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A look at benefits available to workers displaced by coronavirus

Mar 24, 2020

The federal and state governments and private sector employers are providing benefits to workers impacted by the coronavirus to provide a safe working environment and avoid economic hardship.

Here is a summary of the key initiatives to date.

Employer initiatives

Some companies are expanding the benefits they provide by offering sick leave and paid time off to workers who otherwise wouldn’t qualify.

State initiatives

State Departments of Labor in highly impacted states are providing expanded unemployment benefits to laid-off workers and are relaxing the work search requirements for employees who are ill or in quarantine. States are also implementing measures to help businesses. 

Federal government initiatives

The federal government has passed legislation that will expand leave benefits, ensure food security, cover coronavirus testing costs, and aid small businesses.

Legislation that provides two weeks of paid sick leave and up to three months of family and medical leave, free virus testing and additional funds for food assistance and Medicaid has been approved.

The Department of Labor has issued new guidelines outlining flexibilities that states have in administering unemployment insurance (UI) programs to help workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.  This grants states the ability to change guidelines it does not require it, so you need to check the applicable state for details. 

The Treasury Department has asked Congress for $500 billion, which would be paid directly to American taxpayers. Details are pending, but two checks are expected to be sent to taxpayers, the first in April and another in May.

Sick time and sick pay

Eligibility for sick leave from work, paid or unpaid, depends on the state you reside in and your employer.

Federal-, state-, and company-provided sick leave benefits may be upgraded if new regulations are enacted because of the coronavirus. 

Federal sick leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.

The federal government has approved emergency legislation, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, that provides expanded paid sick leave and paid family medical leave for covered employees and self-employed workers due to the coronavirus.

State sick leave

Some states have laws that provide sick leave benefits. Benefits and eligibility vary by location, so check with the Department of Labor in your location for guidelines on what’s available. 

Company policy

Check your company policy on sick leave. Because of the seriousness of the coronavirus, companies are being more flexible in order to keep their workforce safe. If you’re a contract worker, check with the companies you work for to see if they have implemented a relief fund for workers. You may be eligible for benefits.

Unemployment compensation

When you’re out of work through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment. The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own and who meet other eligibility requirements of state law.

The criteria for unemployment eligibility is changing as the pandemic continues, so check frequently for updates.

The U.S. Department of Labor has given states the flexibility to amend their laws to provide unemployment benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19. For example, federal law allows states to pay benefits when:

  • An employer temporarily ceases operations due to COVID-19, preventing employees from coming to work.
  • An individual is quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over.
  • An individual leaves employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.

In addition, some states have expanded unemployment compensation programs because of coronavirus. Employers and workers should check the appropriate state government website to see if state-specific unemployment insurance guidance is available.


Erika Young, CRPS®, CPFA, AIF®
Principal, Human Capital Management
View Profile

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