A record-shattering 10 million claims for unemployment benefits were filed in the last two full weeks of March 2020, and experts predict claims could rise even higher due to COVID-19 and the steps state and local governments have taken to contain it, from orders shutting down nonessential businesses to shelter-in-place restrictions, school closures, and more.
How Unemployment Programs Are Adapting to COVID-19
Federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly.
Federal CARES Act Expands Benefits to Workers in West Virginia
Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program. Employees eligible for unemployment in West Virginia will receive an additional $600 per week of federally-funded benefits, on top of what West Virginia already pays. These additional benefits will be available through July 31, 2020. And, unemployed individuals who run out of state-funded benefits will receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits, available through December 31, 2020.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, some states are imposing restrictions on people gathering in public locations. This may affect your ability to access physical offices of the the West Virginia Department of Commerce in person. Check West Virginia's unemployment insurance agency website for more information. And, read on to find out how you can file for unemployment insurance benefits in West Virginia online or by phone.
Coronavirus Update: In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES" Act, which we cover here), which greatly expands eligibility for unemployment. A number of states are also easing their eligibility rules to ensure that more people who are out of work due to COVID-19 qualify for unemployment benefits.
At our last check, West Virginia announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. The West Virginia Department of Commerce has made the following changes to West Virginia’s unemployment insurance rules:
the one-week waiting period for eligible individuals to receive unemployment benefits is waived,
the “able and available” to work requirement is waived,
the work search requirement is waived, and
unemployment insurance benefits will be available to individuals who are quarantined or isolated by a medical professional, local health authority, or employer, whether or not the individual is diagnosed with COVID-19.
Eligibility Requirement 1: Minimum Earnings
In every state, unemployment benefits are available only to those who are temporarily out of work. If you apply after being out of the workforce for years, for example, you won’t qualify for benefits. You must have been employed relatively recently, and earned at least a minimum amount, to be eligible.
In West Virginia, you can earn up to $424 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"), Congress has authorized an additional $600 in benefits per week, on top of your state benefit amount. These additional benefits, called federal pandemic unemployment compensation, expire on July 31, 2020.
Every state has its own rules for calculating unemployment benefits. Typically, the amount you receive each week is based on your earnings when you were employed. After all, unemployment benefits are intended to replace some of the income you lost along with your job, and tide you over until you find new work.
Calculating Your Benefit Amount
Your weekly unemployment benefit amount depends on your earnings during the base period.
To find out your weekly benefit amount in West Virginia, look up the corresponding amount for your total base period wages in the UC Benefit Rate Table.
In West Virginia, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks under state law.
Once your West Virginia benefit entitlement runs out, you will be entitled to an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program; see below.
Each state sets its own rules for how long unemployment benefits last. Until quite recently, virtually all states offered a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits. In the last five or six years, however, some states have changed their rules on duration of benefits (in most cases, to offer benefits for a shorter period of time).
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly. These changes may affect waiting periods, job search requirements, and availability of benefits to those who are still working part time. These changes include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program, including continuation of benefits. Keep in mind that you are entitled to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits under the federal CARES Act after your state benefits are exhausted if you are unemployed due to COVID-19.
If the West Virginia Department of Commerce denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the West Virginia Department of Commerce will send you a written determination of your eligibility for benefits and, if it finds you eligible, how much you will receive in benefits. But, if the West Virginia Department of Commerce finds that you are not eligible for benefits or grants you benefits in a lower amount than you believe you are entitled to, you can appeal that decision. And, if the West Virginia Department of Commerce finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.
Having your own lawyer to represent you in the unemployment insurance benefits process in West Virginia will level the playing field for you—because your ex-employer will be represented. Your ex-employer is almost certainly going to have a lawyer or two offering guidance through the West Virginia unemployment process. This legal advice can give your ex-employer an edge over you in the process, especially if they intend to challenge your claim for benefits. Your own lawyer can:
Help you figure out if you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in West Virginia
Tell you if your employer’s stated reason for terminating you is valid and will bar benefits
Guide you through West Virginia’s unemployment insurance benefits claim process
Advise you on how to keep receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and
Assist you if you need to appeal a denial of unemployment insurance benefits by the West Virginia Department of Commerce
If you have a straightforward unemployment claim, you will likely be able to file for unemployment benefits on your own, without any help from a lawyer. Your claim is relatively simple if you can easily meet the West Virginia earnings requirements to qualify for benefits, and you and your employer agree that you lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, because you were laid off or had to quit when your military spouse was transferred to another state).
But if your case is more complicated, it might make sense to consult with or hire an unemployment lawyer to represent you. An unemployment lawyer can help you if you are facing any of the situations described below.
1. Your Employer Claims You Were Fired for Misconduct
You may be disqualified from receiving benefits if you were fired from your job for misconduct. In West Virginia, misconduct is defined as deliberately disregarding or violating the standards of behavior an employer has the right to expect from employees, or being careless so frequently or so significantly as to demonstrate the same intentional disregard. However, you will still be eligible for benefits if you are fired simply for being inefficient, making good faith mistakes, or being unable to meet your employer's performance expectations.
If your employer fights your claim for unemployment on the grounds that you were fired for misconduct, you should consider talking to a lawyer.
If you are out of work and you may be – or already have been – denied unemployment benefits in West Virginia, you may be wondering whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. It all depends on your financial situation and how (and how much) the attorney charges. In some situations, an unemployment attorney may be willing to offer you a contingency fee arrangement. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award.
Below, we explain some typical attorney fee arrangements in unemployment cases.
Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether it makes sense to fight your employer in an unemployment claim, appeal, or lawsuit – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together.