What to do if your job is at risk because of the coronavirus

Joe Amon | MediaNews Group | Denver Post | Getty Images

Experts anticipated that the economic disruptions caused by the coronavirus would soon hit the job market, and that's begun to occur. New data from the Labor Department shows that jobless claims — or the number of people filing for unemployment benefits — tallied 281,000 last week, up 33% from the week before.

As some cities around the country temporarily shutter businesses like restaurants and gyms, and social distancing recommendations persist, here are some practical steps that you can take to prepare if you feel that your job is at risk.

1. Know how to file for unemployment benefits

How, when, and if you should apply for unemployment benefits will vary from state to state. But as precaution, take a few general steps: Have all of the necessary information in one place, including the contact info for your previous employer, your banking information for setting up direct deposit, and how much you were earning.

Bookmark your state's benefits website and be prepared to file as soon as you get notice from your employer.

If you're able and available to work and are let go from your job anyway, you're likely to satisfy the eligibility requirements. You can also apply even if you're not sure you're eligible; just be aware that there's a chance you might be denied.

2. Reach out to your network

Now is the time to reach out to your friends and contacts in your industry, even if you haven't been in touch in a while or if you don't know that you'll lose your job. It's never a bad idea to get a feel for what's happening in your field and also to catch up with colleagues and friends.

A contact may be able to refer you to a job, which is how most employers are filling positions these days. "The number one way companies are filling jobs right now is through referrals," Hannah Morgan, a job search strategist with Career Sherpa, told Grow last year.

Make sure you're aware of possible openings, especially in the coming weeks. "Always keep your eyes and ears open for a better opportunity," says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. "And proceed with a sense of urgency," she says, as jobs can be filled fast, or companies may institute hiring freezes.

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Video by Jason Armesto

3. Consider how your skills apply in other areas

Depending on your field, you might not be able to find a new job quickly or easily if you're let go. "If layoffs have hit your industry, there may be limited opportunities to explore [jobs] at competing companies," Salemi says. In that case, the best thing to do is to start brainstorming ways that your skills may apply in other fields.

A server may have a knack for sales, for example, or be particularly adept at customer service. There's likely a way to use your skills in new ways, which can increase your appeal to employers

4. Consider your health insurance options

Almost half of Americans get their health insurance through their employers, so if they lose their jobs, their health benefits go, too. 

Some employers may offer extended coverage through exit or severance packages. But there is no national standard when it comes to getting severance. Whether or not you receive any depends on your employer's internal policies, and in some cases, what state you live in. Typically, what you receive, if anything, is tied to how long you worked for the employer.

Even if you aren't receiving any severance, you have options. The first is The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), which is a government program that lets you extend your health plan for up to 18 months after you lose your job. To see if you're eligible for coverage, ask your former employer's HR department or contact your state's labor office

Depending on where you live and your income level, you may qualify for Medicaid coverage.

You can also purchase a plan through your state's marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). You can compare and shop the marketplace for plans for you and your family. Plans can be expensive, though typically cheaper than COBRA, but many Americans qualify for subsidies, which can help curb costs. 

5. Know how to get government help

The federal government is currently working out plans to extend more financial assistance to those affected by the virus, and has already passed legislation expanding access to food assistance and unemployment benefits. There are other plans in the works, too, that may include stimulus checks

How you access resources will depend on where you live. You can check Justshelter.org, for instance, to find resources in your state to help homeowners and renters.

To see if you can get access to food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), check the eligibility requirements and apply online through your state's benefits program.

How the coronavirus is affecting the job market

While unemployment is likely to spike on the national level, some places are being affected more deeply than others. In Ohio, for example, 48,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits during the first two days of this week, compared to 1,825 all of last week. One economist says that claims could soon be in the millions nationwide. 

"Next week's jobless claims number could jump 200,000-something this week to 2 million next week," Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" Thursday morning.

While the government is working out measures to help people get by with stimulus checks, the proposed payments won't be enough to replace a full-time job's income and benefits. The key, career experts say, is to stay on your feet and be ready to take action.

Nobody knows exactly what's going to happen as a result of the pandemic, but many workers are going to find themselves furloughed or otherwise unemployed for at least a short time. The more prepared you are, the more likely you'll be "ready to crush" your job search, says Salemi.

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