Losing Hours at Work Due to Omicron? Here's What to Do

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It's a situation that's becoming more common given the state of the outbreak.

Key points

  • COVID-19 cases are soaring once again, fueled by the omicron variant.
  • You may be entitled to unemployment benefits if you've lost enough work time due to the outbreak.

Unfortunately, we're kicking off 2022 in a pretty bad spot as far as the COVID-19 outbreak is concerned. The omicron variant has fueled a surge in cases nationwide, and following the holiday season, we could see those numbers increase.

That's problematic on a number of levels. If too much of the workforce is out due to omicron, it could lead to interruptions in basic services, from supermarkets to schools. And it could also hinder our broad economic recovery.

On a personal level, omicron could end up wreaking havoc on your schedule -- and income. Even if you don't fall ill with COVID-19, if you're exposed repeatedly at work, you may be forced to stay home for many days until a negative test confirms you're safe to return. And you may not be eligible for compensation in those situations.

Furthermore, staffing issues due to omicron are leading some businesses to pre-emptively scale back their hours. If that happens at your place of work, your hours -- and income -- may get cut, even if you yourself aren't dealing with a COVID-19 diagnosis or exposure.

Either way, it's important to have a game plan in case you end up suffering near-term income loss due to the COVID-19 situation. Here's what you need to know.

You may be eligible for unemployment

You don't need to be fully unemployed to qualify for jobless benefits. If your hours are reduced substantially, you may be entitled to unemployment, so it wouldn't hurt to file a claim. Typically, though, you need to lose at least half of your weekly income to qualify in most states, so if your hours are cut from 40 a week to 32, you may not be eligible.

Another thing you should know is that if you're self-employed and your income takes a hit due to the COVID-19 outbreak, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits at this point. Earlier in the pandemic, benefits were extended to the self-employed, but that program has since lapsed.

You may need to rethink your spending

Right now, the U.S. is experiencing a massive wave of COVID-19 cases. But health experts are already saying the omicron wave could peak by the end of January, and things will hopefully get better from there.

Still, you may be in for a rocky month or two as far as your income is concerned. The best thing to do now is assess your financial situation. Set up a budget that lists your existing expenses and see if there are any you can cut back on. Freeing up as much cash as possible could help you get by if your income is slashed for a few weeks.

Also, take a look at your savings account balance. If you have some money set aside for emergencies, you may have the option to dip in and cover some bills in the absence of a full paycheck.

You can also reach out to your landlord, utility companies, or auto loan servicer and see if you can get some leeway in paying your bills. If you explain that you're dealing with what's hopefully a temporary reduction in working hours, you may get some flexibility.

It's unfortunate that things have deteriorated on the COVID-19 front. If you're now being impacted financially, it's important to get ahead of the problem before you wind up in debt due to lost work time.

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