The purpose of unemployment benefits is to compensate individuals who are out of work through no fault of their own. The money for unemployment compensation comes from a special tax on employers. You, as an employee, do not pay into this fund, and no money is deducted from your wages to cover you for unemployment.
Not everyone who is unemployed qualifies to receive unemployment benefits. In order to qualify for unemployment insurance, you must meet certain unemployment insurance conditions.
In order to be eligible, you must have worked in the past and earned enough wages to establish a claim. The work must have been performed in a particular period of time called the "base year." To qualify for a minimum claim, you must have earned a certain amount during the base year. However, if you do not have enough wages and hours to qualify using a regular base year, your claim may be set up using the alternate base year. Your local Employment Department office can assist you in determining your base year or alternate base year and can tell you how much you need to have earned.
The more you have earned, the higher your weekly unemployment insurance check will be. As a general rule, you can collect up to 26 weeks on a regular claim. Sometimes there are other state or federal programs that provide additional weeks of benefits. For current information, ask your local Employment Department office for details.
Once you have established that you have enough wages for a claim, the Employment Department will look at other eligibility factors. When you file your claim, a notice may be sent to your employer to verify the reason you are unemployed. If you were laid off because of a lack of work, and you meet all other eligibility requirements, you will most likely be entitled to benefits. However, if you quit your job or were fired, the Employment Department may conduct a further investigation to determine if you are disqualified from receiving benefits. Unemployment benefits will be denied if you were fired for misconduct or quit work without a good cause.
What is misconduct under Employment Department law?
Misconduct generally means you willfully or recklessly violated a standard your employer has the right to expect. The employer has the burden of proving misconduct. Misconduct does not exist if you were fired for exercising poor judgment on one occasion, if you made a good faith error, or if you were fired simply for lacking the skills or experience necessary to perform your job. In addition, absences due to illness or unavoidable accidents are not misconduct. If you were fired for conduct involving the use of drugs or alcohol, or not taking a drug test, special rules may apply.
What is "good cause" for quitting?
If you quit your job, you must show that you had good cause to quit. Good cause for quitting work generally requires that the reason for leaving be so serious that a reasonable person would have no alternative but to quit work. Some factors that are considered are: why you quit; how bad the problem was; and what you did to try to resolve the problem before leaving. Some examples of establishing good cause to leave work may include illness or physical pain, or certain types of harassment from a supervisor. Good cause is not established if you quit work because you are bored with your job, or are returning to school. The Employment Department will also consider the extent to which you created the serious situation requiring you to leave work. If you are a person with a physical or mental disability, the law will consider whether a person with your characteristics would leave work.
There are other eligibility requirements in order to receive unemployment benefits. You must generally be able to work, be available for work, and be actively seeking work for all weeks you claim benefits. You must be physically able to do some work. Generally, you must look for work in your customary occupation. As a general rule, you must be available to work both full- and part-time, and you must be available to work any shifts during which the type of work you are seeking is performed. However, if you are limited to part-time work because you suffer from a permanent long-term disability, you may still be eligible for benefits. The Employment Department will ask you questions regarding the type of work you are looking for, the shifts and days you are willing to work, whether you are attending school or are self-employed, how far you are willing to travel, if you have made child care arrangements, and if you are available for both full-time and part-time work. In some situations the Employment Department allows you to attend school, collect unemployment benefits, and not look for work. You should check with the Employment Department to see if you qualify for one of these programs. Otherwise, attending school or having child care responsibilities during certain shifts may make you ineligible to receive benefits if it appears you are not available for work. You must apply for suitable work when asked to do so by the Employment Department, and if you are offered work, you must accept the job if the work is suitable. Finally, you must also register for iMatchSkills, an electronic job match system. However, you are exempt from this requirement if you are union-attached or have a return-to-work date with your employer within four weeks from the last day you worked.
If you have earned enough wages during the base year, and you are denied unemployment benefits for one of the reasons described above, and you believe you have a valid claim, you have the right to a hearing. You must request a hearing within 20 days of the date the administrative decision denying your benefits was mailed. You also may want to read Unemployment Benefit Hearings Process
, which discusses the hearing process. You may be represented by an attorney at the hearing.
Finally, it is your responsibility to keep a record of your job search efforts, and to file your claim forms with the Employment Department on time. If you have questions regarding your eligibility or reporting requirements, contact your local Employment Department office.
Here are some additional important points to keep in mind:
If you want to file a claim, do so as soon as you become unemployed. After you file your claim, there is a one week waiting period before you can be approved for benefits. The waiting week does not begin until after your claim is filed.
Your employer does not decide whether you will collect benefits or not; the Employment Department does. Do not allow your employer to tell you that you cannot file a claim. Also, do not rely on your employer to tell you how or when to file a claim.
Even if your wages are earned in another state, go to your nearest local office to see if you are eligible for benefits. You may have a valid claim using out-of-state wages. If you believe you are entitled to benefits and are not receiving them, you may wish to contact an attorney.
If you cannot afford an attorney, you may qualify for an attorney through a legal aid or pro bono program.
Legal editor: Janay Haas, July 2009;
Updated November 2011 by Thomas Doyle