How to Tell if You Are Eligible for Unemployment Benefits

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Have you lost your job? You may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits while you're out of work. Eligibility for unemployment insurance, the amount of unemployment compensation you will receive, and the length of time benefits are available are determined by state law. Each state has its unemployment agency dedicated to overseeing employment and unemployment based matters.

Guidelines for Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits

How can you tell if you're eligible to receive unemployment? Each state sets guidelines that determine whether an individual will be eligible for unemployment benefits, and how much compensation they will receive.

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. Those guidelines also determine how many weeks of benefits an unemployed worker can collect.

The federal government has provided states with additional flexibility in providing unemployment benefits because of the coronavirus. There are expanded benefit programs for employees, independent contractors, gig workers, and self-employed people. Here's an update on the new benefit guidelines.

You'll find detailed information regarding eligibility criteria on your state unemployment website. In most states, you will need to have worked for a certain period of time, met minimum earnings requirements, and have lost your job through no fault of your own. If your claim is denied or contested by your employer, you can appeal the denial.

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 department 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 U.S. Department of Labor, there are 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 or a furlough. Quitting your job with a good reason 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.

Eligibility Requirement Details

  • Earnings Requirements: To receive unemployment compensation, workers must meet the unemployment eligibility requirements for wages earned or time worked during an established (usually one year) period of time. Also, workers must be determined to be unemployed through no fault of their own, so if you quit or were fired, you may not be eligible for unemployment compensation. It will depend on the circumstances of your termination from employment.
  • Eligibility Based on Type of Job Loss: A person is eligible for unemployment if he or she is unemployed for reasons other than his or her own fault, such as a layoff. If you quit or are fired for some form of misconduct, you are unlikely to be eligible for unemployment. However, if you were wrongly terminated from your position, or forced to quit, you may qualify for unemployment.
  • Hours Worked Requirements: Additionally, most jurisdictions require a person to meet his or her resident state’s weekly requirement for hours worked or compensation earned for a specified period of time before being eligible to collect unemployment. It can be hard to determine exactly what each state’s rules are, but most people that lose steady, long-term employment through no fault of their own, will meet their state's minimum criteria for eligibility.

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

Check With Your State Unemployment Office

Check with your state unemployment office for information on what benefits you are entitled to. Initial benefits may be different from weekly benefits, there may be a waiting period before you receive payment, and some states have maximum payout amounts or timelines.

It's important to do your research and contact your state’s unemployment agency quickly, so you have all the accurate information you need to collect the benefits you’re entitled to.

You will find information on qualifying for benefits in your location on your state's unemployment website, as well as detailed information on what you need to do to submit a claim.

How to Claim Unemployment

In most locations, you will be able to open a claim and file for weekly benefits online. Unemployment compensation is typically paid on a debit card or direct deposited to the claimant's checking account.

Weekly Benefit Claim Requirements

Registering with the state job service and actively seeking work is a requirement while collecting unemployment in some locations. You must be ready, willing, available, and able to work. The job service may require job seekers to apply for jobs, submit resumes, and not turn down a position if it meets certain standards.

Maintaining Eligibility

After you begin collecting unemployment, it is important and often required to file weekly or monthly claims describing your job search. Any job offers, part-time earnings, contract work, or turned down opportunities must be reported. Sometimes, there are in-person check-ins with the state or unemployment agency to discuss the status of your job search.

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. 

Special Circumstances and Unemployment Benefits

  • Unemployment Eligibility When You're Fired: If you were fired from your job, you might be eligible for unemployment, depending on the circumstances. There are a variety of factors that will determine whether you can collect benefits. If you feel you were fired without just cause, you should check with your state unemployment department about your eligibility.
  • Unemployment Eligibility When You Quit: In most cases, if you quit voluntarily, you are not eligible for unemployment. However, if you left for a good cause, you may be able to collect unemployment benefits.​
  • Unemployment Eligibility for Self-Employed Workers: In most cases, self-employed workers and freelance workers who lose their income are not eligible for unemployment benefits. However, if your business is incorporated and pays into unemployment, you may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
  • Unemployment When You Work Part-Time: Many states provide partial unemployment benefits to individuals whose work hours have been reduced through no fault of their own.
  • Unemployment When You're Pregnant: Women who are pregnant and new mothers are eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Disqualification from Unemployment: Eligibility for unemployment benefits isn't automatic. There are reasons that your unemployment claim can be denied and that you can be disqualified from collecting unemployment. Here's a list of reasons why you may not get unemployment.
  • Unemployment Eligibility Work Requirements: In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, you must be ready, willing, available, and able to work. Review the work requirements for initial and continued eligibility.
  • Enhanced and Extended Unemployment Benefits: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) stimulus bill includes extended unemployment benefits for workers who have been impacted by COVID-19, as well as a temporary supplemental weekly benefit for all recipients.

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 April 16, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed April 16, 2020.

  3. U.S. Department of Labor. "Benefit Denials." Accessed April 16, 2020.