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Why Zero Unemployment Benefits May Not Mean Zero Unemployment Benefits

THE CITY’s Open Newsroom team breaks down some of the latest info about working in NYC during the pandemic. Sign up for our new jobs newsletter to get updates.

Anthony Nam started making face masks from his Ridgewood, Queens apartment after losing his job during the coronavirus outbreak.
Anthony Nam started making face masks from his Ridgewood, Queens apartment after losing his job during the coronavirus outbreak, April 8, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

It’s a wild time to be working or looking for a job in the city.

We at THE CITY want to help New Yorkers navigate the pandemic employment landscape. So we started NYC Worker Update — a new newsletter from The Open Newsroom at THE CITY that aims to offer some clarity and tips.

We’ll kickoff by tackling some of the latest information about extending unemployment benefits, filing worker safety complaints and interviewing for jobs during a pandemic.

More than half a million New Yorkers are still out of work. That’s officially at least 14% of the workforce, and the actual percentage is likely higher. And though many of the initial problems with filing unemployment claims at the height of the pandemic have been sorted out, we’ve heard that the process can still be confusing.

So let’s break some of that down.

If you think you’re out of unemployment benefits…

The good news is you’re probably not. For those receiving traditional unemployment insurance (UI), unemployed workers can get 33 extra weeks of benefits during the pandemic, on top of the initial 26. So the number of weeks these workers can receive benefits is 59 total weeks. If you’re receiving the special pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA), which is open to a wider group of workers who can’t receive traditional UI, you get a total of 46 weeks.

But here’s the confusing part. According to Farrell Brody, a workers’ rights attorney at TakeRoot Justice, some users’ online accounts are saying they are out of eligible days to receive benefits, leading to confusion and making it hard to know whether someone should continue to recertify for their benefits.

If your “effective days remaining” is zero OR when it reaches zero, the state Department of Labor says: Don’t worry.

“If your account says 0 days, it’s counterintuitive,” Brody said. “But keep recertifying every week.”

If your workplace is reopening… and reclosing… and reopening…

With businesses opening and closing and the rules surrounding the virus changing, working right now is probably a bit hectic.

But know your rights:

Sick leave: Your employer can’t make you work when you’re sick or retaliate against you for taking sick leave.

Safety: Have you gone back to work? Do you feel safe? There are safety requirements all employers should be following.

If you have questions about the health and safety guidelines at your workplace, or if you want to report an employer that is not following safe reopening requirements, you can call the city’s Worker Protection Hotline: 212-436-0381.

If you want to file a complaint about an employer not taking proper safety precautions or not respecting your rights as a worker, you can do so with the state Department of Labor here.

Take notes: Brody also suggests documenting what’s happening to you at work as best as you can, especially if you think your employer is violating the law. So write things down, take notes in your phone, record voice memos — whatever the best way is for you to keep a record in real time.

On the job hunt? Here are some tips...

Interviewing during a pandemic? Here are some tips and resources from our friends from the Brooklyn Public Library’s Business & Career Center. According to Ellen Mehling, job information resource librarian at Brooklyn Public Library, virtual interviewing is the “new normal” for a while.

A woman uses free wifi from the Brooklyn Central Public Library, Sept. 14, 2020.
A woman uses free WiFi from the Brooklyn Public Library, Sept. 14, 2020.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Here’s a list of her best virtual interviewing tips:

What to know about virtual interviews

  • Try to be comfortable on camera, and be familiar with using different meeting software platforms (e.g. Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype).
  • A desktop or laptop is a better option than your phone. If you do use the phone, make sure it is stationary.
  • Test everything! Your device, WiFi, audio and video must be working well.
  • If you are not using your phone for the interview, you should silence it, but have it nearby so you can easily switch to a phone call in case of technical difficulties.
  • Have an uncluttered background with nothing you wouldn’t want an employer to see. Also make sure movement behind you is at a minimum (e.g., people walking in and out of a room).
  • Limit interruptions, distractions or noise during the interview.
  • Make sure you have a light source on your face, not just behind you. Otherwise your face may not be visible.
  • Keep a copy of your resume or notes nearby, but use them for occasional reference only. Don’t read​ your answers to the interviewer’s questions.
  • Look at your device’s camera to “make eye contact” — not the video of yourself or your interviewer — to better connect with the interviewer. Be sure to look at the camera while you are speaking.

Tried and true interview tips that haven’t changed

  • Have answers ready (but not memorized!) for questions you are likely to be asked.
  • Always have questions for the interviewer — you are there to get information about them too.
  • Send a follow-up or thank you email within 24 hours.

Brooklyn Public Library’s Business & Career Center also provides interviewing advice and one-on-one resume & career help via email and Zoom.

What else we’re reading...

• The Daily News reported on the latest unemployment numbers for the city, while Patch wrote about the latest statewide figures.

• The New York Times detailed the shifting boundaries of virus hotspots in the city where restrictions on businesses apply

• Gothamist reported that a survey conducted by NYU researchers found that nearly one in four MTA workers surveyed had been infected with coronavirus.

• And THE CITY revealed that promised free child care options for working parents with children in hybrid learning haven’t yet become available.

Still have questions about working? Let us know...

In future updates, we’ll share information on what we’re hearing about changes to unemployment and workplace policies, workers’ rights and the job hunt. But if you have specific questions about working or unemployment in NYC during the pandemic or something else you think we should cover, let us know.

For more jobs, work and unemployment resources, here’s what folks from The Open Newsroom at THE CITY shared. If you see something you believe we should include, tell us.

Want to get these updates about workers’ and tenants’ rights emailed or texted to you? Sign up below.

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