Do I Qualify for Unemployment?

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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 will I pay my bills until I find something else?”

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 working a certain number of weeks for a certain number of hours each week.

But even if you’ve been terminated for cause, don’t assume you’re out of luck. You may be able to collect, regardless. 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.  

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 or being fired for misconduct in the workplace will render you ineligible for said unemployment benefits.

2. You must meet your respective state’s requirements for the total time worked or the amount of wages you take home in a set amount of time. This marker can be confusing, but it’s safe to assume if you had a long-term job that you lost unexpectedly or without just cause, it’s likely that you 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. Unemployment compensation is intended to replace or supplement 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 total minimums and maximums for the eligible recipient.

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

When You Don't Qualify for Unemployment

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

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 are 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 hang on to your current job while you look for new employment elsewhere.

When You’re Told You Don’t Qualify for Unemployment

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.