If an individual becomes unemployed through no fault of their own, they may be entitled to unemployment benefits. Unemployment benefits are not available to individuals simply because they are not working. 

If an individual was employed and was terminated for a reason that was not their fault, they may file a claim for unemployment benefits. After an individual files an application, their state’s unemployment agency will review the application and interview both the individual and their former employer. 

Following these interviews, a determination will be made regarding whether or not the individual qualifies for unemployment benefits. Not all individuals qualify for unemployment benefits, such as independent contractors and individuals who were voluntarily terminated.

In the majority of states, a worker is eligible for unemployment benefits if their income met a certain minimum threshold for hours or wages and they were laid off, quit for good cause, or were fired for any reason other than misconduct. Most states require the applicant to be actively searching for other suitable employment.

Every state has its own rules for determining eligibility, calculating the amount and duration of benefits the individual will receive, and for the appeals process if benefits are denied. Unemployment benefits are usually paid every week, with a certain percentage of the individual’s earnings, and for a set period of time, typically up to 26 weeks.

In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, an individual must be able to work, available to work, and actively seeking work. In order for an individual to qualify as able to work, they must be physically and mentally capable of performing work.

If an individual has an illness or injury, they may not be able to obtain unemployment benefits until they are able to work again. However, if the individual has a disability and would be able to work when provided with a reasonable accommodation, they are considered able to work.

Every state has its own criteria to determine whether an individual is able to work. For example, in some states, if an employee is unable to work due to a period of illness or disability, they will still be able to collect benefits so long as the employee did not turn down employment during that time period.

In addition, in order to collect benefits, an employee must be available for employment. This means there is nothing that is preventing the individual from accepting a job if one becomes available. 

Examples of situations where the state unemployment agency may determine that an individual is unavailable for work includes:

  • They are unwilling to work on certain days or during certain hours;
    • An individual may still seek part-time work, so long as their schedule is not too restricted;
    • However, some states require individuals to be available for any type of work, even full-time;
  • The individual does not have the means to get to a job;
    • If the individual does not have a car, available public transportation, or the means to get to a job, they may be considered unavailable;
  • The individual’s personal life limits their time, including:
    • Vacations and travel; and
    • Lack of childcare.

Lastly, an individual must be actively seeking work in order to be eligible for unemployment benefits. What is considered actively seeking a job depends on the line of work. For example, if an individual was laid off from a minimum wage job, actively seeking employment may include visiting similar establishments, filling out applications, and asking about job openings. If the individual was in a professional position, actively seeking employment may involve responding to job postings, sending resumes, and attending interviews.

An individual is not permitted to turn down suitable work, should it be offered. The type of work that is considered suitable will depend on many factors including, their prior position, training, and experience. The longer an individual has been receiving unemployment benefits, the more they will be expected to make compromises in the employment they accept, including factors such as pay, commute, and job duties.

If an individual does submit an application for unemployment benefits and that application is erroneously denied, they can request a hearing for an appeal.

What is the Appeal Process if my Claim is Denied?

There are several reasons why an individual’s unemployment benefits claim may be initially denied. Reasons may include:

  • The individual voluntarily quit their job;
  • The individual was terminated due to misconduct; or
  • The individual did not have sufficient earnings or work during the base period, or, in other words, they did not meet the minimum earnings or work time required.

Every state has its own unique appeals process. Typically, an appeal takes place within 30 days of a denial notice. If the applicant misses this deadline, they will lose their opportunity to obtain unemployment benefits.

Once an individual submits an application for appeal, they will receive a hearing date. At that hearing, they are expected to present evidence regarding why they should receive unemployment benefits. Evidence may include paper documentation or witness testimony.

Many states have temporarily loosened their eligibility requirements due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic (CARES) Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. 

This program permits states to expand their unemployment eligibility to individuals who would not otherwise qualify. This may include self-employment individuals and those without enough work history to qualify. However, these changes will not last long, so it is important to check with the individual’s state assistance office.

What if My Unemployment is Due to COVID-19 Issues?

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more Americans have filed for unemployment benefits than ever before. In March 2020, around 10 million Americans applied for unemployment. 

As noted above, the federal government responded to the pandemic by passing the CARES Act. This Act provided an additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in addition to what the state provides, up to 39 weeks of benefits.

Are There Specific Laws Governing Unemployment Appeals and COVID-19 Matters?

If an individual’s unemployment claim was denied and they believe they would be eligible under the PUA or the expanded eligibility rules in the state, their next step for an appeal will depend on the state in which they reside and how that state implements the PUA program.

For example, certain states may require an individual to file a separate application for benefits under the PUA program. In other states, an individual may be required to receive an unemployment denial prior to being considered for eligibility under the PUA program. 

In addition, if an individual’s claim was denied pursuant to their state’s older rules, they may be eligible for a redetermination prior to filing an appeal. For example, in Arizona, an individual can request a redetermination of their claim based on the most recent eligibility requirements. 

What If I Am Denied Again After an Appeal?

Depending on the state in which an individual resides, they may be able to appeal the denial a second time. In some cases, if an individual is denied unemployment benefits at their hearing, a second level of review is available.

In these cases, either the individual or the employer may appeal the original decision within the state unemployment agency. Even if an individual’s state of residence does not provide this second level of internal appeals, each state permits an individual to appeal to the state’s court system.

How Can an Unemployment Lawyer Help Me?

An unemployment lawyer can provide assistance that can help an individual obtain unemployment benefits and give them a greater chance of being approved the first time. There are many requirements, which vary by state and deadlines that must be met during the process.

An unemployment lawyer can help an individual file their claim, including completing any necessary paperwork. A lawyer will be familiar with the best way to have a claim approved after the first application.

If an application is denied, an individual’s unemployment lawyer can help them appeal the denial. As previously noted, the appeal must be requested in a short period of time, typically around 30 days.

Should I Hire an Unemployment Lawyer for Representation? 

Yes, it is essential to hire an experienced workers compensation lawyer to represent you during the claim and appeal process. Although you are permitted to attend an appeals hearing alone, it is important to have an attorney represent you because it increases your chances of prevailing.