COVID-19 Results in Recent Changes to Unemployment Rules

In these surreal times, many employers are faced with the difficult decision to terminate their otherwise loyal and hard-working employees. And employees are faced with the decision to stay at work, or quit to care for themselves or their loved ones. The ultimate choice can have a great impact on an employee’s eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Governor Pritzker’s Initial Response

In response to this paradox, on March 12, 2020, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced that they will put in place emergency rules to clarify that those who become unemployed due to COVID-19 can qualify for unemployment benefits.

“The state of Illinois faces unique challenges as we work to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19,” Gov. Pritzker said. “To protect people across the state, it’s imperative that all workers stay home if they’re feeling sick or have come in contact with someone who has COVID-19. In order to overcome the unique challenges we’re facing, we’ve had to come up with innovative solutions and hope the federal government will support this endeavor as we continue to grapple with this public health crisis. If an individual is off work through no fault of their own, they can seek unemployment insurance benefits from IDES. The emergency rules, once filed, will provide assistance to individuals who may be restricted in the type of work they can perform due to COVID-19.”

Then, on March 16, 2020, Governor Pritzker also used his Disaster Proclamation to suspend the otherwise required one-week waiting period under 820 ILCS 405/500(D) of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act for the filing unemployment claims for those who are unemployed.


There are various things employers can do to help their workers understand their unemployment rights during this time.

  1. If an individual’s place of employment is temporarily closed because of the COVID-19 virus, that individual could qualify for benefits as long as they were able and available for and actively seeking work.
  2. Under the emergency rules IDES adopted, the individual would also not have to register with the employment service and would be considered to be actively seeking work as long as they were prepared to return to their job as soon as the employer re-opened.
  3. Moreover, if an individual is confined to their home because a medical professional has diagnosed them as having COVID-19 or because they must stay home to care for their spouse, parent, or child whom a medical professional has diagnosed as having COVID-19 or due to a government-imposed or government-recommended quarantine, an individual would be considered to be unemployed through no fault of their own. However, to qualify for these unemployment benefits, they would still need to meet all other eligibility requirements, including the requirements that the individual be able and available for work, registered with the state employment service, and actively seeking work from the confines of their home.
  4. However, individuals who quit a job because of concern over COVID-19 may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits since that individual generally has a duty to make a reasonable effort to work with their employer to resolve whatever issues have caused the individual to consider quitting.
  5. Employees who were terminated or quit due to the COVID-19 outbreak should consider filing for unemployment benefits immediately.
  6. While Governor Pritzker’s executive actions do not provide Illinois employees with paid sick leave per se, permitting employees to immediately draw upon unemployment benefits while out of work due to coronavirus can be helpful to those do not have paid sick leave.
  7. There are, however, new federal rules regarding paid sick leave, which you can read more about here.

Employers who are concerned about how a business closure may affect their workers should educate themselves so they can help their employees through this difficult time—and hopefully have them return to work when it is over. Contact us today so we can discuss with you how these changes will affect your business.

Richard Lofgren
Richard Lofgren
Richard Lofgren
Richard Lofgren has twenty eight years of legal experience working with businesses on the issues they face daily during their business cycles. Acting in the capacity of an outside general counsel, he helps business owners to make smarter decisions, build stronger relationships and make and save money.