Each state has its own unemployment insurance system, rules, regulations, and procedures. But regardless of what state you live in, not everybody who loses their job is eligible for unemployment compensation. You can usually appeal the disqualification. If you win the appeal, you will receive unemployment benefits, but this doesn’t always happen. This article will help you better understand how unemployment benefits work, who qualifies for compensation, and what might disqualify you.
Written by Attorney Eric Hansen.
Updated July 30, 2021
Picture this: You recently lost your job and then you get a letter from the unemployment office saying you are not entitled to receive a weekly benefit. What gives? There are many reasons that people don’t qualify for unemployment benefits. Each state has its own unemployment insurance system, rules, regulations, and procedures. But regardless of what state you live in, not everybody who loses their job is eligible for unemployment compensation. You can usually appeal the disqualification. If you win the appeal, you will receive unemployment benefits, but this doesn’t always happen.
This article will help you better understand how unemployment benefits work, who qualifies for compensation, and what might disqualify you.
Eligibility Criteria for Unemployment Benefits
Each state has its own eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, you will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if you:
Are unemployed through no fault of your own;
Are ready, willing, and able to work; and
Are actively seeking work.
You’ll want to check with your state unemployment insurance agency for specific qualification guidelines, deadlines, and contact information. The agency can also provide other important information like your benefit year, the impact of severance pay, and how many weeks of eligibility you have for unemployment benefits. Your state’s unemployment insurance agency may be within your state’s department of labor, department of economic development, or department of industry. You can search online to find out.
Typically your state unemployment insurance agency, your state’s attorney general, and your local legal aid organization will have resources to help you understand the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits. This is a good first place to look for this information.
Unemployment Compensation Benefits Disqualification
Every person’s situation is different. But there are several situations in which the claimant (the former employee) is generally disqualified from receiving weekly benefit amounts from the state unemployment insurance program. You may be disqualified and ineligible for benefits if you:
Quit without good cause
Were fired for misconduct
Didn’t earn enough in your benefit year
Weren’t employed long enough
Provided false information on your unemployment compensation application
Did not actively look for a new job
Refused a suitable job
Quit Without Good Cause
If you quit for good cause, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation. If you quit without good cause, you aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation. What is good cause? Each state has a different definition and that can affect a claimant’s application for unemployment compensation. Some states are more restrictive in defining good cause, while others, like California, are more generous.
State unemployment insurance agencies generally don’t consider the following to be good cause:
Quitting because you are getting married
Quitting because you are attending school
Quitting or resigning due to a labor dispute
Quitting, resigning, or failing to show up for work because you’re dissatisfied with your job, your company, or your boss
Quitting to pursue other interests
Quitting to travel
Quitting to start a charitable organization
Good cause usually has to be a work-related reason for leaving. Examples of good cause are:
You had a concern for your personal safety at your job.
Your pay was drastically reduced.
You were subject to unbearable or abusive working conditions such as sexual harassment or criminal behavior.
You or a family member had an illness or a medical emergency and your employer failed to make accommodations.
You lost your means of transportation.
Your employer didn’t hold up their end of an employment contract. (This only applies if you’re not an at-will employee.)
Keep in mind that you usually have to try to resolve these issues before you quit for them to qualify as good cause.
Fired for Misconduct
If you’ve been fired, you may or may not be eligible for unemployment compensation. It will depend on the reason. If you were fired for misconduct—such as breaking company rules, theft, harassment, continued unexcused absences, using drugs or alcohol on the job, or intentionally neglecting your job duties—then you won’t qualify for unemployment benefits.
If you were fired for not meeting the company’s or your boss’s performance standards, making honest mistakes, excused absences with proper notice to your employer, then you probably won’t be disqualified from unemployment benefits.
Insufficient Earnings or Length of Employment
Most states require employees to have made a certain amount (sufficient earnings) and worked for a certain length of time to be eligible for unemployment benefits. This length of time is typically one year, and it is called your base period. You won’t be eligible for unemployment compensation if your base period is only a month, for example. To see how much you qualify to receive, the unemployment office typically traces the gross earnings attributable to your Social Security number for your base period.
Usually, if you are self-employed or an independent contractor, you aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Recently, the federal government extended unemployment benefits to self-employed workers and independent contractors as part of its coronavirus pandemic relief efforts in federal law like the CARES Act.
You can determine whether you are an employee or an independent contractor by looking at your pay stubs. If you have Social Security taxes and unemployment insurance taxes taken out of your earnings, then you are an employee. If you get tax deductions when you file your taxes, you are an independent contractor or self-employed.
When you are applying for unemployment assistance, it is important to submit accurate information. If you provide false information or are otherwise inaccurate in your reporting to your state agency, you may be disqualified from receiving benefits.
Failure to Actively Look for a Job
You may initially qualify for unemployment benefits but become ineligible if you aren’t actively looking for a job. You may also be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation if you refuse an offer of suitable work.
Actively looking for a job means that you are looking through job sites like Indeed or LinkedIn and applying to job listings. It also means that you are in contact with people in your professional network and asking around if there are jobs available and if your contacts would give you a referral for that employer. Claimants may want to consider contacting job recruiters or job agencies for additional leads on potential jobs.
Proving Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
The best way to prove that you’re eligible for unemployment insurance benefits is to keep good written records of what happened when you lost your job, what you did after you lost your job, and what you have been up to since losing your job. The reason for your job loss is important to the state unemployment insurance agency and how they interpret state law.
Sometimes you may not be clear about why you lost your job. An employer may say you acted inappropriately when you really didn’t, or they may indicate that you quit a job when you were actually laid off or fired without a good reason. This is why collecting evidence and documenting everything related to your job separation and your job application efforts are critical to proving your eligibility while you are unemployed.
If you are denied benefits, you have the right to appeal. If you file an appeal, you are responsible for showing that you are, in fact, eligible for unemployment benefits. If you quit for good cause, it is up to you to demonstrate that you did have an illness, for example. Or if there were abusive or unsafe working conditions, you need to show that you attempted to address them before quitting and that your former employer failed to do anything about it.
Receiving unemployment benefits and maintaining your eligibility are important for your financial well-being after a job loss. Do your best to keep track of what happened when your employment ended at your last job. Keep records of your job search efforts and stay positive.
You can avoid being disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if you put some effort into staying on top of things. Actively look for work, learn about the rules and regulations in your state, and know when to use your resources. This way, you can avoid getting a disqualifying letter from the state unemployment office or having your weekly benefit amounts cut off. These benefits can help you stay afloat financially until you get stability back with a new job.