Unemployment Insurance Benefits and COVID-19

As millions of displaced workers seek economic relief in the form of California’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, the federal government has stepped in to supplement it (and each state’s UI program) with funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Read about 2020 legislation.

  • Originally set to expire in 2020, federal legislation extended CARES Act unemployment benefits into 2021. First, late in 2020, federal legislation provided a brief extension through March 2021. Most recently, on March 11, 2021, the president signed the American Rescue Plan Act further extending federal unemployment benefits through September 6, 2021.

This page contains the following information:

  • Unemployment Insurance Overview
  • Expanded Benefits Under the CARES Act
  • Applying for UI Benefits
  • Responding to UI Claims
  • Work Sharing Program

  • Through no fault of their own, many employers have been forced to cut their workforces, and they want to help their displaced workers through these trying times. This page guides you and your newly displaced workers through the UI benefits process in California.

    Unemployment Insurance Overview

    California's UI program provides payments to workers who've lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, and who meet the program's eligibility requirements. In the recent past, UI eligibility required that the displaced worker be:

    • Totally or partially unemployed.
    • Unemployed through no fault of their own.
    • Physically able to work.
    • Available for work.
    • Ready and willing to accept work immediately.
    • Actively looking for work each week benefits are claimed.

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting "stay at home" orders, however, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) has temporarily eliminated two major eligibility requirements:

    • Individuals aren't required to actively look for work during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
    • For claims beginning on January 19, 2020, or later, the seven-day waiting period required to receive UI benefits is waived.

    For more information, see Unemployment Insurance.

    Expanded Benefits Under the CARES Act

    Under the CARES Act, beginning the week of April 6, 2020, a program referred to as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC) provided $600 in addition to the weekly UI benefits. This program expired July 31, 2020.

    Shortly after the FPUC program expired, the president issued an executive memorandum creating the Lost Wages Assistance program (LWA). This program provided $300 in supplemental weekly UI benefits to individuals who already have a weekly benefit award of $100 or more. The LWA program ended on December 27, 2020, at which time federal legislation reinstated the FPUC program, adding $300 to each week of benefits for up to 11 weeks through March 13, 2021.

    • Most recently, the newest COVID-19 relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan Act signed on March 11, 2021, extended the FPUC program. The new extension adds $300 to weekly UI benefit amounts through September 6, 2021.

    Usually, individuals can only collect up to 26 weeks of regular UI benefits, but the CARES Act, in addition to supplemental UI funds, also included a 13-week extension of benefits for claims filed after March 29, 2020, a program referred to as the PEUC. In late 2020, this was extended, providing up to 24 weeks total.

    • The American Rescue Plan Act further extended the PEUC program through September 6, 2021, providing a total of up to 53 additional weeks of payments if employees have used up their traditional benefits.

    Independent Contractors and UI Benefits

    In the recent past, independent contractors — along with self-employed workers and business owners — weren't eligible for UI benefits. But the CARES Act, which includes the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, changed that. The PUA program provides displaced independent contractors, self-employed individuals and business owners with a minimum of $167 per week, which may be increased up to $450 per week depending on reported income. These previously ineligible workers also receive the supplemental benefits under the FPUC program.

    • The PUA program has been extended by subsequent COVID-19 relief legislation. Most recently, the American Rescue Plan Act extended the program to September 6, 2021. With the new extension, PUA includes up to 86 weeks of benefits beginning February 2, 2020.

    PUA eligibility criteria and benefits are different from the standard UI. Under PUA, workers are eligible for benefits if they meet any of these requirements:

    • They've been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis.
    • They're unable to work because a health care provider advised them to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19.
    • A member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • They're providing care for a family member or a member of their household who's been diagnosed with COVID-19.
    • A child or other person in the household for whom they have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that's closed as a direct result of COVID-19 and the school or facility care is required for them to work.
    • They become the major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19.
    • They must quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19.
    • Their place of employment is closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
    • They were scheduled to start a job that is now unavailable as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
    • They're unable to reach the place of employment as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.
    • If they work as an independent contractor with reportable income, they may also qualify for PUA benefits if they are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited their ability to continue performing their customary work activities, and has thereby forced them to stop working.

    Displaced independent contractors, self-employed individuals and business owners should monitor the EDD's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance webpage, has instructions for filing a claim for PUA benefits.

    For more information on Independent Contractors, see Independent Contractor.

    Applying for UI Benefits

    Employers should consider assisting their displaced workers by offering information on how to apply for UI benefits. If you're fortunate enough to resume business-as-usual when the economy opens up, your returning employees likely will appreciate the assistance you provided when their cards were down.

