This resource was last updated on June 30, 2020
In response to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the New York State Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance program has been modified and dramatically expanded to help people who are unable to work or who lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 health emergency.
Unemployed workers may now qualify for regular unemployment insurance benefits (often called “UI” or “UIB,”) and others – including independent contractors and non-traditional workers – may be eligible for unemployment benefits under the new federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, part of the recently enacted CARES Act. Both the unemployment insurance and PUA programs are administered by the New York State Department of Labor (DOL)
Unemployed workers receiving either traditional unemployment benefits or PUA are also eligible for special Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), another new assistance program funded by the CARES Act. For a limited time, from April 5, 2020 to July 26, 2020, these workers will receive $600 per week in addition to their unemployment or PUA benefits.
Here is a brief overview of the application process and the new unemployment insurance benefits and PUA programs. This material may become outdated due to rapidly changing events, so please check back periodically for important changes and updates.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Applying for Unemployment and PUA Benefits
Eligibility: Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Eligibility: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Receiving Unemployment or PUA Benefits
Application Mistakes, Denials, and Deductions
Appeals and Hearings
Going Back to Work
Unemployment Insurance Benefits
What is unemployment insurance?
The Unemployment Insurance Program is a program that provides temporary cash benefits (money) to workers who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. Every state has its own unemployment insurance program which operates under federal and state law and is funded by contributions from the government and employers.
Who is covered by the Unemployment Insurance Program?
President Roosevelt established the national unemployment insurance program as part of the New Deal in 1935 for workers who are “employees.” Since then, a state based and operated Unemployment Insurance program has provided modest temporary cash benefits to unemployed workers after they lost their jobs to help sustain them and their families while they are looking for work.
Traditionally, unemployment insurance did not cover independent contractors. However, eligibility requirements for unemployment were expanded in response to the Coronavirus pandemic to include independent contractors.
If you lost your job as an employee or independent contractor and you meet the other eligibility requirements below, you may be eligible for unemployment.
How much are my weekly unemployment benefits?
Whether you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits is determined on a weekly basis. This means that you have to certify to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) every week that you are eligible for benefits, but it is not a complicated process and can be done by telephone or internet.
The amount of your weekly unemployment insurance benefits depends on your prior earnings.
The maximum amount of weekly traditional unemployment benefits in New York is $504.00 per week for 39 weeks. Using the example above, the minimum amount for traditional unemployment benefits in New York is $104 per week for 39 weeks. You can calculate your unemployment benefits at the NYS Department of Labor’s Benefit Rate Calculator.
Until July 26, you may be entitled to Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), in addition to your weekly unemployment benefits.
What is Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC)?
For the a few months, starting on April 4, 2020 and ending on July 26, 2020, a new federal unemployment assistance program will be available to both unemployment claimants and PUA claimants. The amount of the weekly benefit is $600 per week and will be automatically added to the amount of weekly unemployment or PUA benefits.
This money was designed to be replacement income and to supplement unemployment and PUA benefits for unemployed workers. The PUC weekly amount of $600 is based on a person working a 40 hour week and earning $15 per hour.
Unemployment insurance claimants can expect to receive between $704 and $1104 per week during this time period.
Benefit amounts for PUA recipients will range from $772 per week and $1104 per week.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program provides cash benefits to people who are not otherwise eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, and covers individuals who are self-employed, unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work due to Coronavirus. The PUA program is funded by the federal government and administered by both the federal and New York State Department of Labor (DOL). PUA is a temporary program and is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020.
How much are my weekly Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits?
The maximum amount of weekly PUA benefits in New York is $504 per week. The minimum PUA rate is calculated for each state by the US Department of Labor, quarterly. The minimum amount for PUA benefits in New York currently ranges from $172 to $182 per week. PUA benefits last for up to 39 weeks.
Until July 26, you may be entitled to Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), in addition to your weekly PUA benefits.
How does the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) calculate my weekly PUA benefits?
Whether you are eligible for PUA benefits is determined on a weekly basis. The amount of your weekly PUA benefits depends on your prior net income. DOL will ask you to send some proof or documentation of your past earnings to them within 21 days. If they don’t receive this information, you will receive the minimum weekly amount of PUA benefits.
What if I believe I am entitled to a higher weekly amount of PUA benefits?
Submit proof of income documents within 21 days as requested by DOL.
What about PUA benefits for Uber and Lyft Drivers?
