How to Get Unemployment Benefits

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 When are Employees Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

If an individual is unemployed through no fault of their own, they might be entitled to unemployment benefits. These types of benefits are not available to an individual simply because they are not working.

After an individual files an application, the unemployment agency in the state will review the application and interview both the individual and their former employer. After these interviews are completed, a determination will be made regarding whether the individual qualifies for unemployment benefits.

Not every individual will qualify for unemployment benefits, for example, independent contractors and individuals who were voluntarily terminated. In most states, an individual is eligible for unemployment benefits if their income meets a certain minimum threshold for hours or wages and the individual:

  • Was laid off;
  • Quit for good cause; or
  • Was fired for any reason other than misconduct.

The majority of states require the applicant to be actively searching for other suitable employment. Each state has its own rules used to:

  • Determine eligibility;
  • Calculate the amount and duration of benefits the individual will receive; and
  • Appeal if the benefits are denied.

Unemployment benefits are typically paid every week for a set period of time, usually up to 26 weeks. In order to qualify for these benefits, the 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 are required to be physically and mentally capable of performing work. It is important to note that if an individual has an illness or injury, they may not be able to obtain unemployment benefits until they can work again.

However, if the individual has a disability and would be able to work when provided with reasonable accommodation, they would be considered able to work. Each state has its own criteria used to determine whether an individual is able to work.

In order to collect unemployment benefits, an individual must be available for employment. In other words, there is nothing that is preventing the individual from accepting a job if one becomes available. Common examples of situations where a state unemployment agency may determine that an individual is unavailable for work include:

  • They are unwilling to work during certain hours or on certain days;
    • An individual may still seek part-time work, as long as their schedule is not too restricted;
    • Some states, however, require an individual 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.

The individual must be actively seeking work to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. If a position is offered that is similar to the one the individual previously had, they cannot turn it down.

Some fired employees may still be eligible for benefits. The state law will determine whether a fired employee is eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

If the employee was fired for illegal or serious misconduct, they will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. An employee who was discharged or temporarily laid off due to company closing or work reductions or lack of work may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

If an employee quits, they may also be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if they quit because of a good cause and tried their hardest to keep the job.

How Do I Get Unemployment Benefits?

An individual who wishes to receive unemployment benefits must take the following steps:

  • File a claim with the local unemployment office;
  • Learn the requirements to determine whether an individual is eligible and qualify to collect unemployment benefits;
  • Determine whether an individual’s past earnings meet the certain amount required;
  • Make sure the reason for leaving qualifies to receive unemployment benefits;
  • Be willing to work and be ready to actively seek work; and
  • Complete the unemployment insurance interview with the state office, if required.

If an individual is denied unemployment benefits and they believe that they are entitled to unemployment benefits, they may file an appeal to be reconsidered. The appeal must be filed within 20 days of the original denial.

When Can I be Eligible for Unemployment Benefits if I Quit?

Reasons that an employee who quits may be entitled to unemployment benefits include:

  • Medical reasons: If an employee quits a job because of a serious medical reason, injury, or a disability, they may be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Many states require that the employee’s medical reason or the cause of the injury be related to the job in order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits;
  • Sexual harassment: If an employee was forced to quit their job because there was constant sexual harassment and abuse that existed in their work environment, they may be able to collect unemployment benefits;
  • To care for a family member: Some states allow an employee to collect unemployment benefits if they were forced to quit due to an illness in the family which required them to quit work to care for their family member; and
  • Dangerous working conditions: If the employee was forced to quit because there were constant dangerous working conditions which the employer refused to fix.

Would I be Eligible for Unemployment Benefits if I Got Fired?

An employee who is fired or is out of work due to their own fault may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. The state laws will determine whether the employee would be eligible to collect unemployment.

As previously noted, if the employee was fired because they committed an illegal act on the job or serious misconduct, they will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.

Examples of misconduct that makes an employee ineligible to collect unemployment benefits include:

  • Theft: An employee who steals or commits theft from a company or other employees will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits;
  • Crime: An employee who commits a serious crime or an illegal act during the scope of employment or related to the job would be ineligible, for example, assault, driving under the influence, battery);
  • Violation of safety rules: An employee who violates company policy or company safety procedures intentionally or willfully would most likely be ineligible; and
  • Failing drug or alcohol test: If an employee fails a drug or alcohol test required by the employer, they would be ineligible to collect unemployment benefits.

How Long Will it Take to Receive My Unemployment Benefits?

Soon after an individual becomes unemployed, they can file a claim for unemployment benefits with their state unemployment office. The state will determine whether the individual is eligible for benefits based on state laws.

The individual will receive a notice regarding their eligibility. Once they have been determined eligible, they should expect their first unemployment check within 2-3 weeks after the application is filed.

The process may take longer if an individual does not file the correct information or if they do not submit all of the required information.

How Long Can I Receive My Unemployment Benefits?

The length of time an individual will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits depends on where and when they file their unemployment claim. Typically, a state will allow an employee to receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks, or 6 months, unless they find employment during that period.

If an individual is still economically struggling after 26 weeks and they have yet to find employment, the federal and state governments allow an employee to file an extension and receive unemployment benefits even after the 26 weeks has expired.

Should I Seek Legal Help?

Because the laws and procedures governing unemployment benefits may vary by state, it may be helpful for an individual to consult with a workers compensation lawyer. Your lawyer can advise you of the laws and requirements in your state.

In addition, your lawyer can assist you if any complications arise when you are seeking to obtain employment benefits.


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