Important: The status of the COVID-19 crisis constantly changes. The information in this resource is updated frequently.

California Resources — Unemployment and Disability Insurance, Paid Family Leave, Paid Sick Leave

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The state of California encourages employees to avail themselves of all programs available and applicable to their individual circumstances and needs. The programs in this section are administered by the Employment Development Department (EDD). Its duties including determining an individual’s eligibility for benefits.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Employees should apply for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits if they are unemployed because:

  • Their hours are reduced due to quarantine.
  • They have been separated from their employer during quarantine.
  • They are subject to a quarantine required by a medical professional or a state or local health officer.

Employees might be eligible for benefits if they have enough earnings over the last 12 to 18 months and meet other eligibility criteria. The governor’s executive order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period during the coronavirus crisis, so employees may collect UI benefits for the first week they are out of work.

An employee might be eligible for unemployment benefits if she or he chooses to stay home from work due to underlying health conditions and concerns about exposure to the virus.

An employee might be eligible for unemployment benefits if his or her child’s school closes, and the employee has to miss work to care for that child. The EDD determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis via a phone interview.

If an employer reduces workers' hours or shuts down operations due to COVID-19, employees still should file a UI claim. The benefit partly replaces wages for workers who lose their jobs or some of their hours through no fault of their own. Such workers who temporarily are unemployed due to COVID-19 and expect to return to work for their employer within a few weeks are not required to actively seek work each week. But they must remain able and available to work during their unemployment for each week of benefits claimed, and meet all their eligibility criteria.

Eligible employees receive benefits that range from $40 to $450 per week. Depending on an employee’s maximum award for the unemployment claim and the weekly benefit paid, he or she may receive benefits for 13 to 26 weeks, if he or she is paid at the full weekly benefit amount for each of those weeks. Payments could last longer if the employee performs some work for pay or if he or she receives other deductible income during the course of the claim, and, as a result, receives reduced unemployment benefits during those weeks. The EDD uses an employment insurance calculator to help estimate a worker’s potential weekly benefit amount.

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) discussed in previous sections, some individuals may qualify for an extra $600 weekly payment. Eligible employees would receive UI benefits for as long as 39 weeks. Employees should apply for benefits under the three unemployment programs in the CARES Act.

UI benefits interact with state disability benefits, and an applicant may transition from one to the other. An employee may start collecting disability benefits, then transition to an unemployment claim if his or her workplace continues to be impacted with a slowdown, or closes. An employee who begins collecting unemployment benefits because of a layoff or reduction in hours may switch to a disability claim if he or she becomes sick.

The same relationship exists between UI benefits and family leave. An employee could start collecting unemployment benefits because of layoff or reduction in hours, then switch to a paid family leave benefit if she or he must care for a family member who is sick. The state intends to be as flexible as possible to ensure that workers are provided the maximum benefit to which they are entitled.

Employees Who Work Reduced Hours May Collect Partial Unemployment Benefits

Under certain conditions, as noted above, an individual may be considered “unemployed” in any work week of less than full-time employment –– that is, if his or her weekly payable wages were reduced by $25 or 25% (whichever is greater), and did not equal or exceed the weekly benefit amount. For example, if an employee earned $100 in a week, the EDD would not count $25 as wages and deduct only $75 from the weekly benefit amount. Someone whose weekly benefit was $450 would be paid $375.

Once an individual is deemed to be “unemployed” and qualifies for partial UI benefits, the EDD calculates the weekly and reduced weekly benefit amounts.

Laid-Off and Furloughed Employees May Collect Unemployment Benefits

Individuals who have been laid off or furloughed without pay generally are eligible for unemployment benefits. Such workers must be considered ”unemployed” as defined by the California Unemployment Insurance Code. An individual is ”unemployed” in any work week that he or she (1) performs no services for which wages are payable; or (2) has less than full-time work. The latter case is calculated using the metrics in the previous subsection.

For a summary of how full or partial UI benefits are calculated, link here:

Practice Tip: The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program, a CARES Act initiative, provides unemployment insurance coverage to independent contractors, gig workers and the self-employed. Companies that hire independent contractors should review the propriety of those classifications carefully. An independent contractor's application for unemployment insurance could trigger an audit by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement or the state's Employment Development Department to confirm the company's compliance with Assembly Bill 5, the new California independent contractor law. See the in-depth discussion of AB 5 in "Sullivan on Comp" Section 4.58 Independent Contractor. Contact us to discuss your specific situation.