    To apply for benefits, individuals will need to provide their personal information and:

    • Last employer information including company name, supervisor's name, address (mailing and physical location) and phone number.
    • Last date worked and the reason they're no longer working.
    • Gross earnings in the last week they worked, beginning with Sunday and ending with their last day of work.
    • Information on all employers they worked for during the past 18 months, including name, address (mailing and physical location), dates of employment, gross wages earned, hours worked per week, hourly rate of pay and the reason they're no longer working.
    • Notice to Federal Employees About Unemployment Insurance, Standard Form 8 (former federal employees only).
    • DD 214 Member 4 copy (ex-military only).
    • Citizenship status, and, if they're not U.S. citizens, information from their employment authorization documents.

    There are three ways to file a UI claim:

    Online: This is the fastest way to have a claim accepted and begin receiving benefits. Displaced workers can visit the EDD's UI Online page and apply during the following times:

    • Sunday: 5 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
    • Monday: 4 a.m. to 10 p.m.
    • Tuesday through Friday: 2 a.m. to 10 p.m.
    • Saturday: 2 a.m. through 8 p.m.

    By phone: Individuals can reach an EDD representative Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., though wait times may be long due to extremely high traffic.

    • English: 800-300-5616
    • Spanish: 800-326-8937
    • Cantonese: 800-547-3506
    • Mandarin: 866-303-0706
    • Vietnamese: 800-547-2058
    • TTY: 800-815-9387

    By mail or fax: Applicants fill out one of the following forms, then mail or fax the form to the location provided on the last page of each form:

    Responding to UI Claims

    When an employee files a claim for UI benefits, employers will receive a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Claim Filed from the EDD. Employers should respond with 10 days. Failure to timely respond waives the right to appeal the EDD's eligibility determination.

    After a timely response, the employer will receive a Notice of Determination/Ruling, advising the employer of the EDD's eligibility decision. Employer have the right to appeal the EDD's decision if they disagree.

    When responding to EDD notices, ensure that any reason given for the separation from employment is accurate, well-documented and consistently explained.

    For more information on responding to claims and employee eligibility, see Responding to Unemployment Insurance Claims.

    Work Sharing Program

    As a potential alternative to layoffs, employers should consider the EDD's Unemployment Work Sharing Program.

    The work sharing program allows employers to reduce employee work schedules rather than laying off workers, while allowing these employees to simultaneously collect partial unemployment benefits for the time reduced.

    For example, instead of laying off 20 percent of employees, an employer could reduce employees' hours by 20 percent and unemployment insurance (UI) would pay part of the difference in wages to employees. The program helps employers keep their workforce intact during a slowdown, enabling them to ramp up business activity more quickly as conditions improve.

    Work Sharing Requirements and Criteria

    To participate, employers must submit an application to the EDD. Employers may visit the EDD’s work sharing program website to register for an account to apply online. Alternatively, employers may still submit the Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance Plan Application (DE 8686) in writing.

    To be eligible for work sharing, the EDD states that employers must meet all of the following requirements:

    • Be a legally registered business in California.
    • Have an active California State Employer Account Number.
    • At least 10 percent of the employer's regular workforce or a unit of the workforce, and a minimum of two employees, must be affected by a reduction in hours and wages. (Temporary, seasonal, leased and intermittent employees cannot participate in the work sharing plan.)
    • Hours and wages must be reduced by at least 10 percent but not exceed 60 percent.
    • Health and retirement benefits must remain the same as before, or they must meet the same standards as other employees who are not participating in work sharing. Any reductions in health benefits must be applied equally to all employees, those participating in the plan and those that are not.
    • The collective bargaining agent of employees in a bargaining unit must agree to voluntarily participate and sign the work sharing application.
    • Identify the affected work units to be covered by the work sharing plan and identify each participating employee by their full name, Social Security number and any other information required by the EDD.
    • Notify employees in advance of the intent to participate in the work sharing program. If the employer cannot notify the employees in advance, the employer must explain why.
    • Identify how many layoffs will be avoided by participating in the work sharing program.
    • Provide the EDD with any necessary reports or documents relating to the work sharing plan.
    • The employer must attest that participation in the program is consistent with its employment obligations under federal and state laws.

    One downside to the work sharing program is that it's administratively burdensome. In addition to the application itself, once approved, employers must send weekly certifications to the EDD for each participating employee. Employers will be charged for work sharing unemployment insurance in the same manner as regular UI benefits. While this has the potential to increase employers' UI tax rate, layoffs would have the same result when the employees who were let go file for unemployment benefits.

    Employers should consult with legal counsel to determine if the work sharing program is a good strategy given their particular circumstances. The program may allow employers to avoid layoffs and stay in operation at a reduced capacity.

    Employers can read more about the program and how to apply on the EDD's work sharing site.