According to a recently filed lawsuit, full time Uber and Lyft drivers are only receiving the minimum amount of PUA weekly benefits, but they should qualify for the maximum amount, $504 per week.
The plaintiffs in this lawsuit, MD Islam et al. v. Andrew Cuomo et al., Case No. 1:20-cv-02328 (E.D.N.Y.) want DOL to calculate their prior earnings more accurately, so that they qualify for higher benefits. Please check back here for updates.
Could PUA be used as paid leave?
Possibly. If a person is on approved unpaid medical leave from his or her employer, and the medical leave is based on one of COVID-19 reasons described in the section below, “Who can receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?”, the individual may be eligible for PUA benefits.
If the schools are closed and I am home getting PUA in order to take care of my children, what happens at the end of the school year in June?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, once the regular 2019-2020 school year is over, “parents should rely on their customary summer arrangements for caring for their children. Absent some other qualifying circumstances, the individual will not be eligible to receive PUA.”
Thus, if you usually send your children to summer camp or a day care that is closed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency (a PUA “qualifying circumstance”), you could continue to qualify for PUA benefits. If you have questions, call us at 1-800-724-0490, ext. 5827.
Applying for Unemployment and PUA Benefits
How do I know if I qualify for unemployment benefits?
The new rules make this question a little complicated because there is now one application for two different unemployment programs. To receive traditional unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) you need to file an application, frequently called a “claim.”
If you are not working, or working only part time, you should apply for unemployment benefits and PUA whether or not you think you might be eligible. You can do that at the NYS Department of Labor (DOL)’s website, File Your First Claim for Benefits. After completing the traditional unemployment benefits application, you should continue to complete the PUA portion of the application. The DOL will then determine whether you are eligible for either traditional unemployment or PUA, without you having to go through another round of applications.
Should I apply for unemployment insurance benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
Apply for both! If you are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) will then determine whether you are eligible for PUA, without you having to go through another round of applications. The PUA program is only for people who are not eligible for regular unemployment benefits. In order to be considered for PUA benefits, DOL must first determine that you are ineligible for traditional unemployment benefits.
What is the difference between unemployment insurance benefits and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
PUA is a benefit of last resort for available to anyone who does not qualify for traditional unemployment and would be able and available to work but for at least one of the COVID-19 reasons described in the section below, Who can receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
PUA benefits are only available for eligible claimants between January 27, 2020 and December 31, 2020.
Is there a waiting period to apply?
No. You should file at the first available opportunity after you find yourself out of work.
Under the traditional unemployment insurance program, there is usually a 7-day waiting period after you lose your employment to file for unemployment insurance benefits, but this waiting period has currently been waived by an executive order signed by Governor Cuomo on March 14, 2020. There is no waiting period for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). You should apply for unemployment benefits and PUA as soon as you lose your job.
If you’re out of work now, you can file for unemployment benefits regardless of whether you lost your job due to Coronavirus. For a period of up to 39 weeks, you can receive a portion of your former weekly wages in unemployment insurance benefits. PUA benefits also last 39 weeks, but the program is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
How do I apply?
There are only two ways to apply for traditional unemployment or PUA benefits with the New York State Department of Labor:
File your claim at the NYS Department of Labor’s website, File Your First Claim for Benefits.
Call 1-888-209-8124. The hours the telephone hotline is open are:
- Monday to Thursday, 8:00 AM – 7:30 PM
- Friday, 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
- Saturday, 7:30 AM – 8:00 PM
Since mid-March, over 2 million people have experienced enormous problems trying to file their applications on the New York Unemployment Insurance website. About 20% of the state population has tried to apply for benefits, and the system could not handle this volume. As part of its efforts to improve the application process, the Department of Labor recently announced that it is updating the online application for unemployment and PUA benefits.
What happens if I started but didn’t finish my unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) application?
Unfortunately, if you started an application for unemployment or PUA benefits before June 3, 2020 but did not complete it you will need to start a new application for benefits.
According to the NYS Department of Labor any delay caused by filing a new application will not result in a loss of benefits. “Once completed and submitted, your application will be backdated to the day you became unemployed. You will receive all benefits for which you are eligible.”
How do I know whether my application was completed or submitted to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL)?
The NYS Department of Labor (DOL) says, “If you have already been notified that your application has been received by DOL no additional action on your part is needed.
