Unemployment Loophole: Positive COVID Tests May Disqualify You, but Exposure Might Prove Grounds for a Claim

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As the Omicron variant spreads through the country, it will undoubtedly result in a new wave of employees needing time off from their jobs. While early pandemic-era federal benefits allowed for unemployment compensation as an economic means to make up for time off work, those benefits are no longer available for those who test positive for COVID-19.

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According to Michele Evermore, senior policy advisor for unemployment insurance at the U.S. Department of Labor, individuals who test positive for COVID-19 and stay home to recover are not eligible for unemployment benefits, CNBC reports.

During the early part of the pandemic, the federal government was supplementing an additional $300 per week of unemployment benefits on top of whatever unemployment benefits a state government was paying an eligible individual. This was one of the most generous unemployment benefits packages in history, but this program expired in the beginning of September 2021.

Unemployment benefits are a type of social insurance paid on a weekly basis. The law requires Americans to be “able and available” for work to qualify for the assistance. An individual who has COVID-19 doesn’t meet this core requirement, Evermore said.

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Potential Exposure Could Lead to an Unemployment Benefits Claim

Unemployment is not meant to be sick leave, but a loophole in this rule potentially nets you benefits if you need them.

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Those who test positive for COVID-19 do not qualify for unemployment insurance, but for those who need to be isolated as a result of potential exposure, this is not necessarily the case. Those in isolation are technically able and ready to work, but are missing work due to circumstances out of their control.

These individuals will need to contact their workplace first, as they may be able to receive sick leave from their employer. If not, they can try applying for unemployment insurance for the period of time during which they are required to isolate. The CDC now recommends an isolation period of 5 days in the event of an exposure, recently reduced from 10.

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