Wondering how the federal legislation passed in response to COVID-19 could affect you? Learn about the federal unemployment benefits for those who have been laid off or placed on hiatus and 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.

This has been updated to explain benefits included in the latest short-term relief legislation passed by Congress on December 21, 2020 and signed into law on December 27, 2020.

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, following the expiration of most provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), Congress passed an additional round of COVID-19 relief legislation on December 21, 2020. The latest emergency relief bill extends programs established by the CARES Act through March 14, 2021, but it provides less generous benefits. This bill includes both enhanced unemployment insurance payments, described below, and a one-time direct payment of $600 to every adult and child earning up to $75,000, with individuals earning between $75,000 to $87,000 receiving smaller amounts.

The CARES Act created three new programs to provide enhanced and expanded unemployment insurance (UI) compensation, fully funded by the federal government. These programs temporarily boosted unemployment compensation, extended the duration of the benefits and provided emergency assistance to workers who might not typically qualify for unemployment benefit.

  • Pandemic Unemployment Compensation

For all those entitled to state UI, the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Compensation now provides an additional $300 per week per claimant, through March 14, 2021, for up to 24 weeks of unemployment. If an individual is already receiving Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, they will continue to receive it until the benefit is exhausted, but not past April 5, 2021.

  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation

The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation has been extended to March 14, 2021 and will provide an additional 11 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 from 39 weeks to 50 weeks, at a rate of $300 per week during the extra 11 weeks. Like with Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, if an individual has not exhausted all weeks to which they are entitled by March 14, they can continue to collect the benefit up to April 5, 2021. 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.

  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

The CARES Act also extended 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 was extended under the most recent legislation through March 14, 2021. Individuals are eligible for up to 50 weeks of PUA, but will not be eligible to receive PUA after April 5, 2021.

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”) dealt primarily with benefits for employees who have had to leave their jobs. The FFCRA went into effect April 1 and  remained in effect through the end of 2020, but Congress did not extend the FFCRA’s leave mandate in the latest COVID-19 relief legislation. However, Congress encouraged employers to continue providing this leave by extending the tax credit that covers the cost of benefits paid to employees through the end of March. The tax credit applies to covered employers—those with fewer than 500 employees. Note also that California’s Supplemental Paid Sick Leave, which extended protections to employers with more than 500 employees, was not renewed either and expired December 31, 2020.

The following is a summary of the benefits that were created by the FFCRA:

  • FFCRA Emergency Family and Medical Leave

The FFCRA required 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.

Because the FFCRA was not renewed at the end of 2020, employers are no longer mandated to provide this leave, but employers continue to be incentivized through tax credits (through the end of March) to voluntarily provide these benefits.

  • 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).

Because the FFCRA was not renewed at the end of 2020, employers are no longer mandated to provide these benefits, but employers continue to be incentivized through tax credits (through the end of March) to voluntarily provide these benefits.

Small Business Assistance for Loanouts

The Federal CARES Act also greatly expanded 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 was 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.   However, while the most recent legislation includes $20 billion for EIDL loans, it will prioritize grants to businesses in low income communities, who have suffered an economic loss of 30% and have fewer than 300 employees. The recent COVID-19 relief legislation also includes additional funding for PPP loans, and specifically makes live-venue operators, independent movie theaters and cultural institutions eligible for aid.

If you have additional questions, please contact WGAW Legal.