No Work Today, What Does That Mean for Tomorrow? COVID-19’s Impact Has Modified the Ease of Approval of Unemployment Benefits.

We are battling an unprecedented disaster: the COVID-19 pandemic. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston, during his press briefing on Monday, April 13, 2020 reported that Boston alone had 4,086 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (1). According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, approximately 16.7 million people in the U.S., which is represented as 10.2% of the entire civilian labor force, filed for unemployment between March 14 and April 4, 2020. (2)

With the widespread mandatory closures of businesses, self-quarantines, caring for children and significant other household members, did you know you may be eligible for unemployment benefits – even if you’re still working or employed? The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Insurance has relaxed its eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance, due to the severe impact of COVID-19. These requirements include, but are not limited to:

If your employer: shut down because of coronavirus, reduced your hours for any reason, including COVID-19, laid you off temporarily, put you on furlough, or has told you to self-quarantine. 

If you: needed to stay home to care for a sick household member who has either been quarantined or sick, you left work because you reasonably believed you contracted COVID-19 or had to stay home to care for your children who were unable to attend school. (3)

Individuals meeting even a single criteria listed above may be eligible for unemployment benefits, up to a maximum of $823.00 a week.(4) There is additional support which should be available for those living with dependents. Before receiving any benefits however, one first must file with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment. Additionally, one should receive an additional $600.00 a week, retroactively from March 29, 2020 through July 31, 2020 after the CARES ACT is implemented. Even independent contractors and self-employed individuals will qualify.(5) Don’t forget, if you are found ineligible for unemployment benefits, that decision generally may be appealed, and there are other potential steps one may take to reverse such determination.

Whether or not constituents agree with the politics behind it, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ response to employment issues created by COVID-19 has not only been efficient but has demonstrated a high degree of respect for its citizens and their financial security throughout this crisis. Unfortunately, even with the above-mentioned protections implemented by the Department of Unemployment Assistance, a seemingly good employment situation can be destroyed. 

Such destruction can occur for myriad reasons. For instance, what happens when your employer weaponizes COVID-19 as pretext to fire, harass, or otherwise discriminate against you upon the basis of a legally protected status, such as your race, disability, or age? What if your employer leverages COVID-19 policies against you, as retaliation for whistleblowing, or taking time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act? Remember, not all employers operate in good faith. If you believe that you were discriminated against, you may be able to file a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Both of the aforementioned administrative remedies, and the appeal of a denial of unemployment benefits are typically applied as an integral step in the process of bringing a lawsuit against employers. The administrative remedies and different courts have unique sets of rules, procedures, and filing requirements. Such procedures are even more challenging as the procedures and requirements are currently changing throughout the pandemic. Navigating the complexities of government administration unaided is a difficult task, and you may want to consider retaining an experienced employment and labor lawyer to help you.


3: Greater Boston Legal Services and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute
4: Cyber Townhall DUA meeting 3.25.20