COVID-19 Resources for LGBTQ Employees (And Those Who Have Been Laid Off or Furloughed)

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April 24, 2020

The United States is currently facing a public health crisis unlike any other in modern history, one that has greatly affected our workforce. These circumstances have shone a bright light on stark socioeconomic inequities in our country, many of which disproportionately affect LGBTQ people, particularly those of color.

At Lambda Legal, we remain hard at work (from home, of course) fighting for the rights, health, and wellbeing of LGBTQ people. In this post, we want to discuss some of the impact COVID-19 has had on LGBTQ workers, share some resources, and remind our community that we continue to fight for their rights in the workplace, in health care, and beyond.

COVID-19 has had and will continue to have a deep economic impact on LGBTQ people. As a result of this pandemic, our economy has ground to a halt and millions of people have lost their jobs, and in many instances, the health care coverage they had through their employers. In the past month alone, over 26 million people have filed new claims for unemployment assistance. Many others have been furloughed, lost income, or been unable to work. LGBTQ people are amongst those most affected.

According to the Williams Institute and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, there are approximately 13-14 million LGBTQ people in the United States. Of these, over 8 million work in our economy, 5 million of whom work in industries most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is estimated that 2 million LGBTQ people work in restaurants and food services, many of which have shuttered. Another close to 2 million work in education. Their lives and work have been fundamentally transformed through necessary stay-at-home policies and social distancing. And, of particular note, there are approximately 1 million LGBTQ people who work in hospitals. These are the very heroes on the frontlines who are at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. Though stay-at-home policies and social distancing have disrupted our way of life, they are necessary to save lives.

Nonetheless, we must remain cognizant that LGBTQ workers disproportionately bear the risks associated with COVID-19’s impact on our economy; they are at increased risk to lose their jobs and be exposed to the virus.

There are steps that have been instituted to help ameliorate some of COVID-19’s economic impact, and LGBTQ people should take note of these measures. On March 18, 2020, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was signed into law, marking a major legislative initiative to address COVID-19. The Families First Act includes paid sick leave, insurance coverage of coronavirus testing, nutrition assistance, and unemployment benefits. Similarly, on March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, to provide economic relief to people and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The relief includes direct payouts and unemployment benefits to certain individuals and families, increased grant funding to help vulnerable communities, loans to small businesses, and support for healthcare and various other industries.

So, what does this mean?

Economic Impact Payments

The CARES Act provides for a direct payout to individuals, married couples, and parents with annual incomes under certain thresholds. Over 6.5 million LGBTQ people can receive these funds. The Williams Institute estimates that 6.4 million single LGBT adults with an annual income of up to $75,000 will receive the full payout of $1,200, and 324,000 same-sex married couples with a combined annual income of up to $150,000 will receive the full payout of $2,400. People who filed 2018 or 2019 federal tax returns with direct deposit information or receive Social Security do not need to take action. They will automatically receive payment in their bank accounts. Taxpayers who filed their tax return in 2018 or 2019 but did not provide their banking information on either return to submit direct deposit information can use the IRS’s “Get My Payment” app to update their banking information in order to receive the check automatically rather by mail. Finally, people who did not file taxes in 2018 or 2019 can enter their information on the IRS website in order to receive these payments.

Paid Family Leave

Unlike other countries, the United States does not have national standards for paid family or sick leave. In the face of this pandemic, inadequate paid family and sick leave policies also disproportionately affect LGBTQ workers who are more likely to live in poverty and to work in lower wage or hourly wage jobs. The 2018 LGBTQ Paid Leave Survey revealed that only 29% of LGBTQ respondents worked at companies that provided paid medical leave, while less than half of LGBTQ respondents (45%) worked at companies with LGBTQ-inclusive leave policies. The Families First Act offers paid sick leave for workers who need to miss work (including telework) because of COVID-19. More specifically, employees who need personal leave as a result of COVID-19 are eligible for two weeks of paid leave at 100% of either their regular rate of pay or the federal, state, or local minimum wage where they are employed (whichever one is greater), up to a maximum of $511 per day ($5,110 total). If leave is necessary to take care of another person affected by COVID-19, employees are eligible for two weeks of paid leave at 2/3 of the greater of either their regular rate of pay or the federal, state, or local minimum wage where they are employed, up to a maximum of $200 per day ($2,000 total).

Unemployment Assistance

With so many people losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is critical to note how the Families First Act and the CARES Act have expanded un employment insurance benefits. Unemployment insurance varies from state to state. Under the CARES Act, people who have lost their job and are eligible for unemployment assistance will receive an additional, federally financed $600 weekly benefit. In addition, the CARES Act established a temporary federal unemployment assistance program for individuals not otherwise eligible for UI benefits (e.g., self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers). Lastly, the CARES Act added an additional 13 weeks of eligibility for state unemployment assistance. In most states, people can only get unemployment assistance for 26 weeks. Thus, as a result of the CARES Act, people may now receive unemployment assistance for 39 weeks. The $600 federal supplement currently lasts through July 31, 2020 and the 13-week expansion goes through December 31, 2020.

Lastly, we must take note that when workers lose their jobs as result of COVID-19, the job loss not only has severe economic implications for the workers and their families, but the loss of employment and income also affects their access to health coverage both through work as well as through the marketplaces and Medicaid. Over 155 million people receive their health insurance coverage through employer-based plans. As such, millions of people have lost their jobs, and millions of people have lost health care coverage. In addition, those who obtain health insurance in the marketplaces may no longer be able to afford it. Such loss may affect a person’s access to gender affirming health care or HIV medication. Furthermore, job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicidality. Indeed, more than half of people who have lost income or employment reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress over COVID-19; and lower income people report higher rates of major negative mental health impacts compared to higher income people.

So, what is Lambda Legal doing?

Lambda Legal has joined broad coalitions to advocate for a governmental response that ensures the safety, health, and wellbeing of LGBTQ people, including the institution of a safety net, ensuring access to care, protecting the right to work, and advocating for data gathering regarding COVID-19’s impact on our communities. We also continue to demand nondiscrimination principles be included in any governmental response to COVID-19, whether they relate to employment or health.

And of course, we continue to litigate in the courts. We continue to prepare for the Supreme Court’s decision on whether discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status is a prohibited form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. We are fighting discriminatory employment policies that restrict health care access for transgender people. And we sued the Trump administration for refusing to enforce nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people in HHS funded programs and activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Put simply, we remain hard at work as your lawyers. If you have experienced discrimination as a result of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or HIV status, or simply need resources, please do not hesitate to contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk. We are here to help.