How to Qualify for Unemployment Benefits

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Have you recently lost your job? During this scary and frustrating time, you may be asking yourself, “Do I qualify for unemployment?” and “How does unemployment work, and how much compensation can I get?”

If you have held a job for a certain period of time, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. That depends on meeting your state’s criteria for eligibility and the reason you’re unemployed.

Who Qualifies for Unemployment?

Unemployment benefits are available for workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. There are eligibility requirements to qualify for unemployment benefits, including having worked a certain number of weeks for a certain number of hours each week.

Requirements for collecting unemployment in your state may be expanded due to COVID-19. Here's an update on the new unemployment benefit guidelines.

But even if you’ve been terminated for cause, don’t assume you’re out of luck. You may be able to collect, depending on the circumstances, and whether or not the termination was justified. It’s worth it to learn about your rights—including your right to appeal a denial of your unemployment claims—before you give up on the idea of filing for benefits. Check with your state unemployment agency for assistance in your location.

Requirements for Qualifying for Unemployment

Eligibility requirements to qualify for unemployment compensation vary from state to state. However, according to the Department of Labor, there are only two main criteria that must be met in order to qualify:

1. You must be unemployed through no fault of your own. In this case, a person’s unemployment must be caused by an external factor beyond his or her control, such as a layoff.

Quitting your job or being fired for misconduct in the workplace will most likely render you ineligible for unemployment benefits.

There may be an exception, however, if wrongful termination or constructive discharge played a role in your termination from employment.

2. You must meet your state’s requirements for time worked or wages earned during a set period of time. This marker can be confusing, but it’s safe to assume that if you had a long-term job that you lost unexpectedly or without just cause, you would meet your state’s requirements.

How Unemployment Is Calculated

Qualifying for unemployment benefits can be a big relief and one less thing to worry about while you look for a new job. However, it won’t totally replace your paycheck. 

Unemployment compensation is intended to replace part of your previous income. The compensation you’ll receive depends on the amount you earned while working.

Each state uses past earnings to determine your benefit amount. Some states use your highest-paid quarter, while others look at annual earnings as a whole. After the amount is calculated, the state will determine weekly benefit amounts in addition to the total minimum and maximum amounts the eligible recipient can receive. There is a maximum weekly benefit, so if you’re a high-wage earner, your benefits will be capped.

If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible for unemployment compensation, file a claim through the unemployment office in your state. They’ll determine your eligibility.

Unemployment When You Quit Your Job

Can you collect unemployment if you quit your job? It depends. In most cases, if you voluntarily left employment, you are not eligible. However, if you left for “good cause,” you may be able to collect.

“Good cause” is determined by the state unemployment office, and you will be able to make a case for why you should be eligible for benefits. Some examples of good cause include medical conditions, family situations, financial difficulty, poor or unsafe working conditions, or relocation difficulties. It’s a good idea to learn about what may be considered good cause by an unemployment office before you give up on the idea of filing for unemployment.

In addition, if you give notice but the employer doesn’t accept the notice and terminates your employment immediately, it is typically considered an involuntary termination, and you may qualify for benefits.

Conditions such as having to work hours that don’t fit your personal or family life, lack of promotion opportunities, or having to do jobs you don’t like aren’t considered good cause. In these cases, you should try to hang on to your current job while you look for new employment elsewhere. You may want to consider talking to your employer about the possibility of working a flexible schedule or fewer hours if you have personal issues that are impacting your ability to work.

Reasons You May Not Qualify

Not everyone qualifies for unemployment benefits, and there are a number of situations when you won’t receive any compensation from the state. The following circumstances may disqualify you from collecting unemployment benefits:

  • Fired for misconduct
  • Quit without good cause
  • Resigned because of illness (check on disability benefits)
  • Left to get married
  • Self-employed
  • Involved in a labor dispute
  • Attending school
  • Frequent unexcused absences
  • Insubordination
  • Harassment

What to Do If Your Claim is Denied

After you file for unemployment, the state may accept your claim, and you’ll receive your benefits. But what if you’re denied benefits or the state asks you to provide additional information? You can file an unemployment appeal and explain your situation in a hearing.

The state unemployment office will typically send you a letter that will list the date and time of your hearing. These hearings are generally conducted over the phone. 

The Bottom Line

Eligibility Guidelines Vary. Unemployment programs are administered by the state, so check your state unemployment website for eligibility criteria.

How Much You’ll Receive. There are minimum and maximum levels of unemployment compensation. You will be notified about your benefits when your claim is approved.

You Can Appeal If Your Claim Is Denied. If your claim for benefits isn’t approved, you can file an appeal. 

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "Unemployment Insurance." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.

  3. CareerOneStop. "Unemployment Benefits Finder." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.

  4. U.S. Department of Labor. "Benefit Denials." Accessed Feb. 5, 2020.