.

For those forced to remain in their house, either due to sickness or being under quarantine, for more than half the week, they would not be able to receive U.I. benefits as it would render them unable to be available for work. O.E.D. is currently working with partner agencies nationwide and the U.S. Department of Labor to seek benefit options for those missing work while quarantined as of this writing.

An employee being paid by their employer to stay away from the worksite is also ineligible to receive benefits.

If an employee chooses to not come into work because of the risk of coronavirus, even if the employer remains open, they could potentially be eligible for benefits depending on the situation.

Those who are allowed to work from home to reduce the risk of getting coronavirus but don’t want to work offsite are generally not eligible for U.I. benefits.

Employees who are actively on vacation or other paid leave while the employer is closed are also ineligible.

In terms of employees being eligible to take sick leave due to contracting COVID-19, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries has stated on their website that most Oregon employers must generally allow 40 hours of protected sick leave each year. That could be unpaid sick leave or paid sick leave if the employer has at least 10 employees in Oregon (or six if they operate in Portland).

If a worker contracts COVID-19 from their workplace, they should contact the Workers’ Compensation Division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services in regard to filing a workers’ compensation claim. The agency can be reached at 800-452-0288 or workcomp.questions@oregon.gov.

Employees who become seriously ill with COVID-19 and must quit their jobs would generally not be eligible for U.I. benefits.

If the employer goes out of business as a result of COVID-19, an employee could be eligible for U.I. benefits.

Since self-employed individuals don’t normally pay Unemployment Insurance taxes, they are not eligible for benefits if they become out of work due to COVID-19.

School workers who are out of work due to closures could be eligible for U.I. benefits without actively seeking work with other employers, though they must be able to work, stay in contact with their employer during the temporary layoff and be available to work when called back. The benefits aren’t available during the normal spring break period, in which schools would normally be closed, however.

A home healthcare worker may file for U.I. benefits, but eligibility may vary and are determined on a case-by-case basis.

So what happens if you get sick with coronavirus or are quarantined because you had contact with someone who was sick? Oregon’s sick leave law allows for five days of paid sick leave per year if your company has at least 10 employees. In Portland, the company only needs to have six workers.

But the state’s paid sick leave law isn’t enough when the quarantine time is at least 14 days.

Extending benefits is one of the issues Oregon legislators will discuss during an upcoming special session. The federal government is working on a solution as well.

“I need to be clear: our need far outweighs our resources,” said Gail Krumenauer with the Oregon Employment Division.

Oregon Family Leave Act changes

Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle and the Bureau of Labor and Industries took emergency measures on Wednesday to update the Oregon Family Leave Act to ensure families can take protected time off during the coronavirus school closures.

The Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) provides for time off to care for a sick child for an illness, injury, or condition that is not serious, and as included explicitly today, for school closures by order of a public health official for a public emergency even if the individual child is not sick.

OFLA time is protected but unpaid. Workers can use any accrued paid time they have. Oregonians who work for an employer that has at least 25 employees are eligible for OFLA.

Click here for more information about the temporary policy.

Washington State

According to Washington State’s Employment Security Department’s website, the agency has adopted a series of emergency rules to relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine for workers and businesses. The organization announced Tuesday it is temporarily converting to an all-virtual service model due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency also said it expects to see an adverse effect on employment due to the virus.

Eligibility for U.I. benefits is determined on a case-by-case basis, in most cases.

For those who need to take time off work because they contracted COVID-19, their employers’ paid sick leave is the best option, the state says. If leave isn’t available from the employer, the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) may be available.

Workers who are asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID-19, but are not sick, may be eligible for U.I. benefits if they are not receiving sick leave from their employer. It may not be necessary to search for work if the employee is able to return to the job as soon as isolation or quarantine is lifted, though the worker must be able to accept any work offered by the employer which does not break quarantine.

Employees whose place of work has temporarily shut down because of an employee sick with COVID-19 may also be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Those whose employers go out of business because of the pandemic may also be eligible for U.I. benefits.

Workers who are temporarily laid off because of business slow down as a result of COVID-19 may also be eligible for benefits.

Those with an anticipated date for return to work may be eligible for standby pay for all full-time, part-time employees and other less than full-time employees, as part of the emergency rules put in place in response to COVID-19.

Those who contract COVID-19 on the job should see information from the state’s Department of Labor and Industries information on Workers’ Compensation website.

Workers who become so ill from COVID-19 that they must quit their job are not eligible for U.I. benefits until such time that they are able and available to work again. However, they may still be eligible for the state’s PFML.

There is also more leniency with regard to many U.I. claim deadlines under the emergency rules put in place as a result of COVID-19.

If someone already receiving U.I. benefits becomes sick with COVID-19, or must care for someone with the illness, they may become ineligible to continue receiving the benefits. But they may be eligible for the state’s PFML instead (in such a case, the person cannot receive both U.I. benefits and PFML in the same week).

In addition, school workers who are not being paid while their place of work is closed under emergency orders may be eligible for benefits, or partial benefits, depending on the circumstance.

Workers who are fired or laid off for being unable to go to work because they must care for their child while a school closure occurs, and don’t have childcare, may be eligible for U.I. benefits. But they are required to being able, available and actively seeking work.

Substitute teachers who are no longer able to work due to school closures may also be eligible for unemployment, if they are able, available and actively seeking work each week.

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