If you applied for traditional unemployment or PUA benefits before June 3, 2020 and you did not receive this notification from DOL, you should apply again.
When can I file for unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits?
Because of the huge demand for unemployment and PUA benefits, you must apply on a certain day of the week. The day you can apply depends on the first letter of your last name. If you last name starts with:
A-F, you file on Monday
G-N, you file on Tuesday
O-Z, you file on Wednesday
If you are unable to file or missed your day to file, you can still do so on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday and it will be counted as if you filed on your “assigned” day. Remember, you should apply as soon as possible.
How long does it take the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) to process my application?
Once your application is submitted and “pending” DOL has told us that it may take 3 weeks to review and verify your information. Hopefully, you will hear from them sooner. Unlike the past, however, it is no longer necessary for DOL to call you back after you file your application.
If you have tried to contact DOL but have not heard from them and have been waiting more than 3 weeks, you may contact Empire Justice Center for assistance at 1-800-724-0490 ext 5827.
Eligibility: Unemployment Insurance Benefits
Can I get Unemployment Insurance Benefits if I was laid off?
Generally, unemployment insurance pays employees who are out of work through no fault of their own. If you are laid off or terminated for economic reasons, you will meet this requirement. But even if you were not an employee covered by traditional UI, you may be eligible for PUA due to special Coronavirus situations.
What does it mean to be “ready, willing, and able to work”?
To be eligible for traditional unemployment benefits, and as part of the application, you must affirm that you are “ready, willing, and able to work.” This means you must be prepared to start employment immediately and be physically and mentally capable of working. According to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL), “You must actively seek any work for which you are reasonably fitted by your previous training and experience and which you are capable of doing.”
If I have to stay at home due to COVID-19, how can I be “ready, willing, and able to work”?
Many people answer this application question incorrectly because it was written before the COVID-19 Pandemic. We suggest you respond to this yes or no question by taking into account any current government health and safety limitations, e.g.: “If the governmental Pandemic restrictions now preventing your work or movement were removed, would you be ready, willing and able to work?”
To get unemployment benefits, don’t I have to look for work?
Traditionally, to get unemployment benefits you must be looking for work and ready to start. But under the new CARES Act, this rule is required to be “flexible” for individuals unable to search for work due to the Coronavirus pandemic, including “illness, quarantine, or movement restriction.”
Can I get unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) if I’ve been furloughed?
A furlough means you are still an employee — there’s just no work for you at this time. This type of hybrid unemployment/leave is generally mandatory, temporary and unpaid.
Depending on their situation, furloughed workers may be eligible for either traditional unemployment or PUA benefits, and since they expect to return to work for the same employer, they usually do not have the same eligibility obligations to seek new work.
Prior Work and Earnings
This too can be complicated. To qualify under the traditional unemployment insurance benefits program, there are the minimum work history and prior earnings requirements. Remember, if you do not qualify under the traditional unemployment insurance program, you may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits due to special Coronavirus situations.
If you apply for unemployment benefits after April 1, 2020:
You must have worked and been paid wages for work in at least two calendar quarters between March 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020
A calendar quarter is three months of the year. To meet this requirement, an employee does not need to work for six consecutive months of the year. Employees can qualify by demonstrating that they were employed during any two quarters.
You must have been paid at least $2,600 in one calendar quarter.
For instance, you will meet this requirement if you were paid for 40 hours of work at $11.10/hr (the 2019 minimum wage rate in Upstate New York) for six weeks or more in a calendar quarter. Your total payment over four quarters must be at least 1.5 times the amount that you earned in the one highest-paying quarter.
For example, if you earned $2,600 during your highest- paying quarter, then your total earnings between April 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020 (four quarters) must be at least $3900 ($2,600 x 1.5 = $3,900).
This is only a general summary of traditional unemployment eligibility requirements. For more detailed information see this form from the NYS Department of Labor (DOL): How Your Weekly Unemployment Insurance Benefit Payment Is Calculated.
All unemployment insurance benefits eligibility determinations are made by the NYS Department of Labor.
Who is not eligible for unemployment benefits?
- Employees who voluntarily quit a job are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits unless there was good cause for quitting.
- Employees who violate a company rule or policy may not qualify for unemployment.
- Undocumented workers are not eligible for unemployment.
Eligibility: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
Who is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
If you are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits and you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to certain circumstances that are a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency, you may be eligible for PUA.
