By Pat Ferrier / USA TODAY Network
Unemployment claims have exceeded 125,000 in the last two weeks in Colorado, with thousands of workers wondering how they're going to pay their bills after they've been laid off, furloughed or had their hours cut amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Unemployment insurance, coupled with a federal stimulus package, is there to help, but how and when will that help arrive? The USA Today Network talked with Bill Kneeland and Chris Lamb, unemployment lawyers from Fort Collins and Denver, and the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.
Who can file for unemployment?
Anyone who became unemployed or had hours reduced below 32 hours a week.
If my hours have been cut or I have been furloughed, can I still file for unemployment?
Yes, if you are working less than 32 hours in a week.
What is the difference between furlough and a layoff?
Furlough is an unpaid temporary leave of absence; a layoff is permanent. During a furlough, employee benefits typically continue. When a worker is laid off, benefits typically cease.
How much will I collect through unemployment?
Colorado typically pays about 55% of an employee's salary. The federal government has added a pandemic unemployment benefit, adding $600 a week to the average unemployment benefit. That is in addition to a major stimulus package for which many Americans will qualify for a one-time payment of $1,200.
Will the $1,200 stimulus payment affect how much I will collect in unemployment?
No. That money is like a gift. Workers earning less than $75,000 in adjusted gross income and who have a Social Security number will get $1,200 from the federal government. Married couples earning less than $150,000 will get $2,400. Families will also get $500 for every child at home.
Does Colorado still have a one-week waiting period for unemployment or was that eliminated under federal guidelines during the pandemic?
No. It was eliminated.
Are furloughed workers eligible for the additional $600/week under the federal stimulus plan?
Yes, all workers are eligible. They will not need to take any action. Once the state has its systems reprogrammed, it will simply add that to the recipient's weekly benefit amount. Information will be backdated so recipients will get the retroactive $600/week but the state does not yet know from the U.S. Dept of Labor what the backdate date will be.
Do workers who are furloughed for several days a month for several months qualify for the $600/week or do the furloughs have to be consecutive and for longer periods of time?
Anyone who had a reduction in hours or wages should be eligible for the $600, but the state is still awaiting federal guidance. The pandemic unemployment compensation is in addition to state entitled unemployment benefits.
When should a furloughed worker file? Before the furlough or after their furloughs?
They should file their last day of work — or their last paycheck if they are continuing to receive partial wages.
I'm on salary, can I work on my own during furlough?
No. A salaried, exempt employee cannot check or answer e-mails, take phone calls, or work on projects during a furlough. If a salaried worker performs even one hour of work during the week, the employer must pay the entire salary for the week.
I'm an hourly employee, can I work on my own during furlough?
No. Employers are required to pay workers for any work done. That means furloughed hourly employees are not allowed to check or answer e-mails, take phone calls or do any work related to their employers.
Who would know if I worked during my furlough?
It is largely on the honor system. Some employers have taken drastic measures such as locking down email accounts, retrieving work laptops and cellphones to ensure no work is being done by furloughed workers.
How many unemployment claims has the state unemployment office received in March?
Since March 16, around 125,000 applications for benefits have been received. That's when the state started to see the beginning of the surge in claims.
How and where can I file?
If you are a traditional employee and are not working or had your hours reduced, file a regular unemployment claim at www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdle/unemployment.
If your last name begins with A to M, file your unemployment claim on a Sunday, Tuesday or Thursday, or after noon on Saturday. If your last name begins with N to Z, file your unemployment claim on Monday, Wednesday or Friday, or before noon on Saturday.
While filing the claim, click the "Save & Finish Later" button and set up your security questions to save your progress through the claim. If you exit, click "File a Claim" to return to the last page you saved.
File during nonpeak hours (evenings after 8 p.m., late nights, early mornings). It may improve your experience.
You must provide information about the reason you are no longer working for all employers from the last 18 months. If you have a lot of information to include, it is best if you type up this information before you start, then copy and paste at the appropriate time.
Once finished, click "Submit" one time. When the claim is successfully submitted, you will receive a confirmation page and number.
Why would a company furlough workers rather than lay them off?
Both are tools for companies to use to reduce payroll and achieve cost savings. Money promised through the pandemic unemployment compensation fund motivated a lot of employers to do furloughs rather than layoffs. With the additional $600 a week, employees are in a better position to make it through a closure and be in a better position to staff up quickly when the pandemic is over. It can benefit the employee and employer. Workers making $50,000 or less will be able to make about the same salary not working as they were if they had stayed working.