COVID-19 Update: My employer cut my hours, forced me to take unpaid leave, or ended my employment because of COVID-19 - what can I do?
You may be eligible for unemployment benefits while you are out of work. In general, you may apply for unemployment benefits if you worked for an employer and made at least $5,141 during the last year. But, new laws have greatly expanded who qualifies for unemployment insurance (more on the CARES Act below). These new laws have made major changes in unemployment insurance laws - many more people will be eligible. The best way to find out if you qualify is to apply.
NEW! May 1st, 2020: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) gives unemployment coverage for self-employed workers and others not normally covered by state unemployment insurance. This program was created through the federal CARES Act and provides up to 39 weeks of benefits through December 26, 2020.
How do I file for unemployment benefits under this new program?
- If you have already applied for benefits and been denied due to insufficient earnings, do NOT reapply. Your claim is in the system and will automatically transfer to PUA. Continue filing your weekly certification.
- If you are self-employed, filed a claim before PUA became available and received a denial; you do not need to refile an initial PUA claim. You will be enrolled in PUA but will need to file weekly PUA claims. If you have any outstanding weekly claims to be filed, these will be identified on your PUA monetary determination and you will be advised to file those claims. The system will allow you to file for the weeks noted.
- If you are self-employed and have not yet filed a claim, visit www.maine.gov/unemploymentand fill out the streamlined application form for PUA. Submit your weekly certification each week thereafter.
- If you are NOT self-employed and have not yet filed an initial claim under any unemployment program, you need to file a regular unemployment claim first to determine if you are eligible. If you are determined ineligible, your claim will be automatically converted to a PUA claim. Visit www.maine.gov/unemployment and fill out the application for the regular state unemployment program.
From the Maine DOL for self-employed workers who need to apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance:
"Applications for PUA will open on Friday, May 1. Beginning Friday, people who have been self-employed should do the following:
- Create a ReEmployME account
- Verify your email address in ReEmployME – click on the Benefit Maintenance menu and follow the instructions to receive a confirming email
- Sign up for direct deposit – also through the Benefit Maintenance menu. This is faster than the debit card option
- File your PUA claim – through the Unemployment Claim menu
- File your weekly certification for any weeks after your loss of employment
- Continue filing your weekly certification every week
Anyone who is not self-employed should follow the traditional process of applying for benefits. Visit www.maine.gov/unemployment for more information."
The Maine DOL has also put together this Pandemic Unemployment Assistance FAQ
New under Maine law
The Maine Legislature just passed a law to expand unemployment benefits to workers affected by the COVID-19 virus. That law will be in effect during the State of Emergency called by the Governor, which will last until at least May 15, 2020, and may be extended. Under the new law, you can apply for unemployment benefits if:
- Your employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19
- You are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer
- You leave employment or take a temporary leave of absence due to the risk of exposure or infection from COVID-19
- You leave employment to care for a family member
You may also be eligible for partial unemployment benefits if your hours are reduced, but you still have your job.
During the emergency period (through at least May 15), the normal one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits has been waived. This means you will start getting your benefits immediately. There is also no work search requirement for employees who will be returning to the same job at the end of the crisis.
For more information, see these unemployment and paid leave resources from Maine Equal Justice.
You can visit Maine's official unemployment page for more information about Unemployment Insurance benefits, including eligibility requirements and how to file a claim. They have a "Maine Unemployment Insurance Guide", and you can call 1-800-593-7660 if you have questions or need help. The Department of Labor’s automated phone system offers help in English, French, and Spanish, and the Department will arrange for an interpreter for other languages.
New under Federal law
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (or CARES Act) became law on March 27th, 2020. This $2 Trillion-dollar package includes money to make thousands of low wage workers previously shut out from the unemployment insurance system eligible for benefits - like self-employed people, 'gig' workers, and independent contractors. This new law dramatically expands benefits to unemployed workers. You may be eligible; the best way to find out is to apply.
For more information on whether or not you might qualify and greater details of the CARES law, including how to apply, please visit the Maine Equal Justice Guide.
The National Employment Law Project also has posted detailed information on the CARES Act.