Here is a list of persons in occupations or employment situations who are unemployed due to Coronavirus and are eligible for PUA:
- Those who are self-employed, independent contractors, 1099 tax filers, and farmers affected by Coronavirus;
- Workers who worked part-time and do not have a long-enough work history to qualify for traditional unemployment benefits or who are not otherwise eligible for traditional unemployment;
- Workers who are unable to reach work because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the Coronavirus public health emergency or self-quarantine advised by a health care provider;
- Those who had to quit their job as a direct result of Coronavirus;
- People who worked at a business that is closed as a direct result of the Coronavirus public health emergency;
- Those who were scheduled to start work and do not have a job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the Coronavirus public health emergency;
- Workers seeking part-time employment but affected by Coronavirus;
- Parents or those who have primary caregiving responsibility for a child who is unable to attend school or another facility (e.g. daycare) that is closed as a direct result of this Coronavirus public health emergency and attending the school/facility is required for the individual to work;
- Those who are or have a household member diagnosed with Coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis;
- Those who are providing care for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus; and
- Those who have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of Coronavirus.
For more information see the NYS Department of Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Benefits: Updated FAQ’s.
Who is not eligible for PUA?
- Persons who quit work simply to obtain PUA
- Individuals who can telework (work remotely) for pay
- Individuals who are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits (even if they otherwise qualify for PUA).
- Undocumented workers are not eligible for PUA.
What is telework?
In practice, “telework”, or “remote work”, is a work arrangement that allows a worker to perform work, during any part of regular, paid hours, at an alternative worksite approved by the employer (e.g., home, telework center).
Many people incorrectly answer the question about their ability to telework on the PUA application. If you could perform your job by teleworking and this arrangement has been approved by your employer and you will be paid, you should answer “yes”.
What if I can’t telework due to domestic violence?
If you are unable to telework because of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking, and you meet all the other eligibility criteria for PUA, you should qualify for PUA benefits.
Are there a work and earnings requirements to qualify for PUA?
Unlike the traditional unemployment program, there is no minimum monetary requirement for PUA eligibility. In some instances, a person may have earned $0 and qualify for PUA.
Do I have to be able and available to work while receiving PUA benefits?
According to the US Department of Labor, persons who receive PUA benefits must be ready and able to work unless they are unable due to one of the many PUA eligibility reasons described above in, “Who is eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance?”
Do I have to look for work while receiving PUA benefits?
According to the US Department of Labor, persons who receive PUA benefits have the same work search obligations as traditional unemployment recipients.
Of course, this search isn’t possible if you are ill with COVID-19, or you taking care of your children due to lack of child care, or one of the many PUA eligibility reasons that prevent you from being “ready, willing, and able to work.”
Receiving Unemployment and PUA Benefits
How do I receive my unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits?
There are two ways you may receive your unemployment or PUA benefits.
Direct Deposit: If you provided the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) with your bank account information on your application, your unemployment or PUA benefits will be deposited directly into your account.
Key2Benefits Card: If you don’t have a bank account or there were problems depositing the money into your account, you will get a KeyBank-issued Key2Benefits card in the mail. This card will function similarly to a prepaid debit card. KeyBank’s Key2Benefits FAQ website says:
The Key2Benefits card can be used to make purchases anywhere Mastercard® debit cards are accepted.
You can use your card for online, phone and mail order purchases. You can also use your card to withdraw cash at ATMs, banks or credit unions or by getting cash back with purchases at participating retailers. Funds are automatically deducted from your Key2Benefits card balance.
Once your application has been approved, Key Bank says it takes about a week for the Key2Benefits card to arrive at your address by mail.
If you qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) on top of your unemployment or PUA, the additional $600 a week will be automatically added to your direct deposit or your Key2Benefits card until the program ends on July 26.
What can I do if I have questions or problems with my Key2Benefits card?
Contact KeyBank if you have any problems or questions with your Key2Benefits card. You can call KeyBank at 866-295-2955.
Your questions may also be answered at the Key2Benefits FAQ website.
Application Mistakes, Denials, and Deductions
What happens if I make a mistake in answering a question on the application?
The unemployment and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) application process is not “user friendly” and there’s no way go back to correct a wrong answer. Making a simple mistake frequently results in a denial of your unemployment or PUA application. You should first read through the application carefully in order to avoid mistakes.
