By Tara Molina

CHICAGO (CBS) — When filing for unemployment, you must check the box that you’re actively looking for a job. The problem is, you can’t hit the pavement and search for one given the stay-at-home orders. Some people are being honest and check “no,” but it is costing them benefits.

It’s those kinds of road blocks we road blocks CBS 2 is trying to help you through. That’s what we mean when we say we’re Working for Chicago.

“Did you actively look for work?” is a question hundreds of thousands in Illinois have already answered when filing for unemployment benefits, but it’s a yes or no question that is complicated.

“The only answer that I clicked no to was ‘Are you actively looking for work?'” said Laurie Pliska. “I’m a massage therapist, and our business was forced to close.”

Pliska says she isn’t actively looking for work because she has a job to go back to at a spa in Naperville. It’s a job she can’t do during the now extended statewide stay-at-home order.

“I’m not actively calling other massage chains trying to find a job,” she said.

So she honestly answered no, she’s not actively looking.

“I have a job,” she said. “It’s just forced to be closed. I can’t do my job remotely, so I am stuck in this limbo.”

She says that “no” answer caused her to lose benefits. She started the process more than a month ago, certified twice and still hasn’t seen a dime.

“I have exhausted my savings paying the last month’s bills,” she said.

CBS 2 heard from others with the exact same problem. So how are you supposed to answer if you’re in a position like Pliska?

An Illinois Department of Employment Services spokesperson said employees who will be recalled when the shelter in place order is lifted are considered able and available to work and should select “Yes.” Selecting “No” will result in no benefits for the week they’re certifying.

Because “able and available” to work is a strict USDOL requirement, claimants who incorrectly answer need to call and speak with a claims representative to correct the error.  It is also a confidentiality provision and a fraud prevention measure.

An IDES representative explained the distinction in further detail:

The able and available to work requirement requires claimants to be able and available to work for suitable jobs in which there is a market for work.

For instance, if someone is confined to their home by a medical professional because they were exposed to COVID-19, or if they were let go because their restaurant shut down, they should still be able and available to work from the confines of their home, such as telemarketing, internet-based work, or any job that could be performed from home.

If an employee was sent home from their job and told that they would be recalled when the shelter-in-place order is lifted, or after another period of time has elapsed, able and available for work simply means that they will return to work when recalled.

In either case, selecting “Yes” for the “Were you Able and Available” question, would be correct and truthful.  Selecting “No” to this question while certifying will result in the claimant not receiving benefits for the week in which they are certifying.  Please note that this may not be the only reason for which a claimant is denied benefits.

“I feel like I’m stuck now,” Pliska said.

Calling IDES now is something easier said than done.

CBS 2 is waiting to hear back from the state on whether the question can be phrased differently to avoid this entirely or if some kind of explainer can be added online.

Tara Molina