Essential Information for WI Workers Seeking Unemployment Relief During COVID-19

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis worsens in Wisconsin, workers are focused on the safety and well-being of their family and friends. Many businesses are closing or cutting hours in response to Governor Evers’ “Safer at Home” order, forcing newly laid off, unemployed Wisconsinites to worry about their finances and how they will pay their rent, mortgage, car payments, or grocery bills.

Answers to Wisconsin Unemployment Benefits Questions

If you are among those suddenly without a livelihood, you probably have questions about what unemployment benefits are available to help you, and how to successfully apply for unemployment benefits in these unusual circumstances. Finding answers can be difficult, especially at a time when you might be attending to several other new health- or family-related concerns.

We have compiled the most common questions and answers surrounding Wisconsin unemployment benefits to help you navigate Wisconsin’s unemployment insurance (“UI”) system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Am I eligible for COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

The first part of UI eligibility has to do with your employment history: Have you spent the last 15 months or so working for an employer that pays Wisconsin unemployment tax? If so, you could be eligible for UI.

The second and most important part of UI eligibility has to do with why you are not working, or not working as many hours as you’d like. To qualify for Wisconsin UI, you must be:
• unemployed through no fault of your own (you did not quit and you were not fired for good cause), or
• employed but working fewer hours than usual through no fault of your own.

Thanks to the COVID-19 relief package signed into law on March 27, 2020, states may choose to extend UI benefits to gig-economy workers and freelancers, but Wisconsin has not extended UI to cover these categories yet. Self-employed folks are also not eligible in Wisconsin.

In summary, if you are out of work, or working fewer hours than usual, through no fault of your own, and you work for an employer who pays the state unemployment insurance tax, then you may apply for UI in Wisconsin.

Only “Willing and Able” Employees are Eligible for UI

In order to receive UI benefits during the COVID-19 emergency, you must be willing and able to work a full time job (at least 32 hours per week). This means you may not be eligible now if:

• you become ill with COVID-19 and cannot work because you are sick. In this case, you may be eligible for paid emergency sick leave under the FMLA or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
• you choose to isolate yourself to avoid contracting the coronavirus, or
• you are not working because you need to care for a child or relative, and thus could not work a full-time job during the coronavirus. In this case, you may be eligible for paid emergency sick leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

If you are told to self-quarantine because you were exposed to COVID-19, and your employer intends to hire you back after the quarantine period, you may be eligible for UI. However, if you are not sure if you will return to the same employer after the quarantine period, you may not meet Wisconsin’s eligibility requirements.

What if I am still working a few hours during the coronavirus?

If it is not your fault that your hours are reduced due to the coronavirus, and if you would be able and willing to work full-time if that work were available, you are eligible to apply for UI benefits.

What if my employer is closed, but they will hire me back after the coronavirus?

You are eligible to apply for UI benefits during the COVID-19 health emergency. As long as your unemployment is not your fault, and you are able and willing to work full time if the work were available, you can apply now.

How do I apply for COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

Apply online with the Wisconsin Division of Workforce Development. You can also apply by phone at (414) 435-7069 or toll-free (844) 910-3661.

When do unemployment benefits start?

During this time of crisis, you may go back two weeks from the week you file your application, in terms of when you want your UI benefits to start. For example, if you apply for unemployment benefits in the first week of April 2020, you can backdate your application to the third week of March 2020 and get UI benefits paid back to that week.

Must I be actively looking for work to receive unemployment benefits?

During the coronavirus emergency, you do not need to search for work in order to receive UI. Some folks may be asked to register with the Job Center of Wisconsin in order to remain eligible, however.

Can my employer block me from getting COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

Your employer can always provide the Department of Workforce Development with information about why you are off of work, even during the coronavirus. If you ever feel your employer has reported false information, or if you feel your claim was wrongly denied, call the Hawks Quindel, S.C. employment team in Madison or Milwaukee. We are still working during COVID-19, and want to help you get the UI benefits you deserve.

How long will the COVID-19 unemployment benefits last?

Usually, UI benefits in Wisconsin last up to 26 weeks, or 6 ½ months. On March 27, 2020, coronavirus relief legislation was enacted, and this law provides an additional 13 weeks of benefits for a total of 9 ¾ months, and a four-month “enhancement” of those benefits, which involves a higher amount of total benefit income. Exactly how this will impact Wisconsin’s UI structure is not clear as of this writing, but the Department of Workforce Development should update its policies soon.

Keep in mind you will not be eligible to receive UI benefits after you go back to work full-time, or go back to your pre-COVID-19 work schedule.

How much money can I get in unemployment benefits during COVID-19?

Wisconsin DWD provides a helpful calculator to estimate the unemployment benefits you can expect to receive.

Again, the federal government’s March 27, 2020 CARES Act included an “enhancement” in UI benefits, but as of this writing, Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development has not provided any updates about what this means for out-of-work Wisconsinites.

If you have trouble understanding or accessing the Department of Workforce Development website for COVID-19 updates, or you simply don’t have time to sort through all the information, call Hawks Quindel, S.C., or submit our online inquiry form to connect with an employment attorney. We are still working for employees like you, and part of that work is keeping up to date about UI benefits.

COVID-19 has caused a great deal of uncertainty, stress, and even grief for many Wisconsinites. If you find yourself out of work, or working fewer hours, during the coronavirus, UI benefits can help you make ends meet until the public health emergency runs its course. If you have questions during this process, please reach out to the employment team at Hawks Quindel, S.C. in Madison or Milwaukee. We represent only employees, all the time, and are standing by to help you get through the coronavirus emergency.

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