Posted August 24, 20212:00 pm
When businesses shut down last March due to the coronavirus pandemic, Legal Aid staff knew to anticipate a wave of calls about unemployment.
It was clear that the unemployment compensation system would be overburdened at the end of March. Legal Aid’s Economic Justice Practice Group quickly formed a plan to make sure we meet the increased need for our expertise.
The group launched a new resource that would help people get timely, helpful answers to their specific questions about their unemployment applications. Modeled after Legal Aid’s successful Tenant Info Line, the new Worker Info Line provides a designated number for people to call and leave a message with their name, phone number, preferred call back window of time, and a description of their challenging situation. An attorney or paralegal from the Economic Justice Practice Group returns each call within 1-2 business days.
Mostly, callers wanted to know if they were eligible for unemployment. And they were getting some wrong information from other sources; if they weren’t eligible for traditional state unemployment, people were told that their account would be transferred to the pandemic unemployment assistance system. But this wasn’t true because you couldn’t have accounts open in both systems.
Another issue people were facing was that many employers weren’t giving them pay or leave when they caught COVID-19. A lot of workplace safety issues were reported as well. When a situation seemed like it might be resolved best through Legal Aid representation, the Worker Info Line staffer would refer the caller to Legal Aid’s intake. Because of the Worker Info Line, Legal Aid took on more employment-related cases in 2020 than in any prior year. While it was created in response to COVID-19, the Worker Info Line remains active and available as a resource to anyone with an employment-related question or issue. Trends in the types of calls received reveal insights about workforce issues in the region that are unrelated to the pandemic. For example, many healthcare workers are asking for help addressing unsafe and/ or discriminatory work environments. Many callers don’t realize they have a legal problem; they just think they have a question. The Worker Info Line is helping them realize how to take proper action and begin the process of solving their issue.