California's Work Sharing Program

If COVID-19 has impacted an employer’s business, it might be able to prevent layoffs by participating in the Unemployment Insurance Work Sharing Program, which helps employers to retain their workers. Employers reduce the hours across the board of current employees instead of imposing layoffs or furloughs. The employees receive prorated unemployment benefits. So the employer is spared costs of recruiting, hiring and training new workers, and workers get to keep their jobs while receiving financial support for their reduced hours. The arrangement leaves employers and their workers better prepared when business improves.

Work sharing offers employees who otherwise might not have been eligible for partial unemployment benefits to receive some benefits, plus their weekly wages. Leased, intermittent, seasonal or temporary service employees may not participate in a work sharing program. Workers who do participate receive a percentage of their weekly UI benefit reflecting the reduction in their hours and wages for that week.

For information about California’s work sharing program, link to:

Disability Benefits

If an individual is unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19, and he or she has the necessary supporting medical documentation, he or she should file a disability insurance (DI) claim. DI provides short-term payments to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages due to a nonwork-related illness, injury or pregnancy. Most California workers have DI insurance through deductions from their paychecks.

Gov. Newsom’s executive order waives the one-week unpaid waiting period for DI benefits, so a qualified individual is paid for the first week he or she is out of work. To be eligible for disability insurance benefits, the worker must submit certain medical documentation. A medical certification signed by a treating physician or a practitioner meets this requirement. It includes: a diagnosis and ICD-10 code, or if no diagnosis has been made, a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information.

Disability insurance benefits are approximately 60% to 70% of wages (depending on income), and range from $50 to $1,300 a week. The EDD's disability insurance calculator estimates an individual’s potential benefit amount. Benefits are paid through the date the individual’s doctor certifies or when the worker exhausts available benefits, whichever occurs first within a 52-week period.

Individuals qualify for disability benefits if they are under quarantine certified by a medical professional or a state or local health officer. If an employee is found not to be eligible for DI, he or she should apply for unemployment insurance.

If a family member is sick and an employee has to miss work to care for that person, she or he may be eligible for paid family leave benefits. The state makes clear that if an employee is unable to work because she or he is caring for an ill or quarantined family member with COVID-19, this leave might apply. It provides benefits for as long as six weeks (extended to eight weeks starting July 1, 2020) to eligible workers who have a full or partial loss of wages because they need time off to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. For paid family leave coverage, "family member" is defined as a seriously ill child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or registered domestic partner.

To be eligible for these benefits, the worker must submit the family member's medical documentation pertaining to the illness or quarantine due to COVID-19. A medical certification for that person from a treating physician or a practitioner meets this requirement if it includes: a diagnosis and ICD-10 code, or if no diagnosis has been made, a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information. The requirement also is met by a written order from a state or local health officer specific to the family member's situation. Absent these documents from these sources, the worker might be eligible for unemployment insurance. Telehealth and virtual appointments are acceptable for a physical examination, but medical certification is still required.

Employees may use California-mandated paid sick leave to care for themselves or a family member who is sick or requires preventive care when civil authorities recommend quarantine. Under California law, most employees who work for 30 days or more within a year of starting work are eligible for paid sick leave.

The amount of sick leave an employee may accrue per year depends on his or her paid sick leave plan. California law requires 24 hours (or three days) minimum of paid sick leave per year for full-time employees. They earn a minimum of one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.

An employee is entitled to begin using accrued paid sick time beginning on the 90th day of employment.

Paid sick leave may be carried over to the next year if an employee does not use his or her sick leave. Employers, however, may cap the total amount of accrued sick leave at 48 hours, or six days.

Paid sick leave is available for full-time workers, part-time workers and temporary employees. There are some restrictions for certain workers who do not fall under the California sick leave laws for regular employees, including those working under a collective bargaining agreement and in-home supportive care providers, among others.

California sick leave may be used for reasons other than illness, including:

  • seeking a diagnosis
  • preventive care
  • treatment and safety planning related to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking

Employers may not deny an employee's right to use sick time or retaliate against an employee for using sick leave.

When employees exhaust benefits under emergency sick leave for their own illness or are caring for an ill family member, and need additional leave, employers should let them use their accrued sick leave, per California’s sick leave mandate.

See Also

< Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans & Emergency Economic Injury Grants Table of Contents California Enacts New Supplemental Sick Leave Mandate Effective March 19, 2021 >

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