Sick With COVID-19? Here's What You Need to Know About Getting Unemployment

A sick person laying on their couch at home covered by a blanket.

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Does falling ill with the virus render you eligible for jobless benefits while you're out of work?

Key points

  • Unfortunately, a large number of Americans have fallen ill with COVID-19.
  • As cases continue to soar, workers should know what benefits they're entitled to if they catch the virus.

Though the omicron variant has fueled a massive surge of COVID-19 cases, there's one glimmer of hope -- the variant is said to cause less severe illness than previous variants. In spite of that, plenty of people are, unfortunately, getting pretty sick from COVID-19 these days. And many are being forced to miss work due to illness.

If you're out of work due to COVID-related illness, you may be wondering whether you're eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, you may not like the answer.

You can't claim unemployment for illness

Whether you're home sick with COVID-19, the flu, or another ailment, the rules are basically the same: You can't collect unemployment when you're out of work due to illness.

Now, that wasn't always the case with COVID-19. Originally, the CARES Act -- the relief bill that was signed into law in March 2020 and put stimulus checks into American's bank accounts -- did offer jobless aid to people who were out of work due to COVID-related illness. But that provision is no longer in place. If you get sick with COVID-19 now, you're out of luck as far as jobless benefits are concerned.

That doesn't mean you're not entitled to sick leave, though. Many employers have a sick leave policy, so it pays to see what benefits you're entitled to. Your company may grant you a specific number of sick days per year, or you may have unlimited sick time. If, say, you're entitled to 10 sick days a year and you miss 10 days of work due to COVID-related illness, you shouldn't see a change in your paycheck.

Even if you're normally not entitled to sick leave or don't have enough of it to cover the time you're out with COVID-19, it's still worth discussing your situation with your employer. Your company may make an exception to its policy due to the nature of the pandemic. This may especially hold true if you have reason to believe you contracted the virus while at work.

What if you're quarantined with COVID-19?

Individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 and aren't fully vaccinated generally need to quarantine for a period of time afterward. If that's the boat you're in, you may qualify for unemployment benefits during that time.

Why? When you're home sick, you don't qualify for unemployment because you're not able to or available for work. When you're home because you're forced to quarantine, you are able and available to work -- you're simply being told you can't. And that's a distinction that could make you eligible for jobless benefits temporarily.

That said, it's worth seeing what your company's policy is before rushing to file an unemployment claim when a COVID-19 exposure forces you to isolate. It may be possible to do your job from home and avoid a hit to your hours and income. Even if that's not possible, your company may have its own compensation policy for this situation, so it's worth doing some digging.

Know what benefits you're entitled to

It may be the case that you've yet to contract COVID-19 but are worried you'll get it eventually. Given that rate at which cases are exploding these days, that concern is understandable. A good bet, therefore, is to look into your company's various COVID-related leave policies before you're forced into isolation due to illness or a need to quarantine. Having that information could alleviate one potential source of stress as you navigate these uncertain times.

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