Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Unemployment Compensation Benefits

Last Updated On: 5/27/2020 9:04:24 AM


On March 27, 2020 Congress passed the CARES Act. This legislation created, a major expansion of the Unemployment Compensation program for the coronavirus emergency. This expansion will do two things:

  • First, the new Unemployment Compensation will cover more people. The regular Unemployment Compensation system covered only people who were “employees” of a business. Independent contractors, “gig workers,” or “freelancers” were left out. Now, the new Unemployment Compensation system will cover most of those people during the year 2020. 
  • Second, the “CARES Act” provides significantly higher payments, for four months. The extra payments of $600 a week will be available through the end of July 2020.

In an earlier bill Congress created two other limited benefits for employees during the coronavirus emergency.

  • A two-week paid sick leave benefit; and 
  • An extended Family Leave benefit for people who have to stay home to care for kids whose schools or daycare are closed. 

If you want to learn more about the Paid Sick Leave or the extended FMLA, Legal Aid has a separate FAQ on those benefits. But we believe the vast majority of people losing work and income because of coronavirus will be better off using the new Unemployment Compensation benefits, not the Sick Leave or the extended Family Leave. 

If you have questions about Unemployment Compensation, returning to work, and whether it will be safe, read this FAQ


I was laid off from my job because of the coronavirus pandemic. Can I get Unemployment Compensation benefits?

Yes. You are eligible for:

  • weekly payments of “regular” Unemployment Compensation benefits; AND
  • an additional $600 per week paid on top, through the end of July 2020.

The dollar amount of “regular” benefits is based on your earnings during the past 15 months. In most states the “regular” Unemployment Compensation benefit is only about 40% to 45% of your average previous earnings.

So Congress provided an extra $600 per week, on top of the regular benefit, until the end of July 2020. Everyone who qualifies for any type of “regular” Unemployment Compensation will also receive the extra $600 per week. The $600 amount does not depend on the level of your prior earnings. Also, the $600 per week payment does not count as “income” for Medicaid or CHIP. This may mean that some people get more from the coronavirus Unemployment Compensation payment than they were earning on the job. 

I wasn’t laid off, but my hours were cut way back. I’m not earning nearly as much as before. Can I get some help from Unemployment Compensation?

Yes. The Unemployment Compensation system has always had a “low earnings” benefit. The weekly payment amount you receive will depend upon your previous earnings and your new earnings.

In addition, Congress provided in the CARES Act that until the end of July 2020 Low Earnings claimants will ALSO receive the extra payment of $600 per week.  

I was already on Unemployment Compensation benefits when coronavirus hit West Virginia. I don’t have many weeks left to draw benefits. But now with the coronavirus epidemic there’s no way I’m going to find a job any time soon. Can I get some more weeks of benefits?

Yes. In West Virginia regular benefits can be paid for up to 26 weeks. During calendar year 2020 the CARES Act gives as many as 13 weeks of additional benefits, if you remain unemployed that long.

I already used up my 26 weeks of Unemployment Compensation benefits, but I’m still unemployed. With the coronavirus emergency I’m not likely to find a job now. Can I get extra weeks added to my claim?

Yes. During calendar year 2020 the CARES Act adds up to 13 weeks of additional benefits even for people who have exhausted their state Unemployment Compensation benefits.

Is there a “waiting period” before I start getting Unemployment Compensation benefits?

No. The Governor waived the regular one-week waiting period for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

Are there other ways the Governor made it easier for people to get Unemployment Compensation benefits?

Yes. Normally there are other requirements to show that a person is “actively seeking” work, and is engaged in “work search,” and to prove that the person is “seeking full-time work.” All of these requirements can be eliminated for people who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 and related public health shutdown protections.

How do I apply?

You must apply online at

If you do not have internet access, or have a disability requiring assistance, call 1-800-252-JOBS (1-800-252-5627). They will help you get your application filed.

We know this may not be easy. The existing online application computer system was not built to handle the large number of people now trying to apply. “Just keep trying.”

Normally an applicant for Unemployment Compensation must also “register as a job seeker” when filing a new claim. This may be a part of the process that is waived for people unemployed due to COVID-19. But it may also be an automated part of the normal process that the State cannot “undo” without re-programming the computer system. If this is a problem, contact Legal Aid at 1-866-255-4370 or apply online and let us know.  

When should I apply?

As soon as possible. According to the state agency that pays Unemployment Compensation benefits, “benefits cannot be paid for weeks of unemployment occurring BEFORE YOU FILE.”

I’m unemployed because the schools have shut down and I’m the only one who can take care of my kids at home. Can I get Unemployment Compensation?

Yes. You were “prevented from working” because of “communicable disease measures related to COVID-19.” You will be covered by the CARES Act passed by Congress on March 27.

I can’t work because I have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and have to stay home. Can I get Unemployment Compensation?

Yes. You are unemployed because of a “documented medical condition caused by COVID-19.” You will be covered by the CARES Act. You may need to certify that you were diagnosed, and that was the reason you cannot work.

I can’t work because I’m caring for someone else who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Can I get Unemployment Compensation?

