Stephanie Ferguson Stephanie Ferguson
Director, Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


April 23, 2020


During this pandemic, the federal government has implemented multiple new emergency measures to help businesses and employees mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus. These include programs such as Small Business Administration loans, unemployment insurance, and paid leave, which have undergone significant changes and expansions. States are also making changes, and some have started to look at workers’ compensation.

Historically, workers’ compensation provides benefits to individuals who are hurt on the job. Workers who take time off because of an injury remain employed, and thus are not eligible for regular state unemployment benefits. Instead, income replacement comes from worker’s compensation, which typically covers two-thirds of a worker’s average income while they are out.

Ordinarily, an injury has to be tied to the workplace to qualify for workers’ comp, and employers and their coverage providers may question causation. Given the pandemic, however, some states are amending their current workers’ compensation statutes to create a presumption that certain workers who fall ill with Coronavirus contracted the disease at work. In certain cases, such as first responders, front line health care workers dealing with Covid-19 patients, and government employees who cannot do their jobs without interacting with large numbers of at-risk populations, this presumption makes sense. The further one departs from those workers however, the more tangential causation becomes, with a concomitant increase in the potential to disrupt the workers’ compensation system. More importantly, expanding the presumption ignores another avenue for getting income replacement to workers who become ill—pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) enacted as part of the CARES Act.

PUA is a 100% federally funded program that pays an individual who is not eligible for regular unemployment insurance (UI) the same weekly benefits as he or she would receive under a state’s regular UI program. Furthermore, an individual who qualifies for PUA will also receive Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which adds an additional $600 to an individual’s weekly benefit amount until July 31, 2020. In most circumstances where the need is simply for short-term income replacement, this is a better deal for workers, and it will help keep premiums lower for businesses that are struggling to open, or to remain open, during the pandemic.

This pandemic has reshaped how governments care for America’s workforce and businesses. Keep up with all of the coronavirus related programs, resources, and updates here.

About the authors

Stephanie Ferguson

Stephanie Ferguson

Stephanie Ferguson is the Director of Global Employment Policy & Special Initiatives. Her work on the labor shortage has been cited in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Associated Press.

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