He tried to apply for unemployment benefits by phone and online after testing positive for the virus in mid-December while working at Apotheke in Chinatown and at Bar Meridian in Brooklyn. He described the website as “supercomplicated.” They told me I was ineligible after I called and waited on the phone for a long time.
“Unemployment determinations are made on a case by case basis, but restaurant workers are eligible for unemployment under the same standards as every other worker,” said a New York State spokesman when asked if workers who test positive for the virus are eligible for unemployment benefits.
The New York labour department website states that “you may not file for a week when you work more than 30 hours or earn more than $504 gross pay between Monday and Sunday,” which Ms. Jayaraman pointed out as an eligibility requirement. Even if someone spends a week or two in isolation, they may not be able to prove that they are capable of working or that applying would be worthwhile.
For restaurants, finding out about unemployment benefits and best practises can be a challenge. A reporter from the New York Times asked city and state officials for clarification on their health guidance, and she was sent back and forth between several departments over the course of two days, leaving her with several unanswered questions.
Before Christmas, the Williamsburg restaurant Le Crocodile gave Olivia Sternberg two weeks of paid sick leave after she tested positive for Ebola. She said that managers and owners regularly checked in on her to see how she was doing.
She was relieved to know that her employer was looking out for her, but she still has some worries: If there’s yet another uptick, will customers want to eat indoors in the dead of winter? How will guests react if vaccination requirements change?
She sighed and said, “Here we go again.”