However, if you do make a mistake in your application process, here are several possible ways you can try to fix it:
You can contact the NYS Department of Labor
Call at 855-528-5618 to speak to a DOL representative about correcting the mistake.
You can request a hearing.
A hearing is a chance for you to explain to a neutral third party why you should get unemployment. These hearings are sometimes called administrative hearings or fair hearings. You will have the opportunity to explain what information in your initial application may have been a mistake, and to present the correct information. You can find out more about the hearing process and how to request a hearing on the DOL website here.
You may also contact Empire Justice Center for advice!
Call us at 1-800-724-0490, ext. 5827.
Don’t give up!
If I owe child support, can that affect my unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits?
Yes. Outstanding child support obligations must be deducted from unemployment and PUA payments
What if I am denied because I haven’t met the unemployment work history and earnings requirements?
If you have been rejected for this reason, you may file a Request for Reconsideration if you believe that the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) has either wrongfully calculated your earnings or omitted relevant work history.
Work with DOL to review your request and provide them with any information they may need to help resolve the problem. Even if you don’t meet the traditional unemployment benefit eligibility rules, you will be automatically considered for PUA.
Appeals and Hearings
What if I am denied unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
You can request a hearing to appeal the denial. An unemployment hearing is a chance for you to explain to a neutral third party why you should get unemployment. These hearings are sometimes called administrative hearings or fair hearings.
You may be denied unemployment insurance benefits or PUA because your employer is contesting your claim for benefits. An employer may contend that you are not eligible because you voluntarily quit your job without “good cause,” or for an eligibility reason not covered by PUA. If you have been denied for any of these or other reasons, you will receive a separate Notice of Determination.
You can appeal the unemployment insurance benefits or PUA denial decision, but you must act fast! You must request your appeal and mail the request to DOL so that it is received by DOL within 30 days from the date on the denial notice. Here is the link to request a hearing: How do I request a Hearing?
Is the process for PUA appeals and hearings different from those for unemployment insurance benefits?
No. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, PUA appeals and hearings will use the same procedures used for traditional unemployment hearings. (See above)
What happens after I file my unemployment or PUA appeal?
You appeal will be scheduled for a hearing before an administrative law judge. You will receive a written notice of the hearing date.
What happens at the unemployment or PUA administrative hearing?
Hearings are held before an administrative law judge, or ALJ. The ALJ is a neutral third party, will hear testimony and review evidence to decide whether you are entitled to or eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. You can find out more about the hearing process on the DOL website here.
Due to the volume, we expect that the administrative hearings will held primarily by telephone during the Coronavirus pandemic emergency and thereafter. Even though the hearing may not be held in person, it is important for you to attend by phone! If you do not attend, you may lose your ability to collect PUA or unemployment benefits. The administrative law judge will decide on your claim and issue a written decision.
What happens if I lose the administrative hearing?
If you disagree with the decision after the hearing, you may appeal to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. The Appeal Board will review the evidence and issue a written decision.
What happens if I lose my appeal before the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board?
If you disagree with this decision, you may file a civil case in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Third Department.
Going Back to Work
What if I am getting $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) and unemployment benefits or PUA weekly and my employer calls me back to work?
There are government incentives for employers to hire back terminated or laid off workers. You may be offered your old job back at the same pay rate and your former weekly wage may be less than your unemployment benefits or PUA check + $600 PUC benefits. Be careful! If you decline a suitable job, you can be disqualified and no longer be eligible for traditional unemployment benefits or PUA.
What if the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) says I refused suitable employment?
If DOL says you failed to accept suitable employment, you will receive a letter. DOL must give you an opportunity to request a hearing. (See “What if I am denied unemployment benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?”)
Be sure to act fast! The deadline for requesting a hearing is 30 days. At the hearing, you can provide your side of the story and to rebut any evidence against you before DOL makes a final determination.
What if the job offer pays less or requires less skill than old job?
The New York State Department of Labor (DOL) requires recipients to accept “suitable employment” unless you have “good cause” to decline the job offer. Whether the new job is “suitable” for you depends on your previous job’s wage level, type of work, and your skills. Refusing an offer of suitable employment without good cause will likely disqualify you from continuing to receive unemployment benefits or PUA.
I am now getting unemployment benefits – what happens if I am offered part-time work?
