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Can I Get Unemployment Benefits?

No one likes to lose a job, but unemployment insurance can help cushion the blow of job-loss by providing much-needed income until you find your next job. Unemployment insurance (UI) is a federal program that is administered by the states. Although each state may have somewhat different rules regarding unemployment insurance, the basic framework is the same nationwide.

Which Workers Can Get Unemployment Benefits?

Who qualifies for unemployment insurance depends on numerous factors. In general, in order to receive unemployment insurance, you must be:

  • Totally or partially unemployed
  • Unemployed through no fault of your own
  • A U.S. citizen, permanent resident, or lawful worker
  • Employed by a qualified employer who paid into the UI system
  • Employed long enough to earn a certain amount of money
  • Available and able to work
  • Actively looking for new work

Note that unless there is a legislative exemption, students, recent graduates who have never been employed, and self-employed individuals are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

I'm Unemployed and I'm Eligible. Does That Mean I Can Get Benefits?

Your eligibility for unemployment depends on how you left your last job. You cannot collect benefits if you were fired for misconduct. Any illegal activities, extreme insubordination, or anything that might cause injury to the employer's business will preclude you from getting unemployment insurance.

If you quit your job, it must be for good cause. Good cause includes:

  • The job endangered your life or health
  • The working environment was intolerable and/or unsafe
  • The employer moved too far away for you to commute
  • A compelling personal reason, such as the need to care for a sick relative

In most cases, leaving a job because of dissatisfaction is not enough to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Some states also allow workers who have temporarily left their jobs to collect unemployment insurance. This includes workers on strike and workers who are out of work due to factory shutdowns. Be sure to check your state's laws to see if you qualify.

What Must I Do While on Unemployment Insurance?

Mostly, you must actively look for work. It's a good idea to sign up for job website newsletters. Be sure to keep track of all job applications you send out in case you are ever audited.

If you get a job offer, you might be able to reject it and retain your unemployment benefits if:

  • The wages, hours, or commuting time are much worse than in your previous job (Commuting time rules differ from state to state. In California, for example, it is determined based on the average travel times of typical workers in the community. Other states may have more exact guidelines so check the law in your state.)
  • The new job is more dangerous than your old job
  • The job is drastically below your experience and training

For more information, see FindLaw's unemployment benefits section.

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