FAQ: Unemployment Benefits Due to COVID-19

According to the latest unemployment projections from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the COVID-19 emergency is likely to cost 47 million jobs and push the unemployment rate above 30%. Unsurprisingly, the number of unemployment claims filed has reached historic levels. For the week ending on March 21, a record 3.3 million Americans filed initial jobless claims with an estimated 2.65 million to follow in the next week. The various state departments of unemployment are overwhelmed with claims and Wisconsin is no exception. The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, which handles unemployment claims in the State, reported that a typical week the number of calls it receives is roughly 24,000. However, during this emergency, the Department reported it is now receiving a staggering 1.5 million calls per week. Since March 15th, Wisconsin unemployment filings reached nearly 222,000, compared to roughly 13,000 filing during the same time last year. As a result, many Wisconsinites have questions about the unemployment process. This article will address many of the frequently asked questions.

Question One: Am I Eligible for Unemployment If I Have Been Laid Off Due to the Coronavirus?

Generally, yes. Wisconsin unemployment benefits are available to any worker who is unemployed through no fault of his own. Many employers are unable to operate during this time due to Governor Ever’s March 24th Safer-At-Home Order. In response, many employers are reducing their workforce on a temporary basis with the intention of hiring back its employees once the emergency concludes. Regardless of the exact language used – furloughed, laid off, terminated, fired, etc. – employees are eligible for unemployment benefits if they are unemployed through no fault of their own.

Question Two: My Employer Has Not Fired Me But My Workplace Is Closed And I Have No Hours to Work, Am I Eligible for Unemployment?

Assuming you meet the monetary criteria and weekly eligibility requirement, you will be eligible for unemployment. If you are unemployed through no fault of your own, you are eligible for benefits in the State of Wisconsin. An employer does not need to formally fire an employee for the employee to be eligible for unemployment. Where an employer has no hours for you to work and the business is closed due to the coronavirus, you will be eligible for unemployment as if you had been formally fired. Even those workers who have had their hours reduced, but are still working, may be eligible for unemployment in certain circumstances.

Question Three: I Am Self-Quarantining Due to the Coronavirus, Will I Be Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

Generally, no. To receive unemployment benefits, an individual must be unemployed through no fault of his or her own. While many businesses have been closed due to the coronavirus, many essential services continue to operate. If your workplace remains open and has hours for you to work, you will likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits while you self-quarantine.

While you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits, the federal government has provided relief to workers suffering from the coronavirus. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) goes into effect on April 2nd. Among other provisions, it provides for Emergency Paid Sick Leave for most workers affected by the coronavirus. This Act now allows an eligible employee to take paid sick leave because the employee is:

  1. Subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19;
  2. Advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  3. Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking medical diagnosis;
  4. Caring for an individual subject to a federal, state, or local quarantine or isolation order or advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns;
  5. Caring for the employee’s child if the child’s school or place of care is closed or the child’s care provider is unavailable due to public health emergency; or
  6. Experiencing any other substantially similar condition specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury and the Secretary of Labor.

If an employee meets any of these categories, the employer will be responsible for providing 80 hours of paid sick leave at the employee’s regular rate or two-thirds of the employee’s regular rate if the employee falls under categories 4, 5, or 6 above. This paid sick leave provision will remain in effect until December 31, 2020.

Question Four: I Am Sick At Home With the Coronavirus, Will I Be Eligible For Unemployment Benefits?

No. Eligible unemployment applicants must be able to work, available for work, and actively seeking suitable work. If you are so ill that you are unable to work, you would not meet these criteria. However, you should be aware that you may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you have subject to a mandatory quarantine by federal, state or local government.

Irrespective of the individual’s unemployment benefit eligibility, he or she may still be covered under existing laws concerning sick leave including the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Also, as stated above, the FFCRA provides coronavirus-related paid sick leave effective April 2nd.

Question Five: With So Many Businesses Temporarily Closing Due to Coronavirus, Am I Required to Look For Work to Receive Unemployment Benefits?

The normal requirement to receive unemployment benefits in Wisconsin is that the individual must complete 4 work search actions per week. However, by Executive Order of Governor Evers on March 18th, the work search requirement has been waived for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

Question Six: Is There Any Additional Unemployment Assistance Available In Response to the Coronavirus Emergency?

The federal government has enacted legislation that provides additional unemployment assistance to the unemployed. The Relief for Workers Affected by Coronavirus Act has received much attention due to the direct payments provision which provides up to $1,200 in direct cash payment to applicable Americans. However, the relief bill also extends additional coverage to the States for its unemployed individuals. Qualifying individuals may receive up to an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits, above and in excess of any state provided benefits, for the next four months (ending on July 31, 2020). In Wisconsin, most persons receive the state weekly maximum benefit of $340 per week. With the federal stimulus bill, you may receive an additional $600 per week, or $940 per week total in unemployment benefits.

Additionally, federal law may extend existing benefits. Under Wisconsin law, unemployment benefits are provided for a maximum of 26 weeks. However, the federal relief bills may extend unemployment benefits beyond existing limits to qualifying states – up to an additional 26 weeks. At this time, it has not been determined if Wisconsin qualifies for extended benefits, but if so, it may provide additional relief to those economically affected by the coronavirus.


This article has sought to provide answers to commonly asked questions regarding unemployment benefits in Wisconsin during this challenging time. Governments continue to aggressively monitor and address challenges faced by the Coronavirus and we may expect to see additional remedial legislation and updates in the future. For legal advice regarding unemployment benefits, or for any other employment law issues you may be facing, please contact us 262-652-5050 for a free consultation.