Unemployment insurance (UI) is a program available for people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. This is a joint federal-state program that provides financial assistance to workers while they look for a new job. Not all workers are eligible, and there are a variety of requirements for people who receive unemployment benefits.
The UI program is overseen by the Department of Labor (DOL). However, state governments each run their own unemployment program. While the main eligibility criteria and program rules are the same everywhere, states can set their own requirements as well. Below, learn more about getting unemployment benefits and discover what rules and requirements you should be aware of.
Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?
In order to receive UI, you need to meet a few work requirements. To start, you need to have worked enough hours in the past 12 to 18 months. In other words, you need to have worked enough during the last five calendar quarters. This period of time is sometimes referred to as your base period.
States can set their own requirements for the number of hours you need to have worked during the base period. In most cases, you need to have worked in four of the last five quarters just prior to losing your job.
Next, you are only eligible if you lost your job through no fault of your own. In most cases, this means you got laid off from your most recent job because there wasn’t enough work. You may also qualify if:
- Your job was eliminated altogether.
- You are a seasonal worker whose employment has ended.
- Your company downsized or went out of business.
- You were fired because of your performance or because you couldn’t fulfil the job qualifications.
You aren’t usually eligible for unemployment if you were fired for reasons such as violating company rules, being absent or insubordination. You’re also ineligible if you quit your job voluntarily without good cause. If you are a teacher, you usually cannot apply for unemployment over summer or holiday breaks.
In order to get unemployment benefits, you also need to show that you are still ready and able to work. UI is meant to be a temporary solution for people who plan on returning to work as soon as possible. Therefore, you are only eligible if you are:
- Still physically able to work.
- Currently available to accept a job.
- Actively looking for work.
- Willing to accept a job right away if one if offered.
If you are not able to work anymore due to an injury, illness or disability, you might be able to qualify for worker’s compensation or even disability benefits instead. The requirements for these programs are different than UI.
Does military service qualify me for unemployment?
If you were in the military, your service may count as work for the UI program. However, you are only eligible if you were discharged or released from service for certain reasons. You may be able to file an unemployment claim if you completed your first term of enlistment and were discharged due to:
- A service-connected disability or injury.
- Pregnancy or parenthood.
- A personal hardship.
- Inaptitude or a personality disorder.
- A medical disqualification.
- An early release program.
Note: You are usually only eligible for UI if your discharge from service was honorable.
Disaster Unemployment Benefits
In addition to regular UI benefits, the DOL also offers assistance for workers who have lost a job due to a natural disaster. Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) is only available for people who are ineligible for regular UI, meaning that they cannot be out of work due to being laid off or a similar reason.
To receive DUA benefits, you must live or work in an area that is part of a federally-declared natural disaster. Furthermore, one of the following scenarios must apply:
- You don’t have a job or workplace because of the disaster.
- Your workplace was damaged and cannot be used.
- The disaster made it impossible to reach your workplace.
- You were injured by the natural disaster in such a way that you are no longer able to work.
How to Apply for Unemployment
The process of requesting unemployment benefits varies depending on where you live. This is because each state has its own unemployment office. No matter where you live, the first step is to contact the UI office in the state where you worked. Do this as soon as possible after losing your job to avoid delays in getting your benefits.
If you live and work in different states, you can usually get information about filing a claim from your home state. Ultimately, claims usually need to be filed in the state where your job was located.
Once you find the correct UI office, you can start the claim process. States allow you to make a claim in one of all of the following ways:
- By phone.
- By fax.
- In person.
To file a claim, you need to provide information on your former job, including the name and address of your employer and dates of employment. Most states also require information on your wages, the reason your employment ended and other details that will help the office determine eligibility.
Any errors or omissions in your claim can lead to delays. Once your claim is processed, you can expect to receive your first benefit check within two or three weeks. However, actual processing times can vary depending on a state’s policies and your individual situation.
Note: If you are claiming DUA benefits, you can also apply through the unemployment insurance agency in the state where your workplace is located.
What unemployment benefits will I receive?
The amount of your benefit checks varies depending on what you earned when you were employed. You generally only earn a percentage of your average wages over the past 52 weeks. Every state has a maximum benefit amount that it will pay. Even if you earned higher-than-average wages, your UI benefits may be limited to a certain amount based on state regulations.
Your benefit amount is affected by whether you worked full- or part-time. Furthermore, your UI benefits might be lower if you receive payments from worker’s compensation or a severance package.
In any case, you will only receive UI benefits for a certain amount of time. In most states, you can get benefits for up to 26 weeks during a 12-month period. However, the exact rules can vary depending on the state. If you use all of your benefits for the year, you unfortunately cannot get an extension.