Lost work due to omicron? What to know about unemployment benefits

Covid cases are spiking in some parts of the U.S., and the highly contagious omicron variant is expected to fuel another virus wave headed into winter.

In New York, some restaurants and Broadway performances closed temporarily this week. The positivity rate in the city doubled to 7.8% over three days, from Dec. 9 to 12.

Omicron and unemployment benefits: Here's what to know

Restaurants outside New York have had to shut their doors, too.

That same dynamic may soon affect a broader swath of Americans. Omicron is more contagious than the delta variant, and cases are doubling roughly every two days.

Workers who lose hours or their jobs may be wondering: Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

For many, the answer is yes.

However, the U.S. unemployment system has ample nuances and complex rules, meaning the situation will vary by state and individual circumstance.

And some groups of workers who’d qualified for aid earlier in the pandemic may find that assistance is no longer available. Temporary federal programs that expanded the jobless safety net expired on Labor Day. Sick people who miss work or self-employed individuals who lose ample earnings, for example, are likely out of luck.

“It’s ultimately going to be up to the state workforce agency to determine if someone’s eligible,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy advisor for unemployment insurance at the U.S. Labor Department.

The bottom line: Workers should apply if they think they may qualify, Evermore said. She advised workers be careful how they report data on their application. (One common and costly mistake, for example: reporting no earnings for the week since payday hasn’t yet come.)

Here’s what to know.

Partial benefits

Unemployment benefits are available in instances beyond a layoff; workers who lose significant hours may qualify, too.

Typically, workers need to lose at least half their weekly work to qualify in most states, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a progressive think tank. So, a restaurant worker who loses two of four work shifts due to a temporary Covid shutdown may qualify.