State relaxes unemployment standards for workers affected by Covid-19

Legal Aid also offers help to those fearing lost jobs

The virus that causes COVID-19 isolated from a patient in the U.S. Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

As businesses close to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the Nebraska Department of Labor will relax its requirements for those applying for unemployment between March 22 and May 2.

On Monday, Labor Commissioner John Albin announced the department plans to won’t require its applicants to be searching for work. He said it will also expedite the one-week waiting period for benefits, making those dollars available immediately. The Department of Labor will pay those benefits through the state’s trust which Albin said is well funded. The office is also working to make applying online, which already serves about 97 percent of applicants, easier.

Awarded benefits amount to 50 percent of how much workers typically make in a week with a $440 cap. Those benefits last 26 weeks or until the worker has received one-third their base period wages.

Those benefits are available to hourly and salaried employees. However, some worry about the long-term consequences for hourly workers’ job security.

“As far as rights, what rights do low wage workers have, what protections they have every state is different and in Nebraska nothing protects low wage workers,” said Amanda McMahon, managing attorney with Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Agricultural Worker Rights Program.

Nebraska does not guarantee hourly workers sick pay, unlike states like Oregon and Maryland, nor pay during a state of emergency or disaster.

Several large private companies like Walmart, Starbucks and corporately owned McDonald’s have promised some form of paid leave. However McMahon said she’s worried for Nebraskans in jobs like manufacturing and agriculture where there are less safety nets.

McMahon said workers in fear of losing their job during this time should have copies or pictures of their employee handbook and make sure any promises their boss makes about their job’s future during this time is in writing.

For other questions, McMahon recommended calling programs like Legal Aid of Nebraska as well as regional programs like the Heartland Workers Center which can educate workers on their rights and assist them in legal representation.

For more information on how to respond to Covid-19 questions in the workplace, check out Legal Aid of Nebraska’s employment FAQ.

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