April 7, 2020

Unemployment Eligibility Expanded Drastically Under the CARES Act

Family stay at home. Mother with little son. Coronavirus theme. Mom measures baby's temperature.
The federal government has passed the ‘third phase’ of emergency legislation, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), in response to the present outbreak of coronavirus/COVID-19. 

You can read the law in its entirety here, but we’re providing general guidance and answering common questions about the sections of the law that are especially important to your business and employees below.  

This post will provide what you need to know about the expansion of unemployment benefit accessibility under the CARES Act. 
The federal unemployment expansion does two main things:

  1. Expands who can be eligible to receive unemployment benefits through the end of 2020; and

  2. Provides an additional $600 per week in unemployment payments through July 31, 2020.


Expanded Unemployment Benefits under the CARES Act are not guaranteed and may differ based on your state.

We are aware that some states are denying claims that could now be approved under the CARES Act. It is likely due in part to the fact that unemployment claims have exploded over the past couple of weeks and the states are overwhelmed.

Another reason for this is that while the CARES Act permits significant flexibility for states to amend their laws to provide expanded unemployment insurance benefits in multiple scenarios related to COVID-19, it does not require it. And it looks like some states have not yet chosen to amend their laws, even though they will be fully reimbursed by the federal government for all unemployment payments made under the CARES Act expansion.

As a result, some of these states are continuing to enforce their “old,” and very limited, state-specific unemployment rules, rather than the new, expanded rules under the CARES Act. If you have an employee whose claim has been wrongly denied, encourage them to appeal. Also, you may want to call your governor to complain that your state is not providing the full benefits possible to employees who have lost their jobs (partially or in full) due to no fault of their own as a result of the virus.

Keep in mind, we will likely see more states expanding their unemployment benefits in the coming weeks as they have time to adjust.


Everyone and their mother is now eligible for unemployment benefits.

The federal government has greatly expanded unemployment benefits eligibility. Employees who normally are not eligible for unemployment benefits under state/federal law, now are.  So, any employees who were previously denied unemployment, should likely re-apply.  

This expansion will be in effect until the end of the year, but employees can only receive a maximum of 39 weeks of unemployment benefits. 

Individuals who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, do not have sufficient work history, or otherwise would not qualify for UI under state/federal law, are now eligible for partial or full unemployment if they meet one or more of the following criteria: 

  • the individual has been diagnosed with COVID–19 or is experiencing symptoms of COVID–19 and seeking a medical diagnosis;

  • a member of the individual’s household has been diagnosed with COVID–19;

  • the individual is providing care for a family member or a member of the individual’s household who has been diagnosed with COVID–19;
  • a child or other person in the household for which the individual has primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency and such school or facility care is required for the individual to work;

  • the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID 19 public health emergency;

  • the individual is unable to reach the place of employment because the individual has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID–19;

  • the individual was scheduled to commence employment and does not have a job or is unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency;

  • the individual has become the breadwinner or major support for a household because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID–19;

  • the individual has to quit his or her job as a direct result of COVID–19;

  • the individual’s place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency; or

  • the individual meets any additional criteria established by the Secretary for unemployment assistance under this section.


  • Employees who are able to continue working their normal schedule remotely are not eligible for unemployment benefits.

  • Employees who are receiving any paid leave benefits are not eligible for unemployment benefits.


Related Reading: CARES Act: SBA Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program


Business owner eligibility is unclear.

While the expansion says it applies to the self-employed, it’s not clear if the government is intending to include all business owners or only independent contractors and single person businesses. We’ll be updating as we learn more.

Eligibility may depend on how you are paid as a business owner, such as if you receive a W-2 salary that has taxes taken out. For now, you may want to speak with your CPA or other financial planner about whether they think you would qualify for benefits or if there’s an alternative financial plan that would be more beneficial.


All employees who qualify for unemployment benefits will receive an additional $600 per week for the next few months.

