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Federal CARES Act Expands Unemployment Benefits For Illinois Employees Impacted By COVID-19 – By Bill Boznos, of Boznos Law Office

The latest jobless numbers in Illinois hit a shocking and near record high of 178,000 people filing for first time unemployment benefits as a result of the corona virus pandemic. We have been inundated with people seeking advice as to how the Illinois Department of Employment Security (“IDES”) is handling claims, who is eligible to file a claim for unemployment, when to file for unemployment benefits, what benefits are available, how long those benefits might be available, and what to do if a person has already used up their allotted unemployment benefits. With all of this in mind, we re providing guidance on how the pandemic is impacting unemployment benefits in the State of Illinois. Please be aware that changes in governmental guidance, and even in the underlying laws, are occurring on almost a daily basis, which will affect the analysis of the legal issues related to COVID-19. It is critical that you stay current.

General Unemployment Benefits: In Illinois, an employee (not an independent contractor,

self-employed individual, freelancer or gig economy person) who loses his/her job as a result of a layoff, furlough or job performance (and not as a result of misconduct connected with the work or a refusal to work when there is work available) is eligible to apply for unemployment. The amount of the unemployment benefit is based on a formula considering a percentage of the worker’s average weekly wage, which is computed by dividing the wages paid during the two highest quarters of the base period by a factor of 26. While the benefit amount does serve as income replacement, it will not make an individual whole or cover all of his/her previous wages. The benefit is payable weekly for a period of 26 weeks so long as the individual certifies that he/she is actively looking for new employment.

The CARES Act Expands General Unemployment Benefits in Illinois. On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES”) was passed into law which expands unemployment benefits and eligibility for workers affected by COVID-19. Generally, the CARES Act will provide qualifying employees an extra $600.00 per week above what they would normally receive in their unemployment benefits until July 31, 2020. Additionally, the CARES Act provides for an additional 13 weeks of continued $600.00 weekly payments who remain unemployed after exhausting their Illinois allotted 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. This will not be retroactively applied to unemployment benefits received in the past.

Expanded Unemployment Eligibility: The CARES Act expands unemployment eligibility to individuals who are able and available for work but are unemployed, partially unemployed or are unable or unavailable to work. To qualify for benefits under the CARES Act, an individual must certify that:

  • The individual has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  • A member of the individual’s family has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • An individual is providing care for a family member or member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; or
  • A child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiver responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic and such school or facility is required for the individual to work; or
  • The individual is unable to reach a place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual is unable to reach a place of employment because the individual has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine as a result of concerns related to COVID-19; or
  • The individual was scheduled to comment employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency; or
  • The individual has become the breadwinner or major supporter for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual has quit his/her job as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • The individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The CARES Act also creates a new temporary program to expand traditional unemployment benefits to displaced individuals who previously were not eligible to apply for unemployment such as individuals who are self-employed, “gig” workers, freelancers’ independent contractors and part-time workers. In certain cases, new hires who have not yet begun their employment may be eligible.

Who Is NOT Eligible For CARES Act Benefits? It does not appear that an individual who stops working in response to a general fear of contracting COVID-19 would be eligible for increased benefits under CARES. Others who are also ineligible for CARES benefits include: those who can telework with pay; those who are already receiving paid leave under their employer’s plans/policies; those who are already receiving paid leave under applicable federal,  state or municipal law; and new entrants to the workforce who cannot find employment.

Contacting IDES to Apply For Unemployment Benefits: IDES is a state agency. As such, like most state agencies, it has been ordered to shutter its doors during the coronavirus outbreak by Governor Pritzker until at least the end of April 2020. This means you may not try to apply in person at any one of the physical IDES locations throughout the state. However, you may still try to ask and receive general questions by telephone. The information number to call is: (800) 244-5631. As of today, please be aware that the phone lines are jammed and wait times of up to 8 hours are possible. In addition, if you attempt to file your claim by phone, please be aware of the filing schedule shown below for on-line filing.

The preferred method to apply for unemployment benefits is to do so on-line through the IDES website: www.ides.illinois.gov. Understand also that IDES, in an effort to streamline the intake process has divided up applications by the individual’s last name. Those whose last name begins with the letters A-M are being asked to file their claims on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and those individuals whose last names begin with N-Z are being asked to file their claims on a Monday, Wednesday or a Friday. Saturdays are reserved for those individuals who could not file during their allotted filing window.

As you can see, there are a number of questions and areas of potential uncertainty brought about by this national health crisis which can dramatically affect unemployment. We are here to help guide you through these turbulent times.  A law firm that concentrates in employment related matters like ours can help navigate this maze of new laws. With over 36 years’ experience in advising employers and employees on workplace issues, let Boznos Law work with you to ensure you are ready to meet the challenges posed by the changes to the employment laws. Call Bill Boznos today at (630) 375-1958 or contact us at through our website at www.boznoslawoffice.com.

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