Unemployment Benefit Disqualifications

Serious man with documents and laptop on sofa talking on cell phone
••• Westend61 / Getty Images

Not all employees who lose their jobs are eligible for unemployment compensation. You need to meet your state’s qualification guidelines to collect benefits. There are reasons that your unemployment claim can be denied and you can be disqualified from collecting unemployment.

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits

The U.S. Federal-State Unemployment Insurance Program provides unemployment benefits to eligible workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If your reason for leaving your last job was something other than "lack of work" (which states recognize as a legitimate reason for unemployment), a determination will be made by your State Unemployment Insurance agency regarding whether you are eligible for benefits.

In addition, claimants must meet state eligibility requirements. These vary from state to state, but many of them are similar throughout the country.

Because unemployment law varies by state, it is important to check with your State Unemployment Insurance agency for qualification and disqualification guidelines in your location.

Unemployment Benefit Disqualifications

Generally, to receive unemployment benefits, you need to meet guidelines related to your length of employment, earnings, classification as an employee, and the circumstances of losing your job.

The following circumstances may disqualify you from collecting unemployment benefits:

Insufficient earnings or length of employment. Eligibility for unemployment depends on your earnings during a designated base period, which is typically the past year. This also means you usually have to have worked for your employer for at least a year.

Self-employed, or a contract or freelance worker. Independent contractors are technically self-employed, so they typically cannot receive unemployment benefits.

Fired for justifiable cause. For example, if your employer alleges misconduct (such as violating a company policy), or some other inappropriate or illegal behavior leads to you being fired, you will likely not receive unemployment benefits.

Quit without good cause. The definition of “good cause” varies state by state. However, common examples of quitting without good cause include leaving to get married or attend school or resigning because of a labor dispute (such as a strike). Another example of quitting without good cause is leaving simply because of dissatisfaction with the company or job.

Providing false information. If any information in your unemployment paperwork is inaccurate, you might be disqualified from receiving benefits.

Unemployment When You Quit Your Job

In most cases, if you voluntarily quit your job, you are not eligible for unemployment. However, if you left for good cause, you may be able to collect. What constitutes good cause is determined by your state unemployment office.

However, typically, examples of leaving a job for a good cause include the following:

Illness or emergency. This includes if a family member becomes ill, or if you have an illness and the employer does not accommodate your health problems.

Abusive or unbearable working conditions. This can include sexual harassment or other unbearable situations that have not been resolved by the employer. This might also refer to your being asked to commit acts that are illegal or immoral.

A safety concern. To qualify, your concern needs to be one not related to the nature of your job (such as the dangers of being a firefighter or police officer). This might involve a piece of equipment that has injured you or your coworkers and that the employer has not fixed.

Losing any mode of transportation to work. For example, if you get into an accident and cannot afford to fix your car, this can qualify as good cause. The situation is the same if the public transportation you have to take to work shuts down.

A drastic pay reduction. Typically, if you leave because of a significant pay decrease, you may be considered for unemployment benefits.

The employer failed to honor an employment contract. If an employer fails to honor the terms of an employment contract, even after the issue is brought to his or her attention, this can qualify as good cause.

Generally, to qualify as leaving for good cause, you have to demonstrate that you tried to resolve the issue by other means before quitting.

When Your Employer Terminates You After You Give Notice

 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.

Unemployment Benefits Disqualification and Job Searching

You can also qualify for unemployment benefits at first, but later be disqualified after you start receiving them. This can happen if you are not actively looking for a job or if you refuse a job offer.

To qualify for benefits, you need to be actively hunting for a job, and you will need to document your job search for your state unemployment office.

Benefits can be denied if a claimant:

  • Is not able to work or is not available for work. You must be able, ready, and willing to accept a suitable job.
  • Refuses an offer of suitable work.

Each state has its own guidelines, but, in general, "suitable work" means a job that offers wages comparable to what you have received in the past and whose duties are in line with your level of education and previous work experience.

These rules vary by state, and you can usually lose benefits if you do not meet state guidelines. If this happens, the benefits you have been receiving will stop.

How to File an Unemployment Appeal

If you have filed an unemployment benefits claim and your claim is turned down or contested by your employer, you have the right to appeal the denial. 

 When your claim is denied, you should be provided with the reason for the denial and information on the appeal process.

 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. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  2. U.S. Department of Labor. "Benefit Denials." Accessed March 6, 2020.

  3. NOLO. "Unemployment Benefits: What If You Quit?" Accessed March 6 2020.