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Unemployment Benefits Requirements

Unemployment compensation, also called unemployment insurance (UI), is a federal government program administered by the states in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Labor. It’s intended to provide qualified unemployed workers with financial and work search support.

This page gives a broad overview of unemployment benefits and links to more detailed articles that can help you answer specific questions. Because unemployment programs vary by state, we suggest consulting an employment law expert in a city near you to give you the best advice about your unique circumstances.

Unemployment Eligibility

Each state has the autonomy to make its own rules regarding eligibility and administration, so unemployment insurance programs differ by state. Factors such as weekly benefit amounts, duration of benefit payments, and the base period used to determine UI benefits vary.

Generally, a worker must meet the following criteria to qualify for UI:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or have the legal right to work in the U.S.,
  • Have lost their job through no fault of their own, like a layoff but not quitting,
  • Have worked for a minimum amount of time at their job as defined in state law (most states require that you have worked for four out of the last five quarters),
  • Have earned enough wages during a base period,
  • Be physically able to work, and
  • Be actively searching and available for immediate suitable work.

Independent contractors and part-time, temporary, and self-employed workers are eligible for unemployment benefit programs in some circumstances.

Eligibility rules can be confusing. Most states post an online unemployment compensation FAQ that claimants can use to find additional information about the state’s unemployment assistance program. States’ websites also include agency contact information to aid claimants.

Unemployment Eligibility: When the Employee Quits

An individual who quits is typically ineligible for employment benefits. The one exception is if the individual left the job for good cause. How states define good cause varies, but generally, it is a condition that would have caused the individual harm or injury had they not quit.

For example, Indiana lists the following as examples of “good, work-related reasons” for quitting a job:

  • The employer arbitrarily changed work conditions,
  • Harassment,
  • Domestic or family violence,
  • Moving to follow a spouse accepting a new job, and
  • Military service.

Unemployment Eligibility: When the Employee is 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, intoxication on the job, or sexual harassment, will typically disqualify the individual for unemployment benefits. CaliforniaFlorida, Indiana, LouisianaMichiganNew JerseyNew York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, among others, follow this no-fault rule.

Unemployment Eligibility: When There is a Layoff

An individual whose employer laid them off or has experienced a significant reduction in hours due to lack of work is typically eligible for unemployment benefits. However, they must meet all other state eligibility requirements.

Maintaining Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits

Because unemployment insurance only provides temporary relief, recipients must periodically recertify their eligibility to continue receiving checks, direct deposit, or UI benefit debit cards.

After filing an initial claim, maintaining eligibility requires the job seekers to file a weekly claim. The process and contents of the weekly unemployment insurance claim vary by state. Still, they typically require the recipient to report their job search activities for the prior week and any wages earned for the previous period.

Reporting job search activity includes disclosing jobs applied for, interviews attended, offers received, and reemployment opportunities turned down. Turning down an offer of suitable employment can result in a loss of benefits in some states, such as Florida, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. If you receive UI benefits when you are not eligible, you may be responsible for any overpayments.

While most states require weekly reporting, some states, such as California, Florida, and Michigan, require reporting to UI online every two weeks.

Additionally, many states such as California, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, and Pennsylvania require individuals receiving unemployment benefits to register with the state workforce center.

When Can Requirements for Unemployment Benefits Be Waived?

States or the federal government can waive the requirements for unemployment benefits under exceptional circumstances, such as when there is an emergency that forces companies to shut down for some time. For example, New York, Florida, and several other states waived their work search requirement during the COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, and New York, among others, waive the work search requirement if the individual is temporarily laid off or seeking work through a union hiring hall.

Can a Denial of Unemployment Insurance be Appealed?

Yes. Although the process varies, states give claimants the right to appeal a denial of unemployment insurance benefits. The claimant must file the appeal within the time limits required by state law. Time limits for filing may be as short as seven days, such as in New Jersey, or as long as 30 days, such as in Michigan and New York. Claimants should file appeals quickly, given the short time to do so.

The process for filing an appeal also varies by state. Most states allow claimants to file their appeals online or by mail or fax. Some states, such as Louisiana and Indiana, also permit filing in person.

States hold the appeal hearing either over the telephone or in person. An administrative law judge typically hears the appeal.

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

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