Gig Workers, Unemployment, And Covid-19

Gig workers and independent contractors who historically have been ineligible for traditional state unemployment insurance (UI) may be eligible under the new law passed by Congress, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The CARES Act creates a new unemployment program, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

Under PUA, a gig worker is eligible for benefits if they are otherwise able to work and available for work, but are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because:

  • They have been diagnosed with COVID–19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • A member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID–19;
  • They are providing care for a family member or a member of their household who has been diagnosed with COVID–19;
  • They have primary caregiving responsibility for a child or other person in the household who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed because of COVID–19, and school or facility care is required so that they can go to work;
  • They are unable to reach their place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency;
  • They are unable to reach their place of employment because they have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19;
  • They were scheduled to begin employment but now does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency;
  • They have become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID–19;
  • They had to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID–19; or
  • Their place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency.

The PUA program pays the same amount of benefits as under traditional state UI laws for employees, for up to 39 weeks. PUA is currently set to expire on December 31, 2020. A related program, the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program, provides an extra $600 in weekly UI benefits, including benefits under PUA, through July 31, 2020 in any week in which you qualify for at least $1 of PUA benefits.

PUA is generally not available for individuals who have the ability to telework with pay, who are receiving paid leave benefits, or who quit a job without good cause. However, a worker receiving paid leave for less than their usual work week, or who is required to suspend operations because of COVID-19 (such as a restriction on ridesharing services or a downturn in business because of COVID-19 restrictions) may still be eligible for full or partial PUA benefits.

You can apply for PUA benefits through your state unemployment office. To find your state’s agency, click here.

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued a series Frequently Asked Questions on unemployment benefits, including general guidance, and benefits for self-employed and “gig” workers, available here. For the complete guidance DOL has issued on the PUA, see here.

Eligibility, benefit levels, and documentation requirements will vary by state. You may be asked to provide copies of your most recent tax returns, and/or IRS 1099 forms you received from gig companies for which you worked, pay check stubs, bank receipts, or other records of payment. Even if you are unable to produce all necessary records, you may be entitled to a PUA benefit.

Some states have been able to process claims from gig workers more quickly than others, and in some states, you may be required to apply and be rejected for “regular” unemployment benefits before you become eligible for PUA benefits. Recent guidance from the Department of Labor provides that if you have been rejected for regular benefits, the state should provide you with information about benefits under PUA – but you need not wait for them to do so.

Details vary by state, and you should review filing requirements and procedures provided on the website for your state very closely – many state UI websites include special instructions for independent contractors or gig workers under PUA.