I’m An Independent Contractor. What Rights Do I Have? Am I Entitled To Unemployment or Other Benefits?

As of today, cities and states are reaching the peak of their curves, and Americans can finally see a semblance of light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel. But for many Americans, the end of that tunnel will mean the beginning of economic hardship. Although federal and state laws provide public benefits for “traditional” employees, many of these benefits are ordinarily non-existent or severely lacking for independent contractors and self-employed workers. Fortunately, the federal and state governments have taken significant measures to protect millions of Americans who would otherwise be left high and dry.

Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Self-employed, part-time, and gig workers comprise as much as one quarter of all workers in California. Thankfully, following the passage of the CARES Act last month, independent contractors and the self-employed who are affected by COVID-19 can now apply for unemployment benefits. To be eligible for benefits under the CARES Act, a non-traditional worker must meet one of the following criteria:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or experience COVID-19 symptoms and you’re seeking a medical diagnosis;
  • You are unable to work because your doctor advised you to self-quarantine because of COVID-19;
  • A member of your household is diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • You are a caregiver for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • A child or other person in the household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility cannot go to school or daycare because of COVID-19 and the school or daycare is required for you to work;
  • You are now the sole breadwinner of the household because the head of the household died as a result of COVID-19;
  • You quit because of COVID-19;
  • Your job closed because of COVID-19;
  • You were supposed to start working at a job that closed because of COVID-19;
  • You cannot get ahold of your employer because of COVID-19; or
  • If you work as an independent contractor with reportable income, and you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because COVID-19 severely limited your ability to continue performing your customary work activities and has thereby forced you to stop working.

As discussed in our previous blog entry, the CARES Act:

  • Gives eligible workers 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits. Because California ordinarily provides 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, Californians may now receive up to 39 weeks of benefits; and
  • Provides unemployed workers an additional $600, on top of what they receive in unemployment compensation per week, through July 31, 2020.

The California Employment Development Department (“EDD”) is still developing a new program for self-employed workers and independent contractors. As such, the EDD is asking self-employed workers and independent contractors wait to apply until after the EDD establishes a separate program for these ordinarily ineligible workers. Nevertheless, the EDD recognizes all eligible workers have a right to file for unemployment benefits even though the State is still working out the kinks.

Information on how to file an unemployment claim can be found here: https://www.edd.ca.gov/unemployment/UI_Online_File_a_Claim.htm

Paid Sick Leave

Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), self-employed workers are entitled to paid sick leave in the form of a tax credit allowed against the worker’s self-employment tax. Importantly, “eligible self-employed individuals” under the FFCRA include individuals who “would be entitled to receive paid leave during the taxable year pursuant to the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act if the individual were an employee of an employer.”

In other words, this provision could also apply to some independent contractors who would have otherwise been entitled to sick leave. The credit allows workers to take up to 10 paid sick days, and sick leave wages are capped at $511 per day for their own use and up to $200 a day to care for others and any other substantially similar condition.

Further information about the FFCRA can be found in our previous blog entry.

If you think you need legal assistance from an employment law attorney to fight for your rights and fair compensation, reach out to the attorneys of Haeggquist & Eck, LLP for help!

We can be contacted online or by phone at (619) 468-5222.

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