Can You Turn Down a Job When Collecting Unemployment?

Woman checking job postings in office
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To an unemployed person, any job offer might seem like a good thing. But what about when the job doesn’t pay enough, or doesn’t use your skills – or you simply aren’t interested? Do you have to accept the position anyway?

Failure to accept suitable work can result in the termination of your unemployment benefits. Therefore, it is important to know when you can and cannot turn down a job when collecting unemployment.

The question, of course, is what constitutes “suitable employment.” Obviously, you won’t always be able to hold out for your dream job. But you probably hope to avoid taking something that’s far below your previous positions in terms of salary or job duties. So, when can you refuse a job offer?

Do You Have to Take a Job Offer When You're Collecting Unemployment?

The answer is that it depends. In some cases, individuals can turn down a job offer if it does not represent suitable employment. However, that is most often the case when you are first unemployed.

After a certain number of weeks of collecting unemployment, you will have less flexibility when it comes to turning down jobs. You may have to keep track of, report on the jobs you have applied to, and let the unemployment office know the status of your applications.

As with everything related to unemployment benefits, guidelines and laws vary by state. It’s imperative to learn as much as you can about your state’s laws regarding unemployment before declining a job offer.

What Is Suitable Employment?

Each state sets standards to define what determines if a job will be considered suitable. In general, suitable work means a job that offers wages comparable to your recent employment and work duties that correspond to your education level and your previous work experience.

In New York, for example, suitable work means any work related not only to your primary skill but also any work related to secondary areas of skill and experience. After a certain number of weeks on unemployment, the definition of suitable work expands. For example, suitable work then includes any work you can do, even if you have no experience or training.

In California, suitable employment means work related to your previous occupation or primary skills and experience. Along with this, suitable employment in California also takes into account any risk to your “health, safety, and morals,” your prior earnings, length of unemployment, and the likelihood of you getting a job related to your primary skill set.

Other states have different requirements. Some requirements include how related the work is to your skill set, the salary you would receive, and even the commuting time.

Many states change the definition of suitable employment based on how long you have been collecting unemployment. For example, typically when one applies for extended unemployment benefits,

There are also exceptions to suitable work in some states. For example, in some states, union workers are exempt from suitable work requirements, as long as they are registered with their local union hiring hall.

Check With Your State Unemployment Office

Before you turn down a job offer, check the regulations for your location. The requirements will be listed on your state unemployment office website, typically in the Frequently Asked Questions section. The requirements may vary based on how long you have been out of work.

How to Decline a Job Offer

If you decide to decline a job offer, you want to go about it the right way. Be sure to express your gratitude for the job. If you are interested in the company but not the position, say so. If you decline a job the right way, you can maintain a good relationship with the employer, and maybe even be offered a job that is a better fit.

If you like the job and the company, but the salary is not enough, explain this. You might try to negotiate a higher salary before declining the job.

Unemployment Resources

Key Takeaways

You May Be Able to Turn Down a Job Offer That Isn’t “Suitable Employment”: Jobs that don’t use your skills and/or that pay a substandard wage may be considered unsuitable.

Definitions Vary by State: It’s important to learn your state laws before turning down a job.

A Variety of Factors Affect Eligibility: You may be required to take a broader range of jobs if you file for extended unemployment benefits, for example. 

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.