Unemployment benefits are for eligible people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. An eligible person receives a cash payment through the unemployment insurance program. Each state administers its own program, but all states must follow federal law guidelines.
Who Is Eligible?
Generally, you must meet both work and wage requirements.
The state agency that runs the program will review your past wage history and the reason you stopped your last job (aka job separation).
A “base period” is determined to calculate your benefit amount. You must have a certain amount of wages from working in your base period to be eligible.
How Much Are the Benefits?
State laws create a minimum and a maximum amount of weekly benefits. How much you receive depends on your past wages and in which state you worked.
You won’t receive as much as you were paid for the job. The benefits are meant to be temporary, partial payments while you look for another job.
Why Does Job Separation Matter?
To be eligible, you either have to be unemployed or working less hours, through no fault of your own.
Generally, “no fault” could be any of these — but misconduct can’t be involved:
- You were laid off
- Your hours were reduced
- You quit your job with “good cause”
If you quit your job because of a work-related reason, you may need to explain how you tried to correct the problem before you quit. Maybe the working conditions weren’t safe or your job had been changed significantly, and that’s why you quit.
If you quit your job for personal reasons, they may not be “good cause” under the rules. If you didn’t have transportation or child care and had to quit your job, you probably won’t get benefits. That’s also considered for being “able and available” for work, another requirement to receive benefits. Not having transportation or child care usually won’t be an excuse from job search activities or from accepting another full-time job.
To learn more about child care resources, check out “How to Find Child Care in Your Community” here at Women Deserve Better.
Other personal reasons might be “good cause” for quitting your job, such as domestic violence, personal illness, or taking care of your minor child who is sick.
To find domestic violence resources, please visit “When You Need to Call for Help: Domestic Violence” here at Women Deserve Better.
What Else is Required?
Generally, a person must:
- Be unemployed, totally or partially (working part time)
- Be able to work (physically and mentally)
- Be available for full-time work
- Complete work search requirements and report them — unless the state agency gives the person an exemption
To keep getting benefits, you will have to apply for and be able to accept a “suitable” full-time job. “Suitable” depends on many things, including your experience and qualifications, conditions and pay for similar work in the area, commuting distance, and how long you have been unemployed.
You’ll have to ask for payment for the weeks of unemployment — your state law will set a schedule. You’ll need to answer all requests from the agency and complete any “re-employment activities” that the agency requires.
What Other Help Is Available?
Often, the state agencies have resources to help you with training and job searching. They may also have vouchers to help pay for child care. Those resources may be limited, so ask the agency what is available and how you can get more help.
You can find tips and encouragement in the “Find a Job” section here at Women Deserve Better.
Where Can I Learn More?
Unemployment benefits can be confusing, and each state has differences. A lawyer can tell you specifically about your state’s laws, your rights, and how to appeal if you are denied benefits.
To learn more, visit “How Do I File for Unemployment Insurance?” at the U.S. Department of Labor.
To find legal help, visit LawHelp.org. Keep in mind:
- Legal aid programs have eligibility guidelines. They may ask about how much income you have and what you own. They may ask about your immigration status and other things, so they can see if you qualify for help.
- If you qualify, you could receive free legal advice or a lawyer to represent you and your case for free.
Editor’s Note: This is general information and not legal advice. Please consult with a lawyer licensed in your state for legal advice.
By Susan Schoppa, J.D.