This triggers an important and bizarre unemployment rule:
If you are working 3 or fewer days a week and your weekly wages are under $504, you are still eligible for a lower amount of unemployment benefits plus an additional and unreduced $600 in weekly PUC benefits (until July 26).
But if you work on 4 or more days in a week (even if you work as little as 1 hour per day), you are not eligible for any unemployment benefits for that week, including the additional $600 weekly PUC benefits.
Be sure to accurately report any of your part-time work and earnings to DOL every week.
I’m getting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) – What happens if I starting earning income again?
You should accurately report any earnings (wages, commissions, remunerations, etc.) to DOL weekly. As we understand it, if your earnings are less than $504 for the week, you should still be still eligible for a lower amount of PUA plus an additional and unreduced $600 in weekly PUC benefits (until July 31). But if you earn more than $504 in the week, you are not eligible for any PUA benefits for that week, including the additional $600 weekly PUC benefits.
What if my employer calls me back to work but I have no child care?
If you turn down a job offer to go back to work because you must stay home to take care of your children, you are probably no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. But if the reason you are home providing child care is because the schools or day care facilities are closed due to the Pandemic, you may be eligible for PUA. See “Who can receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?”
How do I switch from unemployment benefits to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) if my eligibility changes?
We don’t know. We are waiting for the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) to tell us the answer. As soon as we find out we will post the response on our website. Please check back.
What if my employer calls me back to work but I think it’s unsafe for me to return to work?
Without an effective and available Coronavirus vaccine, this is complicated. Under New York state and federal guidelines those receiving unemployment benefits or PUA cannot turn down a job because of generalized fear of COVID-19.
If you return to an unsafe place of employment, you can file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General’s Office by email at Labor.Bureau@ag.ny.gov, or by phone at (212) 416-8700.
You can also file a complaint of unsafe working conditions with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). You can contact OSHA at (800) 321-6742 or find your regional office on their website here: OSHA Area Office.
What if my doctor or medical provider says it’s unsafe for me to return to work?
You are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance benefits because you are not “ready, willing, and able to work,” but you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). If you have any underlying reason or condition for an increased risk for contracting COVID-19, and your health care provider has advised you to that returning to work is unsafe, you should apply or switch to PUA. Get and keep a written record of your health care provider’s recommendation and submit a copy to DOL.
Do I have any other protected legal rights to refuse to go back to work because of COVID-19 safety concerns?
Unfortunately, this is a complex question and a comprehensive answer is beyond the scope of this FAQ.
That said, whether you have a protected right to refuse to work, or refuse to return to work, because of safety concerns related to COVID-19 may depend on whether your conduct constitutes “protected concerted activity” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This FAQ from the Communications Workers of American explains this right in more detail.
What are examples of possible workplace “protected concerted activity” related to COVID-19?
Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), most employees have a statutory right to act together and discuss, protest and/or otherwise address work-related issues. These include:
- Talking with one or more co-workers about working conditions;
- Openly calling for paid sick leave, availability of personal protective equipment and/or virus testing capabilities;
- Requests for work schedule accommodations, such as shortening the workweek, adjusting start/end times, or staggering shifts;
- Participating in a concerted refusal to work in unsafe conditions;
- Circulating petitions discussing health, safety and welfare concerns in the workplace; and
- Joining together to talk directly to an employer, government agency or the media about safety or other concerns in the workplace.
For more information about this topic check out this resource, In-Depth Information for Workers Protected Concerted Activity Against Unsafe Work in Time of COVID-19, from the Communication Workers of America.
If I have a pre-existing medical condition that places me at a higher risk for COVID-19, does my employer have obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make changes in the workplace?
Unfortunately, this is another complex question and answering it in detail is beyond the scope of these FAQs. That said, there may be reasonable accommodations that could offer you protection from COVID-19 and eliminate possible exposure at work. Even with the constraints imposed by a pandemic, some accommodations may meet an employee’s needs on a temporary basis without causing undue hardship on the employer.
For more information, check out this resource, What You Should Know About COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and Other EEO Laws, from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
For advice or assistance with Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), or Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC), contact Empire Justice Center’s Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Helpline at 1-800-724-0490 ext. 5827.
If you worked in New York City, you may also contact New York Legal Assistance Group at 929-356-9582 (10 am-1 pm weekdays).
If you would like to donate to Empire Justice in support of our legal work to help unemployed workers and struggling families during the Coronavirus Pandemic, please go to our donate page. Our clients and workers will thank you.