If Coronavirus Claims Your Job, Here's What to Do First

Workers who suddenly find themselves jobless because of the pandemic are most likely eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

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UPDATE #2, FRIDAY 3/20, 3:15 PM: The Employment Development Department tells NBC Bay Area it is experiencing "unprecedented demand" for its services, so some users may experience delays trying to log in or file claims. EDD provided us with this statement: "SDI Online will be unavailable from Friday, March 20 at 8 p.m. to Saturday, March 21 at 2 a.m. due to scheduled maintenance. During this period, people can access their claim and check payment information through EDD’s Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave automated phone systems. Information about their debit card is available on Bank of America's EDD Debit Card website. The UI Online side of our online systems is operating as normal. We encourage individuals to use our online services as much as possible for fastest processing. With this unprecedented demand for assistance, there may be instances when online customers may need to refresh their session to restore functionality during the online application process."

UPDATE #1, FRIDAY 3/20, 12:00 PM: We've heard from several viewers that they hare having difficulty filing unemployment claims either online or by phone. According to the Employment Development Department website, there is scheduled maintenance taking place on its system from 8:00 PM Friday to 2:00 AM Saturday. We have reached out to EDD for further information, and we will share it here once we learn more.

As businesses shut down across the state, California's state labor offices are being inundated with a surge in unemployment applications.

Data provided to NBC Bay Area on Thursday by the California Employment Development Department, or EDD, show a significant increase in unemployment claims so far this month. For the week of March 8 - 14, the state received 58,208 unemployment claims, up 34% from the week prior. Over the previous few months, EDD said the average number of claims per week was about 41,000.

Source: California Employment Development Department

Loree Levy, Deputy Director of Public affairs for the agency, says it's "all hands on deck" at EDD, with even recent retirees being recruited to help newly-jobless Californians.

"This is obviously unprecedented," Levy told NBC Bay Area by phone. "It's been very sudden."

As one of the state's largest government entities, the EDD processes unemployment insurance claims for hundreds of thousands of Californians every week. It's also responsible for collecting the taxes that fund the unemployment insurance program, also called UI.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, California had enjoyed historic highs in employment, with just 3.9% of working-age adults claiming unemployment. Levy says that number is expected to climb in the weeks and months to come, but data won't be available until April at the earliest.

To accommodate the anticipated increase in demand, Levy said EDD is taking extraordinary measures.

"We've seen a significant spike in claim activity," she said. "Staff are working overtime, some seven days a week, and we're asking recent retirees to come back, as well as hiring additional staff."

Lost Your Job? Apply for UI Immediately

The good news for workers who have lost their jobs in recent weeks: they are most likely eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. That also includes workers who were furloughed, or whose hours were cut -- even if they're still getting a partial paycheck.

In order to be eligible for UI, workers must meet these six requirements, as outlined by EDD:

  • You are totally or partially unemployed.
  • You are unemployed through no fault of your own. (For example: your employer closed temporarily or permanently because of the virus pandemic.)
  • You are physically able to work.
  • You are available for work.
  • You are ready and willing to accept work immediately.
  • You are actively looking for work.

There's one big exception: self-employed workers are generally unable to collect UI benefits. Levy says this is because the state's unemployment insurance fund is paid for by taxes on employers, and most independent workers are not taxed for UI. So, for example, if your primary source of income was driving for a ride-share app, and you've lost business due to a lack of riders, you would not be eligible to collect UI benefits.

If you do lose your job, Levy says you should act fast -- and apply for UI right away, even if it's the same day of your layoff or furlough notice.

How to Apply for Unemployment

Levy says the fastest and easiest way to apply and get the process going is to go online. From a desktop PC or laptop web browser, visit this page on the EDD website, edd.ca.gov. There's a lot to read, review, and fill out, so plan to set aside some time and make sure you're free of distractions.

EDD also has a mobile-friendly site for use on smartphones and tablets: UI Online Mobile. (Use this link if you're reading this story on your phone.)

Alternatively, you can call EDD at 800-300-5616 to apply by phone.

It's important to note that you cannot apply for UI benefits in person. EDD says its unemployment offices are not open to the public.

After your application is processed, a state worker will contact you, to make sure you fully meet the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance. You may also be asked to register with CalJOBS, a state-run job search website.

How Much Money Will I Get?

EDD says unemployment payments are a partial wage replacement, so you shouldn't expect to get the same amount as your last full paycheck. Benefits are based on what you were paid over the last year or so, and range from $40 to $450 per week. If you qualify, your benefits can continue for up to one year.

While you can have a check mailed to you every other week, the agency says it's faster and easier to request an EDD Debit Card.

What About Part-Time Workers?

Patricia A. in San Francisco called NBC Bay Area this week, and asked how unemployment benefits work for part-timers.

"My grandson worked for a theater, but it closed," she said. "Can he get unemployment?"

The answer, according to EDD, is yes. Because the theater closure was due to the pandemic -- and not his fault -- her grandson can and should apply for UI.

If you have questions about unemployment, please let us know by using this form. Or, you can call us and leave a message - 888-996-TIPS.

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