Wondering how the federal legislation passed in response to COVID-19 could affect you? Learn about the new federal unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off or placed on hiatus and newly-enacted emergency family and medical leave and sick leave benefits for those who have been forced to leave their jobs. In addition, there is information about small business grants that may be available to some loanout companies.

If you have any questions, please contact WGAW Legal.

State and Federal Unemployment Benefits

In addition to leave benefits, state and federal law provide a variety of benefits for employees who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. For the purposes of most state and federal unemployment benefits, writers employed in the entertainment industry are likely eligible, regardless of how long they’ve worked for their current employer or whether they have a loanout corporation.

In California, qualification for unemployment insurance benefits depends on whether you have earned enough wages during the base period set by the state to establish a claim. You must also be totally or partially unemployed through no fault of your own and physically able to work and available for work. Claims may be made through the California state EDD website.

In addition to the state UI benefits, on March 27 the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The CARES Act creates three new programs to provide enhanced and expanded unemployment insurance (UI) compensation, fully funded by the federal government. These programs temporarily boost unemployment compensation, extend the duration of the benefits and provide emergency assistance to workers who might not typically qualify for unemployment benefits.

  • CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

For all those entitled to state UI, the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation provides an additional $600 per week per claimant, effective March 27 through July 31, 2020. This benefit also applies to those receiving a partial unemployment benefit check and those receiving the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance described below.

  • CARES Act Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

The CARES Act Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation provides an additional 13 weeks of state unemployment insurance benefits, after someone exhausts the benefits their state provides. California provides up to 26 weeks of UI benefits, and this would extend unemployment benefits for individuals to 39 weeks, at a rate of $600 per week during the extra 13 weeks. To be eligible for this extended benefit, workers must be actively searching for work, but the law provides states flexibility in the case of individuals unable to search for work because of COVID-19. This law also waives the statutory one-week waiting period to receive UI benefits.

  • CARES Act Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

The CARES Act also extends emergency unemployment assistance to workers who are otherwise ineligible for state UI benefits or who have exhausted their state UI benefits. This emergency unemployment assistance applies to self-employed workers, including contractors, freelancers, workers seeking part-time work and those who have not worked enough days to qualify for state UI benefits. This program runs from January 27, 2020 through the end of the year, and workers can access benefits retroactively.

To be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, workers will need to show that they are partially or fully unemployed, or unable and unavailable to work because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19; a member of their household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; they are caring for someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19; they are providing care for a child or household member who can’t attend school or work because of COVID-19; they are quarantined or have been advised to self-quarantine; they were scheduled to start employment and do not have a job or cannot reach their place of employment as a result of COVID-19; they have become the breadwinner for a household because the head of household has died as a result of COVID-19; they had to quit their job because of COVID-19; or their place of employment is closed because of COVID-19.

Those ineligible for this benefit under the CARES Act include workers who can telework with pay, those already receiving paid leave through their employers, those already receiving paid leave under applicable federal, state or local law, and new entrants to the workforce who cannot find employment.

State and Federal Temporary Leave Benefits

If you are unable to work because you have been infected with COVID-19, are a caregiver to someone who has been infected by COVID-19, or have had your work hours cut or eliminated as a result of COVID-19, you may be eligible for paid or unpaid leave through state and federal assistance programs. Writers’ eligibility is determined largely by the size of their employer since the federal statute only applies to employers with fewer than 500 employees, and some employers with fewer than 50 employees may seek an exemption from its requirements.

For general information, see this chart comparing the leave options under state and federal law.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) deals primarily with benefits for employees who have had to leave their jobs. The FFCRA goes into effect April 1 and will remain in effect through the end of the year. The following is a summary of the new benefits created by the FFCRA:

  • FFCRA Emergency Family and Medical Leave

The FFCRA requires employers to give up to 12 weeks of leave to employees who have been employed for at least 30 days and who are unable to work because they need to care for a child whose school or childcare has been closed, or whose childcare provider is unavailable, due to a public health emergency related to COVID-19 that has been declared by a federal, state or local government.

With certain exceptions for employers with fewer than 25 employees, employees who take emergency family and medical leave are entitled to return to their positions or to an equivalent position.

  • FFCRA Emergency Sick Leave

The FFCRA also gives full-time employees the right to 80 hours of paid sick leave (or, for part-time employees, the employee’s average hours over two weeks), for certain COVID-19-related reasons.

If you are taking paid sick leave because you are unable to work or work remotely due to a need for leave because you (1) are subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19; (2) have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; or (3) are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking medical diagnosis, you may be entitled to receive a maximum of $511 per day, or $5,110 total over the entire paid sick leave period.

If you are taking paid sick leave because you are: (1) caring for an individual who is subject to a Federal, State, or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19 or an individual who has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19; (2) caring for your child whose school or place of care is closed, or child care provider is unavailable, due to COVID-19 related reasons; or (3) experiencing any other substantially-similar condition that may arise, as specified by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, you may be entitled to receive a maximum of $200 per day, or $2,000 over the entire two week period.

In addition, if you have been employed for at least 30 calendar days, you may be eligible for a different benefit under the FFCRA. If you are unable to work or telework due to the need to care for a child whose school, place of care or childcare provider is closed or unavailable due to COVID-19, you can take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave. The first 10 days (2 weeks) are unpaid, unless you qualify for federal emergency sick leave and/or you elect to use any accrued time off. You may be paid for the next 10 weeks at two-thirds of your regular rate of pay for scheduled or average hours up to $200/day (maximum of $10,000).

Small Business Assistance for Loanouts

The Federal CARES Act also greatly expands the Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Program to include sole proprietorships, independent contractors, self-employed individuals, and small and medium sized businesses with up to 500 employees. The expanded program is in effect from January 31 to December 31, 2020. Borrowers may receive up to $10,000 in an emergency cash grant advance that can be forgiven if spent on paid leave, maintaining payroll, increased costs due to supply chain disruption, mortgage or lease payments or repaying obligations that cannot be met due to revenue loss. SBA has yet to implement this program, but it expects to pay the advance within 3 days of receipt of a successful application. The SBA can now approve these loans based solely on an applicant’s credit score, and EIDLs smaller than $200,000 can be approved without a guarantee. You can find the application here.

The Department of Labor has an FAQ page  that covers the basics of the law. If you have additional questions, please contact WGAW Legal.