Monday, April 6, 2020 Unemployment Update - Phone Hours Based on Last Name
From the Maine Department of Labor: "Starting Monday, April 6...last names beginning with A-H should call on Monday; I-Q on Tuesday; R-Z on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday will be left unassigned for those who miss their alphabetical day or need to call at that time."
If I need to apply for unemployment benefits, what are my basic rights?
For all of the benefit programs described below, you have the following rights:
- The right to apply for benefits (in person, by phone, or online)
- The right to a written decision
- The right to appeal any decision related to your benefits by going to a fair hearing. Read the notice carefully and be sure to appeal within the specified time.
- The right to a written notice before your benefits are cut off
- The right to a fact finding meeting before any benefit is terminated
- The right to read and copy the written rules of the program to help you figure out whether or not a decision about your benefits was right
How do I know if I'm eligible to get unemployment compensation?
To be eligible, you must meet these four tests:
- As soon as you are out of work, file a weekly claim with the Maine Dept. of Labor (DOL) Unemployment Claims Center. This filing also registers you for work with the DOL CareeerCenter.
You can apply online, by phone or by mail. Get more information about filing.
You will be asked to provide information about your employment history, the reason for your job loss and your availability for work.
- After you sign up, wait until your one week "waiting period" is over. You must file a claim for this week but will not receive a check for this week.
- Be able and available for work and actively seek work in your usual trade or one for which you are trained
- You do not have to meet this requirement if you are in an "approved" training program. To find out if your training program can be "approved" ask at your local or call 1-800-593-7660.
- You do not have to accept a midnight to 5 a.m. shift (or a shift which mostly falls within those hours) if the job would interfere with your duty to care for your children or other family members. The same rule applies if you had to refuse a job because you need a personal care attendant to help you get ready for work and none is available during those hours.
- You can still claim benefits if you are a part-time worker or have gone part-time temporarily, due to illness or disability of you or a family member, or due to domestic violence.You must be looking for part-time work.
- You can still get benefits for part of the week if you were not available for work during the rest of the week for "good cause" (such as illness, court appearance, or death of an immediate family member).
- You earned at least 2 times the average weekly wage in 2 different quarters of your "base period" and 6 times the average weekly wage in your overall "base period." The average weekly wage for the 3rd quarter of 2017 was $821.
"Base period" means the first 4 of the last 5 completed calendar quarters just before you applied for benefits.
Example: If you applied on April 10, 2018, your "base period" would be January through December 2017. If you are not eligible under this earnings test, look at your earnings for the last 4 completed calendar quarters instead. In the above example, this alternative "base period" would be the last 3 quarters of 2017 (April through December) and the first quarter of 2018 (January through March).
If I meet those four basic tests, will I qualify for benefits?
Maybe. The Department of Labor can still deny you benefits for any of these reasons:
- You voluntarily quit work.
- You had good cause for quitting and your reason is work-related. This could include harassment, retaliation, or discrimination. If this is the reason you left work voluntarily, you should talk with a lawyer who may be willing to represent you in a discrimination case, as well as your unemployment case.
- You quit because you or a member of your immediate family became ill or disabled and
you took reasonable steps to protect your job by promptly notifying your employer of a need for time off, a change in hours, or a shift change, and
you were advised by your employer that this would not be accommodated.
- You quit "to follow your spouse" and you are able, available, and actively seeking employment in your new location.
- You quit to accept a new job and that job fell through for reasons caused by your new employer.
- You quit to protect yourself or any member of your immediate family from domestic violence, or you quit because you reasonably believed that staying at your job would have been unsafe or damaging to your mental health, and
you did everything you could, within reason, to keep your job.
- You quit because your employer announced in writing that workers would be laid off, and your employer requested volunteers, at which time you offered to be included in a layoff, and your employer accepted your offer.
- You quit a job that was not your "regular" employment.
- Example: You worked as a welder for several years but took a job as a dishwasher for minimum wage for a few weeks. You would not lose out on unemployment checks because you quit the dishwashing job. Warning: The longer your stay in a "non-regular" job, the more "regular" that job becomes.
- You voluntarily moved to an area where there are fewer jobs.