Yes. You are unemployed “due to a documented medical condition caused by COVID-19” of a person for whom you are responsible to provide care. You will be covered by the CARES Act. You may need to certify that the person was diagnosed, and be able to explain why you were required to provide care.

I have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and I’m off work, but I’m using paid sick leave. Can I get Unemployment Compensation?

No. Under traditional rules of eligibility, as long as you are still getting paid by your employer for sick leave, annual leave, vacation time, or the like, you are not eligible.

My employer doesn’t provide paid Sick Leave, but I’m getting two weeks of paid Sick Leave under the federal “Families First Coronavirus Relief Act.” Can I get Unemployment Compensation?

Probably not. Technically you are still on the payroll of the employer, and still getting paid. When your two weeks of paid Sick Leave are used up, you can apply for Unemployment Compensation benefits then.


I wasn’t technically an “employee.” Call me a “freelancer” or a “gig worker” or an “independent contractor” or “self-employed,” but my work has been eliminated because of the coronavirus emergency. Can I get Unemployment Compensation benefits?

Yes. In the CARES Act Congress made “emergency unemployment assistance” is available to workers who normally are left out of the Unemployment Compensation system. This applies both to freelancers who now have no work or earnings at all, and to freelancers whose work is greatly reduced (“low earnings”).

Freelancers or gig workers must be able to show that the coronavirus emergency is what caused their current lack of work.

Like the “employees” who qualify for Unemployment Compensation benefits, freelancers will get both a “regular” Unemployment Compensation payment (for up to 39 weeks) and the special $600 per week CARES Act payment (for four months). The “regular” Unemployment Compensation payment for freelancers will likely be a bit lower than for “employees” now out of work.  

As a “freelance” or “gig worker,” do I have to meet any special requirements for Unemployment Compensation benefits?

Yes. You will have to certify that:

  1. You are either partially or fully unemployed, or you are unable and unavailable to work;
  2. Your unemployment or inability to work must be due to circumstances related to the coronavirus. For example: that you were diagnosed with COVID-19; or you are providing care for a child whose school or daycare has closed because of coronavirus; or you have been advised by your health care provider that you should self-quarantine. There are ten different “circumstances” under which you may qualify.
  3. You cannot perform your work by “telework” for pay; and
  4. You are not receiving paid Sick Leave or other paid leave.  

Is there a seperate application process for freelancers, gig workers and part-timers? 

Yes.  After a lengthy delay for “re-programming,” the separate application process for self-employed and gig workers will be available beginning Friday night, April 24 at 10:00 p.m.

Since the passage of the CARES Act the West Virginia has been taking Unemployment Compensation applications ONLY from individuals who were “employees” before losing their job. Any gig workers who tried to use that “normal” application were quickly denied.

The agency (called “WorkForce West Virginia) has now announced that the application process for freelancers, self-employed, independent contractors and other gig workers will start accepting applications on Friday night, April 24 at 10:00 p.m.

Will I be able to get Unemployment Compensation benefits back to the time that I lost my work because of the coronavirus?  Or will I be denied those benefits because the agency would not allow anyone to submit an application until April 24?

We don’t know the answer yet.  We agree with you that applicants SHOULD be able to get “back benefits” going back to the date you were actually prevented from working due to the COVID-19 emergency.   If your application is approved and you begin receiving benefits, but you do not receive payment for the back weeks, contact Legal Aid. We will try to assist you in addressing this problem.   

Is there a waiting period for gig workers, freelancers, or part-timers?

No. The one-week waiting period has been waived for everyone who qualifies under these provisions.

I was an employee, but I worked only part-time. I’ve been laid off from even the part-time job, because of the coronavirus pandemic. Can I get Unemployment Compensation benefits?

Yes. The CARES Act passed by Congress on March 27 also covers people who worked part-time or are only looking for part-time work. (In the past, the “regular” Unemployment Compensation program did not cover part-time workers.)

If you have no work at all now, you should qualify for regular Unemployment Compensation (plus the extra $600 a week through July). If you still have some part-time employment, but less than before, you should qualify for the Low Earnings benefit (plus the extra $600 a week through July).  


On March 18, 2020, Congress adopted the “Families First Coronavirus Relief Act.” This bill gave two new benefits to employees affected by coronavirus.

  • First, it provided a federally-funded two-week Paid Sick Leave benefit.
  • Second, it provided an extended Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) benefit for people who had to stay home to care for kids whose schools or daycare are closed because of coronavirus.

These benefits are available only to people who still remain on the payroll of their company. The purpose was to encourage employees and employers to try to avoid lay-offs and firings.

But the expansion of the Unemployment Compensation system by the CARES Act on March 27 created much better options. Frankly, most people would be better off under the expanded Unemployment Compensation benefits than using the Paid Sick Leave or the extended FMLA benefit.

If you or your employer prefer for you to remain on the payroll using the Sick Leave or the extended FMLA leave, talk to each other and figure out what’s best for you. Legal Aid has a separate FAQ with a full explanation of the Two-Week Paid Sick Leave benefit, and the extended FMLA for Child Care benefit. If you think that would be helpful for you, read that information. But you are likely to be better off being laid off so that you will be eligible for the expanded Unemployment Compensation program.

This is general legal information. For guidance about your situation, talk to a lawyer.