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Eligibility for Unemployment Compensation Benefits

Unemployment compensation is a government-sponsored and administered benefits program. It provides financial support to qualified unemployed workers and is funded by employer taxes. The federal government and states manage the program together. Unemployment compensation is commonly referred to as unemployment insurance (UI).

Every state has different rules and regulations. The following information provides a general overview of unemployment compensation benefits.

Protected Employees

Every state's rules vary. In general, to receive unemployment compensation benefits, employees must meet the following conditions:

  • Have lost their job through no fault of their own
  • Is a U.S. citizen, or can provide proof of the legal right to work in the United States
  • Was employed for a certain period
  • Have earned a certain amount in wages before becoming unemployed
  • Is available for work immediately
  • Is physically able to work

Part-time and temporary workers may qualify if they can meet their state's conditions.

When the Employee is Fired

terminated employee may qualify for unemployment compensation benefits in certain circumstances. For instance, an employee terminated for any of the following may still be able to receive benefits:

  • Financial reasons
  • Unintentional actions
  • Layoffs

But if an employer fires an employee for deliberate and repeated misconduct, it will disqualify the employee in most states. Common types of misconduct include, but are not limited to:

  • Frequent tardiness
  • Unexcused absences
  • Violation of the rules of the workplace
  • Intoxication on the job
  • Sleeping on the job
  • Dishonesty
  • Extreme insubordination
  • Sexual harassment
  • Actions that cause substantial injury to the employer's business

Misconduct does not include behavior that amounts only to the following:

  • Poor performance, like carelessness
  • Lack of skill
  • Errors made in good faith

When the Employee Quits

An employee that quits a job is typically ineligible for unemployment compensation. An exception is if the employee quits for "good cause." Most states define good cause as a condition that would have resulted in harm or injury if the employee did not quit. Good cause usually includes the following:

  • The job endangered the health or life of the employee.
  • The employee was subject to intolerable working conditions, such as sexual harassment or discrimination, and the employer refused to remedy the problem.
  • The employer relocated the job to a location that substantially increased an employee's commute time or to another state.
  • The employee's spouse relocated to another state for a new job.
  • The employee had a compelling personal reason, such as taking care of a sick spouse.

In most states, good cause for quitting a job excludes reasons such as career advancement or job dissatisfaction.

Filing an Unemployment Compensation Claim

An unemployed worker must file a claim with the appropriate state agency to receive unemployment benefits. The following steps apply:

  • Filing the Claim: When filing a claim, it is necessary to provide documentation. Examples include recent pay stubs, a Social Security card, and proof of unemployment status. Generally, a one-week waiting period applies before an unemployed worker receives benefits. The former employer will receive a notice of the claim and may file a written objection.
  • Investigation of Eligibility: The state will assess benefit eligibility based on the reason for the job loss. After making an initial eligibility determination, the unemployment agency will send an inquiry to the former employer asking for verification of the reason for termination.
  • Appealing a Decision: A former employer or employee may appeal a state agency's decision. In most states, an employee has one to four weeks to file an appeal if denied benefits. If an employer appeals a decision, the employee can still collect benefits until the issuance of a contrary decision. If the former employer prevails, the employee may have to repay the amount received in benefits.
  • Hearing: Both parties may have an attorney at the hearing. They can also present witnesses and relevant written records to the hearing officer.
  • Administrative Appeal: Either party can appeal the decision of the administrative agency. The records presented at the initial hearing are the basis for the review of the decision. In most cases, the administrative agency will enforce the hearing officer's decision.
  • Judicial Appeal: Either party can appeal the administrative agency's decision to the state court system. But the state court will likely confirm the decision unless it is unsupported by evidence or the law.

Unemployment Compensation Benefits

An employee with a successful claim is entitled to unemployment benefits. Every state has different calculation methods to determine the benefit amount. Unemployment benefits are typically less than the employee's weekly pay. The lower amount is because the state calculates the benefit amount on a percentage of the employee's earnings during a specific period. An eligible worker can receive benefits for 26 weeks. But if eligible for legislative extensions, the employee may receive up to an extra 20 weeks of benefits. Be sure to verify the duration of receiving UI benefits with your state unemployment agency.

Eligible for Unemployment? Get Legal Help With Your Claim

Unemployment benefits can be vital when you're between jobs. If your state denies you unemployment benefits, you'll want to explore your options and understand the laws. You can start by speaking with an experienced employment law attorney in your area.

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