- You were fired for "misconduct". Misconduct means that you did something wrong that was within your control and was very harmful to your employer. Misconduct is much more serious than poor job performance. For example, severe tardiness, violating a reasonable rule that seriously put your employer's business at risk, dishonesty or drinking on the job would probably be "misconduct".
- You are not guilty of "misconduct" if:
- you did the best job you could, but it just wasn't good enough for your employer. This is not misconduct;
- you made an isolated mistake, or error in judgment;
- you were absent from work because of your illness or the illness of a family member and you made a reasonable effort to tell your employer
The above examples are not misconduct and, therefore, cannot be used to deny you benefits.
- You refused to accept "suitable work." During the first 12 weeks of your unemployment, the Department will consider the degree of risk to your health, safety, and morals, your physical fitness, prior training, experience, prior earnings, length of unemployment, how hard it is to find work in your customary occupation, and the distance of work from the your home. After the first 12 weeks, your prior rate of pay will not be considered, if a job becomes available that pays at least the state's annual weekly wage. Note: If you qualify as a part-time worker, you are allowed to refuse full-time job offers.
- You are out of work due to a strike or work stoppage. However, if your job was filled by a "replacement" worker while you were on strike, you should then become eligible to receive benefits. Also, there are some narrow exceptions to this rule where the strike was caused by dangerous working conditions. Note: If you are out of work because of a "lock out," you can still qualify.
- You put false information in an application for unemployment benefits or knowingly omitted material information. (This can result in a disqualification from receiving benefits for up to one year, plus a financial penalty that increases with each offense - from 50% up to100% of the benefits you should not have received.)
- You were fired for committing a crime in connection with your work.
- You were fired for missing work for more than 2 work days because you were in jail for committing a crime.
- You are getting pension or retirement benefits. Note: You may still qualify if the pension is small or if you or an employer other than your "base period" employer contributed to the plan.
- You are on a voluntary leave of absence.
As a general rule, if you are disqualified for any of the above reasons, you can requalify by working and earning a certain amount of money. For example, if you are disqualified for quitting your job, you can re-qualify for benefits once you earn 4 times your weekly benefit amount.
NOTE: Once you earn this amount you will still have to meet all of the eligibility requirements. So, for example, if you quit the new job, you will still be disqualified.
What if I am getting vacation pay or severance pay from my employer?
- Vacation pay will not disqualify you from getting unemployment benefits. You can still get benefits even if you get vacation pay.
- Severance pay will be deducted from your benefit only in the weeks you receive it. If your employer offers you severance pay, you should ask to have it paid all at once so you can avoid it interfering with your unemployment benefits every week.
Can I get any help for my children?
If you have children and get unemployment compensation, you will also get $10 per week for each child you support. The child must be under 18 or physically or mentally disabled or a full-time student. If you are paying court-ordered support for a child who does not live with you, you can get a $10 benefit for that child as long as the child's custodial parent is not getting the same benefit for that child. (DHHS also has authority to withhold money from your benefit for child support owed. Contact DHHS to negotiate a smaller weekly withholding. Learn more about DHHS child support collection.
What other rules must I follow to get this benefit?
The DOL gives out a 28 page booklet What Every Worker Should Know About Unemployment Insurance. This booklet provides a very complete review of Maine’s laws governing unemployment compensation. Refer to it when you have questions.
What is the Dislocated Worker Benefit?
This benefit, sometimes called DWB, gives up to 26 weeks of additional unemployment benefits for "dislocated workers" who are in "approved training."
Who is eligible for this extended benefit?
To be eligible for DWB, you must be a "dislocated worker." Here are the tests:
- You got a lay off notice from your employer because of "reduced operations" at your workplace.
- You lost your job due to a plant closing.
- You are "long-term unemployed" and it is unlikely that you will be able to find work in your previous occupation.
Are there any other things I must do to qualify?
Yes. You must be in "approved training." "Approved training" is any training offered under the Workforce Investment Act or the Governor's Training Initiative Program through a Career Center or which the Unemployment Compensation Commission has approved. To find out more about approved training call 1-800-593-7660; TTY: 1-888-457-8884.