Our understanding of the law is that all employees who qualify for unemployment under state or federal benefits will be eligible for an additional $600 per week under the CARES Act.  This is true, even if: 

  1. The employee is only receiving partial unemployment benefits because they are working reduced hours.

  2. The additional $600 takes the employee above what they usually make per week when they are working. 

This additional $600 will only be available until July 31, 2020.  


All unemployment claims should be filed in your state.

Even though the federal government is expanding unemployment benefits through the CARES Act, employees should continue to apply for benefits on the state level.  There is not a separate federal unemployment benefits claims process. The federal government is distributing funding to states to then distribute to eligible individuals. At this time, we do not have information about how soon those payment increases will start to be distributed. Also keep in mind that the process varies in each state. 


Employees will not be able to refuse to come back to work because they would prefer to receive unemployment benefits.

Don’t worry!  Once you are ready to reopen your company and you offer the employee their full hours again, they will no longer be able to receive unemployment benefits.  So, you don’t need to worry about how you will get your employees to come back to work if they are being paid more not to work. 

Related Reading: Families First Coronavirus Response Act Guidance and FAQ


The federal government is offering to reimburse states that set up “work share” programs.

Work share programs encourage employers to provide employees with reduced hours instead of completely furloughing/laying them off. They are state programs that allow employees with a reduction in hours to apply for partial unemployment.  

Some states already have a work share program set up, and, as a result, they were able to provide immediate help to employees with reduced hours during this crisis.  To help support these existing programs, the federal government will be providing grants to these states to cover 100% of payments made to employees.  

To encourage more states to set up these programs, the federal government will be reimbursing 50% of the costs incurred by states that set up new work share programs.

Keep in mind, even in the states that don’t take advantage of this funding to set up a work share program, employees will still be eligible for partial unemployment through the end of the year under the CARES Act.    


The federal government is encouraging states to waive the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits.

Typically, there is a one week waiting period for any employee seeking unemployment benefits. States that waive this waiting period will be fully reimbursed by the federal government for all unemployment benefits paid during the first week of eligibility.  


Employees should not wait in line to apply for benefits.

Obviously, the last thing you want is for your employees to have to congregate with others in order to receive benefits; but, unfortunately, many states do not have an online application. For this reason, the CARES Act requires states to set up applications for unemployment compensation, and assistance with the application process, by phone or online.

Related Reading:

Practical Guidance for Employers Handling the Coronavirus Outbreak

CARES Act: SBA Loans and the Paycheck Protection Program

Families First Coronavirus Response Act Guidance and FAQ

Remote Work Checklist for Employers
This post was updated on April 7, 2020. It was originally published on March 31, 2020.

Comments have been temporarily disabled, as we are focusing on responding to questions from our existing CEDR HR Solution Center members. If you would like to learn more about becoming a Solution Center member to gain access to our team of HR professionals, please email us at info@cedrsolutions.com

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.


  1. AvatarEvan Wolf says

    Holy crap, ya’ll have been extremely helpful over the past few days.
    I haven’t found sensible interpretation and advice anywhere else
    Thanks so much for your hard work, insights, and generousity in sharing with the small business health care community.

  2. Avatarlaurene duke says

    information from your company is the very best and most understandable I have received . i want to thank you!!!!
    i have a dilemma. an employee quit dec 31 to move to Colorado and start work mid Feb in Colorado. Her office closed due to COVID after she signed her W9 form, etc March 15. She never even worked one day for that doctor…. She does not know where to apply for unemployment or even if she can.
    Will she apply using my 2019 data?? We do not know where to turn for this information. thanks

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      The expansion of unemployment benefits under the CARES Act applies to employees who have yet to start work at a new position. She should therefore probably go ahead and apply under her new employer in her new state. If you are an owner or manager of a dental or healthcare practice, you might want to consider joining the discussion with 7000 of your peers in our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp. Lots of good conversation happening in that group and you’re likely to find a great deal of helpful information there. Stay healthy!

