California School Emergency Leave and Unemployment Benefits May Help Some Workers
If you miss work to care for your child after their school closes, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance. [JH2] The Employment Development Department is handling school closure applications on a case-by-case basis, and encouraging claims for partial benefits where the employer is allowing reduced hours, but has not yet clarified whether the usual requirements of being available for work will be waived where the employer does not allow reduced hours. Employees should apply right away since the usual 7-day waiting period for benefits has been waived due to COVID-19.[JH3] Read more about this below.
Also, under California’s Labor Code, employers with 25 or more employees working at the same location must allow employees to take up to 40 hours of leave per year to address an emergency at a child’s day care or school. However, an employee must still notify the employer in advance.
California Workers Can Apply for Wage Replacement for Disability and Reduced Work Hours
Two state-run programs are available for employees [JT4] in need of wage replacement to support social distancing for their health and safety – State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Unemployment Insurance(UI), both administered by the Employment Development Department (EDD). Governor Newsom’s Executive Order waived the usual one-week waiting period for people who are unemployed and/or disabled as a result of COVID-19.
State Disability Insurance eligibility defines disability to include any illness or injury preventing regular or customary work. Benefits cover 60-70 percent of wages up to a maximum of $1,300 per week for up to 52 weeks, and are tax-exempt. A worker must be unable to work for at least eight days, and must submit medical certification by a health practitioner prior to issuance of benefits. Applications may be submitted within 49 days of the first date they had to stop working because of disability.
While the EDD hasn’t yet confirmed that applications citing only age-related vulnerabilities will be approved, they have confirmed that people who cannot work due to “having or being exposed” to COVID-19, if certified by a medical professional, can file a Disability Insurance claim.
Older workers who are in an age-defined vulnerable population and who obtain medical certification of their age related condition as an “illness” may also be eligible for disability benefits, although there is no certain answer to this question yet. When doctors or other healthcare providers are filling in the disability forms, they should consider using “R54,” the International Classification of Diseases code for “age-related physical debility” when there isn’t a more specific condition.
EDD also administers Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits, allowing up to six weeks of PFL at the SDI rate to Californians who are unable to work because they are caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, if certified by a medical professional.
If an employer closes the workplace due to COVID-19 and doesn’t pay or only partially pays its employees, workers can apply for Unemployment Insurance (UI) or, if eligible, SDI. Unemployment Insurance benefits cover approximately 50 percent of wages, up to a maximum of $450 per week, which is taxable. [JH5]
The EDD has outlined how self-employed, independent contractors can qualify for UI. State Disability Insurance is only available for independent contractors who have enrolled in Elective Coverage. Workers are often misclassified as independent contractors, and may have the same rights to benefits as employees under AB 5, even if their employer calls them an “independent contractor.”