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Unemployment Benefits: Guide After Losing a Job

For workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, like a layoff or company closure, there is a financial safety net, albeit a limited one. In nearly every state, employers contribute to their state unemployment insurance (UI) fund. This is done through a payroll tax, sometimes with federal government assistance. When workers face a job loss, they can apply for weekly unemployment benefits, reflecting a portion of their previous earnings.

It's essential to note that eligibility requirements exist. Claimants need to demonstrate their ongoing job search efforts, which are subject to audit. Unemployment benefits serve as a temporary support mechanism for individuals facing job loss. These benefits are different than workers' compensation.

Unemployment Benefits at a Glance

Unemployment benefits are often not available to those who quit or are terminated for cause unless there is good cause for their separation. UI administrators investigate and verify the nature of the job separation and work history with the employer after a claimant files for unemployment assistance. 

The employer can then challenge a former employee's unemployment claim. There is a system in place to resolve disputes over UI claims, which includes hearings and an appeals process.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have worked for a certain base period and meet specific earnings requirements. Your weekly benefit amount (WBA) is determined by your earnings during the base period. During the coronavirus pandemic, the weekly unemployment amount received by workers was increased across the nation.

In most cases, there is a cap on the maximum amount of benefit payments you can receive each week. This amount varies by state. In Kentucky, for instance, the maximum weekly benefit amount is $665, while in New York, it is $504.

Unemployment benefits typically last for up to 26 weeks, but they may be extended during times of financial distress or economic downturn. For example, workers affected by the recession following the financial crisis of 2008 received up to 99 weeks of benefits.

Benefits also end once the worker finds regular employment or exceeds the maximum benefit rate.

Unemployment Benefits After Termination

Individuals who are terminated for cause, such as misconduct or poor performance, are generally not eligible for UI benefits. There are some exceptions to this rule. For instance, if an employee was fired for a minor infraction or unintentional misconduct, they may still be allowed to receive unemployment benefits. Individuals can receive unemployment benefits if their termination was discriminatory or retaliatory, violating employment laws.

To access these benefits, individuals need to apply through their state's unemployment office. This office is usually part of the U.S. Department of Labor. Eligibility for unemployment benefits may be subject to work search requirements, and individuals must actively seek a new job to maintain their unemployment eligibility. Workers need to be aware of their rights and protections under the unemployment insurance program.

Collecting UI Benefits After Quitting a Job

An employee who quits may still collect unemployment insurance benefits if they can prove that a reasonable person would not have stayed on the job. For instance, an employee who is sexually harassed may quit and still be eligible for UI benefits. Other instances where an employee who has voluntarily left a job may still be eligible for benefits include:

  • Discrimination
  • Substantial reduction in hours or pay
  • Threats of termination vs. voluntary resignation
  • Unsafe or hazardous working conditions
  • Relocation of a worksite that is substantially further away
  • Time off needed to care for a family member
  • Forced relocation in retaliation for a whistleblower action

Quitting because you don't like the job is not considered grounds for UI eligibility.

How To File a Claim for Unemployment Benefits

The UI claim filing process may vary from state to state. Most states allow a person to apply in person, by phone, using the mail, or online. Applicants supply their name, address, Social Security number, and employment history.

The procedure for claims generally follows this sequence:

  1. The former worker files a claim.
  2. The state unemployment agency sends a confirmation letter to the employer and allows the employer an opportunity to dispute the claim.
  3. The former employee then has an opportunity to respond.
  4. State employment agency determines whether the employee is eligible. Usually, the employee is eligible and begins to receive benefits.
  5. If the employer disputes the claim, the employee and employer submit forms and documents in support of their position.
  6. A referee conducts a UI hearing with the option to call witnesses.
  7. If one or both parties disagree with the referee's decision, the decision can be appealed to an administrative agency.
  8. If one or both parties still disagree with the decision, it can be appealed to the State Superior Court.

Stages of an Unemployment Compensation Claim

A typical unemployment compensation claim proceeds as follows:

  1. The claim is filed.
  2. The state agency makes an initial determination as to whether the former employee is eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
  3. If there is a dispute, the employee and employer will submit relevant forms and documents.
  4. If the matter still is unresolved, a referee conducts an unemployment insurance hearing. Both the employer and the former employee may call witnesses to support their positions.
  5. If either party disagrees with the referee's decision, they can appeal it to an administrative agency.
  6. If the employer or former employee disagrees with a board of review's decision, they can appeal it to the state court system.

What Unemployment Insurance Provides

If your unemployment claim is approved, you will begin receiving benefits every week after a one-week waiting period. In other words, you will not receive benefits for your first week of unemployment.

The amount you will receive each week is determined by the office handling unemployment claims in each state and is subject to tax.

If you are a federal employee, you may be eligible for the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE) program. Although it's operated by the federal government, the claim amount and other eligibility requirements are still determined by state regulations. The agency will ask how your position was terminated before contacting your former employer for verification.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer's Help

Losing your job is not ideal. Meeting with an employment lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Learn About Unemployment Benefits

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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