  3. Avatar says

    Unemployment applications by phone or online are impossible. Our office has tried both for the last two weeks. The NY site and phone lines have crashed. Do you know an other option? Will something be done to administer this avalanche of claims.
    Thank you, for being so supportive.

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      Unfortunately, we can’t really speak to the application systems available in each state. I do know that the New York system has been particularly overloaded and that you are not alone in this situation, though it doesn’t really solve the issue for you. Keep in mind that there is no way that any state office could have possibly been prepared for this situation so, just like the rest of us, they are completely overwhelmed right now. Take a deep breath and keep trying to apply through the traditional channels until you are able to get through!

  4. Avatar says

    Wow, thanks for this info. I wonder if you are able to comment on California? A TDIC (The Dentists Insurance Company) rep told me yesterday that two of their advising attorneys warned that in a case like mine where I am the owner of my S-Corp and an employee dentist (I am the only dentist in my business), if I file for unemployment benefits that I might trigger an audit from the State/EDD. That makes me shy away from applying, even though I practice on the up-and-up, but my business pays unemployment insurance taxes for me as an employee, so I feel like I should be able to claim unemployment benefits. What are your thoughts?

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      This is a difficult situation to address and is unfortunately outside the scope of our HR expertise. It’s probably best if you address this question to your CPA. You can also ask 7000 of your peers and colleagues how they are managing similar situations in our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp. Best of luck!

      • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

        The CARES Act passed last week so that additional benefit should already be in place. Keep in mind that this benefit is still processed through state unemployment processes, so the timing of when it actually reaches any particular individual could vary. State governments are overwhelmed by claims right now so, if you are an employer, your best bet is to avoid making any promises to your employees about a process that is completely out of your control.

  5. AvatarAnna Durand says

    What about employess that have medical insurance that they pay through payroll deductions. how does this work?

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      This is a complicated question that would require more information about your business to provide a thorough response. Generally speaking, if your employees are furloughed but still on the payroll, they may still have access to your group plan under certain circumstances, though this will vary provider-by-provider (you’ll need to check with them to be sure how this works for your plan). If your employees are laid off, meaning separated from employment, they will no longer have access to your group plan and will likely need to file for Cobra or other emergency benefits. CEDR Solution Center Manager Grace Godlasky provides a helpful breakdown of the insurance situation as it applies to offices that are closed in this short video. Hope this helps.

      If you are an owner or manager of a dental or healthcare practice, you can also join the discussion and ask additional questions on our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp. You’ll find that lots and lots of your peers and colleagues are discussing situations much like this one in that group.

  6. AvatarMike Murphy says

    Hi. I have a 1.5 year old practice. We were just starting to become profitable when this thing came up. Anyway I do need help with HR – this entire situation has made that clear. Obviously finances are tough right now but very interested to work with your group in the future. Thanks

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      That’s a tough position to be in, but we’ll be happy to work with you when you’re ready. In the meantime, consider joining HR Base Camp to discuss your current HR needs with 7000 of your peers and colleagues in our private Facebook Group.

      When you’re ready, we also provide free consultations and employee handbook reviews to anyone considering signing up with us. Stay safe and healthy and we’ll look forward to working with you soon!

  7. Avatar says

    great summary as always, and I appreciate the timeliness of your company getting us the understanding of the info best you can at the moment. Here is a question on challenge we are going to have. When a team member works one day a week, they still can pull partial unemployment. At two days a week, they lose part of it, at 3 days a week they lose all unemployment compensation for that week. We have a couple team members working the 3 days a week often, instead of drawing unemployment those weeks. They are doing that to fill the company need , rather than stay home. My understanding is that if they work 3 days and do not get any compensation for unemployment that week, zero dollars on claim; that they would also not get the added $600 for that week. Then it would not be prudent for them to come help the 3 days, as it financially makes no sense. Is that your understanding, or will people with an open claim get unemployment even if they work a partial week and earned enough to make them ineligible for the state compensation on unemployment that week. let me know. Easy answer is to try to find more folks willing to work a day a week, but with current compensation planned with new bill few want to do that .

