Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act

On March 27, 2020, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act contains, among other things, the Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act, which significantly expands unemployment insurance benefits during the COVID-19 public health emergency. You may now be eligible for one or more of the following types of benefits:

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC): If you have a benefit year ending on or after July 1, 2019 (in effect, if you opened a claim on or after July 2, 2018) and you use up your regular benefits, you may be entitled to an additional 13 weeks of benefits until December 31, 2020. As of now and without an extension, no matter when your benefits start, no PEUC benefits will be available after December 31, 2020.
  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC): If you are otherwise eligible for regular benefits and/or PEUC, you will receive your regular weekly benefit rate plus an additional $600 per week from April 5, 2020 to July 31, 2020.** (**UPDATE: July 31 was the original end date. The last payment of such benefits may now end as soon as July 25 or July 26 if there is no congressional action to extend this benefit.)
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA): From January 27, 2020 to December 30, 2020, if you are not otherwise eligible for benefits and are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work because of the COVID-19 public health emergency, you may be eligible for PUA. That includes individuals who use up their regular benefits and/or PEUC benefits, or who would not be eligible for benefits under ordinary circumstances (e.g., if you are self-employed, an independent contractor, or have an insufficient work history). If you have the ability to work remotely with pay or are receiving paid sick leave or other paid leave benefits, you are not eligible for PUA. Between January 27, 2020 and December 30, 2020, you can only receive regular benefits and PUA benefits for up to 39 weeks. As of now, no matter when your benefits start, no PUA benefits will be available on or after December 31, 2020.

Other Important Unemployment Insurance Benefit Information

Although the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) administers the unemployment insurance program, it is technically not a public benefit because it is generally not funded by government monies. The funds actually come from a tax that employers must pay. Because a former employee’s receipt of benefits may affect an employer’s contribution rate, employers often protest claims.

If you are out of work in New York and your separation from employment is for a non-disqualifying reason, you may qualify to collect unemployment insurance. The NYSDOL initially determines if you are eligible for unemployment insurance, determines the amount of benefits you will receive and for how long you will receive the benefits.

The NYSDOL will determine your unemployment insurance benefits by first looking at how much you earned during your “basic base period” or your “alternate base period,” which may give you a higher weekly amount of benefits. In New York, the basic base period is the earliest four of the last five complete quarters of the calendar year before you filed for benefits. The alternate base period is the last four complete calendar quarters. This means that the base period will not count your employment in the current calendar quarter when you apply for benefits.

Eligibility

To determine your eligibility for unemployment insurance, the amount you are entitled to receive and the length of time you will receive benefits, the NYSDOL considers several factors, including:

  • Past earnings – there are two ways to qualify to receive unemployment insurance:
    • If you earnings in your highest paid quarter were under $11,088
      • You must have earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters that make up the base period; AND,
      • You must have earned at least $2,600 during at least one quarter of the base period for claims filed in 2020; AND,
      • Your total earnings during the base period must be at least one-and-a-half (1½) times your earnings in the highest paid quarter.
    • If your earnings in your highest paid quarter were $11,088 or more –
      • You must have been paid at least $5,544 (half of $11,088) total in the other three quarters of your base period.
  • Reasons for unemployment – in order to collect unemployment insurance, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. If you separate from employment for a disqualifying reason, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits until you have worked again and earned at least ten times your weekly benefit rate. For instance, if you are fired for misconduct on the job, such as violating company rules or policies, stealing from your employer or failing a drug test, you may not qualify for unemployment benefits. Also, if you quit your job or refuse a job without good cause, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, if you become unemployed due to being laid off or due to a reduction in the work-force, or sometimes even because you are not qualified for the job or cannot meet the standards of the employer, you should be able to collect unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Availability and capability – in order to continue receiving unemployment insurance, you must look for work and be ready, willing, and able to work immediately if you receive a job offer. You must also keep written records of your efforts to find a new job. If you refuse a job without good cause, you will be disqualified from receiving benefits.

Benefits Available

The first step in obtaining unemployment insurance benefits is to file a claim with the NYSDOL. These claims can be filed online or over the telephone. The NYSDOL will receive and review your application and then send you a Monetary Determination, which states whether you are entitled to receive unemployment insurance and indicates the amount of the benefit.

After your claim is granted, you must request payment each week and meet any ongoing eligibility requirements, such as looking for a job, certifying for benefits each week and reporting to any required appointments. You are allowed to receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks. The NYSDOL will determine your weekly unemployment benefit based on the number of calendar quarters in which you were paid wages and the amount of wages you were paid in each calendar quarter in your base period. However, as of October 2019, there is a maximum benefit of $504 per week, regardless of how much you were earning during the base period.

Appeal Process

The Monetary Determination will also inform you if your claim is denied because you have not met the necessary requirements. If your claim is denied or if the amount of the benefit is lower than you think it should be, you can file a Request for Reconsideration with the NYSDOL. The NYSDOL will then review your request and consider any additional information you provided. The NYSDOL can issue a revised determination if it incorrectly denied your claim or incorrectly calculated the benefit amount.

If the NYSDOL determines that you are ineligible for benefits, you will receive a Notice of Determination. If you disagree with this determination, you can appeal it by requesting a hearing, in writing, within 30 days. If your former employer contests your eligibility and the NYSDOL determines that you are eligible for benefits, your former employer can request a hearing. The hearing will be before an administrative law judge who will take testimony and documentary evidence, and then issue a written decision either sustaining, overruling, or modifying the NYSDOL’s initial determination.

If you appear at a hearing and disagree with the decision by the administrative law judge, you can appeal that decision to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board (Appeal Board). The Appeal Board will review the record of the hearing (but not take any new evidence), and issue its own written decision. If you still disagree with the outcome, you can file a civil case in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.

Legal Editor: Jacob Korder, January 2018 (updated July 2020)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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