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California Unemployment Law

Unemployment compensation, also called unemployment insurance (U.I.), is a federal government program administered by the states in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide qualified unemployed workers with financial support.

This page gives an overview of California state unemployment law and links to more detailed articles to help you answer specific questions. Because the law is complicated, we suggest consulting an employment law expert in a city near you to get the best advice about your unique circumstances.

Unemployment Eligibility Requirements

Each state makes its own unemployment eligibility rules. So California’s unemployment insurance program may differ from other states. You can read more about general unemployment requirements here and the general unemployment process here.

A California resident must meet the following eligibility requirements to qualify for benefits:

  • Have earned enough wages during a base period (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters).
  • Be totally or partially unemployed.
  • Be unemployed due to no fault of their own.
  • Be physically able to work.
  • Be available for work.
  • Be able to accept work immediately.

Full-time and part-time employees are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. However, independent contractors and self-employed individuals are not.

Claimants must also register for CalJOBS to aid in their job search.

For more information, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) has published its guide, Unemployment Insurance: A Guide to Benefits and Employment Services, and an FAQ on its website. Claimants can also find the EDD’s contact information on its website.

Am I Eligible for Benefits if I Quit?

An individual who quits is typically ineligible for employment benefits. However, a California worker who can show they left for good cause and made reasonable attempts to keep their job may qualify. Examples of good cause are unsafe working conditions or a medical doctor’s advice.

What if I Get Fired?

A terminated individual is eligible for unemployment benefits only when they are not at fault for being fired. For example, repeated employee misconduct, such as excessive absences, will typically disqualify the individual.

In California, the EDD will investigate the individual case to determine if a fired worker is eligible for benefits. It is up to the employer to prove misconduct by the worker. So, an employer in San Jose who fires an employee has to show it did so because of the employee’s misconduct.

What if I Am Laid Off?

A claimant who lost their job due to a layoff is considered not at fault and is eligible for unemployment benefits. However, the claimant must meet all other state eligibility requirements.

Maintaining Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits

Recipients must periodically recertify their eligibility, including reporting job search activities.

In California, the worker must certify for unemployment insurance benefits every 14 days through U.I. online or by phone. Certification requires the claimant to demonstrate they are still eligible to receive benefits by showing they are actively searching for work and able to accept suitable offers of employment.

So, a job seeker in Fresno may lose their U.I. benefits if they turn down suitable work.

What Is the Weekly Benefit Amount?

Benefits are available to eligible California workers for up to 26 weeks in the benefit year. The state may extend the benefit period in certain circumstances.

The worker’s weekly benefit amount (WBA) ranges from $40 to $450 and is determined by their wages during the base period.

The claimant receives their benefit payments on a debit card or direct deposit via the debit card.

What Information Must the Employer Provide?

While states vary in what information they require from an employer for an unemployment insurance claim, the following is typical:

  • Confirmation that the employer was required to pay unemployment insurance contributions on the employee’s wages.
  • The reason for the employee’s separation.
  • The employee’s last day of work.
  • Whether the separation is temporary.
  • The employee’s gross wages for each week during a specified period.

If the EDD determines the claimant is eligible for benefits, it charges the employer’s reserve account for the benefits paid.

Are Unemployment Benefits Taxable?

California does not tax unemployment benefits, but they are subject to federal income tax. The state provides the worker with Form 1099-G reporting the amount of unemployment benefits paid and federal income tax.

When Can Requirements for Unemployment Benefits Be Waived?

California residents, including federal employees, who lose their job due to exceptional circumstances, such as a natural disaster or pandemic, may qualify for U.I. For example, the state extended U.I. eligibility to independent contractors and self-employed individuals impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

California waives the one-week waiting period for receiving benefits for workers who lose their job because of an emergency. So, a claimant in Los Angeles who lost their job because of a disaster can collect benefits without serving the one-week waiting period.

Typically, claimants who receive an overpayment of benefits must pay them back. However, California may waive this requirement if the claimant can show that repayment will cause extraordinary hardship.

The federal government may also implement emergency programs, such as the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

What if California Denies My Application for Benefits?

Although the process varies by state, claimants have the right to appeal when the state denies their unemployment insurance claim. In California, the claimant must complete and mail the appeal form within 30 days of the date of the Notice of Determination on their initial claim.

An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will conduct a hearing where the employer and claimant have the opportunity to present evidence.

The claimant can appeal the ALJ’s decision to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (Appeals Board) within 30 days of the ALJ’s decision.

The Appeals Board is the final administrative remedy available to the claimant. If the claimant disagrees with the Appeals Board’s decision, they must file a Writ of Mandate with the Superior Court within six months.

If you need help with filing an appeal, it is wise to discuss your options with an employment lawyer.