What if I have been out of work for a long time? Can I still qualify?
Yes. However, there is a deadline. To get DWB, you must enroll in "approved training" within 30 months (2½ years) of exhausting your unemployment benefits.
What is Trade Assistance?
These programs help workers who have lost work due to competition from imports and certain shifts of production to other countries. They provide up to 78 weeks of extended unemployment checks, plus money for training, job search, relocation assistance, health insurance and similar kinds of help.
Alternative Trade Adjustment Assistance (ATAA) provides eligible workers over 50 with a wage subsidy if they find new employment within 26 weeks of their separation and their new job has lower wages than their old job.
How can I qualify for Trade Assistance?
Here are the 4 basic requirements to qualify:
- You were laid off or had your hours cut by a plant that has been certified by the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) as being adversely affected by trade. Your employer, a group of workers, your union, or the Maine Department of Labor can petition the USDOL for plant certification.
- You must have been laid off after your plant's "impact date." This date is chosen by the USDOL as the date when your plant was first adversely affected.
- You earned at least $30 in each of 26 weeks during the one year period before your layoff (or meet some specific reasons for being out of work during that time).
- You enrolled in an approved training program within 8 weeks after your plant was certified or within 16 weeks of your layoff. Note: There are narrow exceptions to this rule, where the Department can waive your training requirement.
- To get extended benefits -- or "additional TRA" -- you completed an employability plan within 210 days of your company's first certification, or if later, within 210 days of your most recent layoff.
Is there a deadline for getting these benefits?
Yes. You must collect the extended weekly benefit within two years of your most recent layoff from the certified plant. (This time limit does not apply to training benefits. You can qualify for training benefits at any time.)
NOTE: This is only a simple outline of trade-related assistance. Because of deadlines, you, your union, or your employer must apply early for plant certification. Also, once the plant is certified, apply for training and weekly benefits as soon as possible after your layoff. Get more detailed information at your Career Center: 1-888-457-8883; TTY: 1-800-794-1110.
Can I qualify for any other unemployment benefit programs?
The Maine Dept. of Labor also runs these special programs:
- Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) provides benefits if you are unemployed because of a major natural disaster. In the past clam diggers affected by red tide have qualified for this help.
- Unemployment for Laid-off Military and Federal Employees (UCX, UCFE) provides weekly income to meet basic needs while searching for employment.
- Maine Enterprise Option (MEO) helps those who are "likely to exhaust" unemployment benefits and who desire to start a new business.
- Extended Benefits (EB) are paid to all claimants during periods of high unemployment.
Where can I get more information and help?
If you are denied benefits, call your area Pine Tree Legal Assistance office, or the Maine Volunteer Lawyer Project at 1-800-442-4293. If you are appealing a denial of benefits on your own, you can get a free video tape to help you prepare for the hearing. To order a tape, call the Department of Labor Administrative Hearings Division at 624-5900. Also, the Department of Labor posts information about how their appeal process works.
More online tools to help you prepare for a hearing:
Presentation by Maine lawyer David Sherman (posted in 3 parts on the Maine VLP's YouTube channel).
More Unemployment Resources
Apply for free skills training now! The Maine Department of Labor operates the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program. This gives Mainers with low incomes a real chance to gain meaningful job skills. It covers most costs for certificate programs and two and four year degrees. It is only open during certain enrollment periods, on a county-by-county basis. Visit the Maine Career Center for more information.
Were you recently denied unemployment benefits? The Volunteer Lawyer's Project may be able to help you. Get contact information here
Questions about how Maine Dept. of Labor's electronic benefits system works? What the MAP card fees are? What to do if you have problems with your card? How to get benefits deposited in a bank account, instead of using the MAP card? Learn more about your MAP card.
This information tells you about some of the benefits you may be able to get if you lose your job. It includes only benefits which are administered by the Maine Department of Labor. If you have questions about other benefits, such as EIC, tax and rent rebate, TANF, food stamps, MaineCare or general assistance, go to Are You Leaving Money on the Table?
Special thanks to Maine Equal Justice for their help with updating this information.
Updated September, 2017