Covid-19Worker Rights

April 30, 2020 by Southern Maine Workers Center

Due to coronavirus, my employer has cut my hours, forced me to take unpaid leave, or ended my employment. What can I do?

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits while you are out of work.  In general, you may apply for unemployment benefits if you worked for an employer and made at least $5,150 during the last year.  

The Maine Legislature passed a law to expand unemployment benefits to workers affected by the COVID-19 virus. That legislation will be in effect during the State of Emergency called by the Governor plus 30 days, which means it will be in effect until at least May 15, 2020, and may be extended.  Under the new law, you can apply for unemployment insurance if: 

  • Your employer temporarily ceases operation due to COVID-19
  • You are quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19 with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer
  • You leave employment or take a temporary leave of absence due to the risk of exposure or infection from COVID-19
  • You leave employment to care for a family member

You may also be eligible for partial unemployment insurance benefits if your hours are reduced but you remain employed.  

During the emergency period (through May 15), the normal one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits has been waived, so you will start receiving benefits immediately, and there is no work search requirement. 

Congress also recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act), which expands unemployment benefits in three ways.  

First, it greatly expands who is eligible for unemployment benefits to include self-employed workers, “gig economy” workers, freelancers, independent contractors, and other workers not usually covered by Maine’s unemployment law.  (See FAQ 2 for more information)

Second, it increases by $600 the weekly benefit amount to those on unemployment insurance.  For example, if your weekly benefit is normally $300 under Maine’s unemployment program, you will receive $900 per week.  The extra $600 does not count as income for purposes of MaineCare or CHIP, although your regular benefits will continue to be counted as usual.  

Third, it increases the number of weeks that you can receive benefits from 26 weeks to 39 weeks.  

The following resources provide more information about unemployment benefits, including eligibility requirements and how to file a claim:

To file a claim, visit, or call 1-800-593-7660.  The Department of Labor’s automated phone system offers help in English, French, and Spanish, and the Department will arrange for an interpreter for other languages. Note that there have been reports of long wait times and dropped calls using the phone system, and the phone system has moved to an alphabetical call-in schedule to address these issues.  It is advisable that you try to apply online first if you are able.

DISCLAIMER: This FAQ Sheet is intended to provide accurate, general background information regarding legal rights relating to employment in Maine. It is not legal advice. Because laws and legal procedures are subject to differing interpretations and frequent change, particularly in an emergency, the authors cannot ensure the information is current or be responsible for how the information is used. Do not rely on this information without consulting an attorney or the appropriate agency about your rights in your particular situation.