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      This is a tough question. I should start by clarifying that this blog is really a platform for general guidance and we’re getting into some really specific territory here. For starters, unemployment benefits vary by state, so you’re going to get much more actionable information from your state’s unemployment office and/or FAQ page. Generally speaking, unemployment benefits exist to help unemployed and underemployed individuals to make their wages whole again. So, if an employee is making the same wages they were while your office was open, they will probably not be entitled to unemployment benefits for that week, and therefore will likely not get the additional $600 benefit for that week. I’d suggest you join our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp to see how others in your shoes are dealing with this situation. You’ll find about 7000 of your peers talking about very similar issues in that group. Best of luck!

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      The expansion of unemployment applies to employees in ALL industries, so suffice it to say that it will affect healthcare employees who are forced to collect unemployment benefits during this period the same way that it will affect all other types of employees. For a healthcare-centered discussion on this and similar topics, if you are an owner or manager of a dental or healthcare practice, join our private, professional Facebook Group, HR Base Camp.

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      The benefit applies to anyone that is on unemployment through July 31, and that includes individuals who are receiving partial benefits.

  8. AvatarKathy Raymond says

    If I get a CARES loan/grant and then again have to furlough our employees will they be eligible for the extra $600?

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      Anyone who is currently unemployed or underemployed and is approved for unemployment benefits should be eligible for that additional $600 benefit through the end of July. Your particular situation with respect to PPP loans should have no bearing on the availability of this benefit. If you are an owner or manager of a dental or healthcare practice, join the discussion and ask additional questions of 7000 of your peers and colleagues on our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp. You may find that resource very helpful. Good luck out there and stay safe!

  9. AvatarEric Rossow says

    We need to know the answers based on the Department of Labor FAQs questions 23 and 24. So my Governor ordered Dental offices to close so I take it as my employees are not entitled to the Sick Pay or FMLA until I put them back to work. I am also told I will not receive the tax credits if I pay this because of the Department of Labors interpretation. I need to know what to say to employees about this.

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      The answer to this question comes down to whether or not you still have your employees on the payroll. If, for instance, you are temporarily “closed” but have employees working from home and/or still technically employed by your practice, they may be entitled to leave under the FFCRA. If you laid them off and they are no longer on the payroll, they should apply for unemployment benefits. If you are an owner or manager of a dental or healthcare practice, consider joining the discussion with 7000 of your peers and colleagues on our private, professional Facebook forum, HR Base Camp to crowdsource answers to any other questions you might have. You can also find a temporary office closure template letter on our Coronavirus Resource Page for Employers. Good luck and stay healthy!

  10. Avatar says

    Where is the most recent Unemployment Poster. That states about 80 hours of sick time and everything. I saw one but I thought it was updated more recently.


    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      The poster requirements are related to the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which concerns paid leave administered through employers — it is not related to unemployment. Here is the link to that FFCRA poster. It’s the only one that’s been issued, to our knowledge.

    • AvatarCEDR Solutions says

      Your involvement with the PPP loan process as an employer should have no bearing on your employees’ eligibility for unemployment benefits, except that once you receive the loan and rehire your employees to full capacity, they will likely not be eligible for UI anymore. If your employees are not working or are working reduced hours, they should apply for UI. If you keep them working the same number of hours (from home or otherwise), they will likely not be eligible for unemployment. Of course, this is very general guidance and the UI process, eligibility, and total benefit offered to an employee will vary state-by-state and employee-by-employee. Hope this helps!

  11. AvatarErika Ledsome says

    My questions are does my staff have the right to choose PPP or Unemployment?
    Do I have to hire them back immediately? What happens if they choose to stay on unemployment?
    Most of my staff is tipped & with the additional $600, they’re making more on unemployment than what I can offer them.