Getting laid off can plunge your life into stress and uncertainty. Unemployment benefits relieve the financial burden and help you get back on your feet, but you may be wondering, “Do I qualify for unemployment?”
Unfortunately, many people miss out on unemployment benefits because they think they don’t qualify. While requirements vary from state to state, there are certain rules that apply nearly everywhere.
If you’re one of the thousands who got laid off in the past few months or quit their job for good cause, read on to learn how to qualify for unemployment.
How to qualify for unemployment
1. You were laid off from work
If you get laid off from work, you’ll most likely qualify for unemployment benefits. Maybe your company underwent restructuring or got acquired by a corporation. Whatever the reason for your dismissal, if it was outside of your control, you’ll likely qualify for benefits.
2. You quit for “good cause”
You may even be eligible for unemployment if you quit your job. In most cases, you must prove that the conditions were so bad that no reasonable person would stay.
Maybe you faced a dangerous work environment, harassment, or discrimination. Perhaps your employer reduced your hours or demoted you into an unsuitable role.
If you quit your job, you must show that you did everything you could to improve the situation. Quitting was your last available recourse.
You may also qualify if you quit work due to a medical condition or to care for an ill family member. Some states may even provide benefits to people who quit due to domestic violence. In these situations, applicants don’t need to prove that they tried everything they could to keep their job.
3. You meet requirements for time worked and wages earned
To get unemployment, you must have worked for a certain amount of time and earned a minimum amount of money. Typically, the unemployment office looks at your employment and earning history from the previous year. Every state sets its own requirements, so check with your state to learn about its policy.
Most states also require that you were a part-time or full-time employee. If you were an independent contractor, such as a freelancer, then you probably can’t get benefits. That’s because your employer didn’t pay unemployment taxes while you were working.
4. You’re legally authorized to work in the U.S.
Finally, you must show that you’re a U.S. citizen or legally authorized to work in the U.S. Without this documentation, you can’t collect.
When are you not eligible for unemployment?
1. You were fired for misconduct
There’s a difference between getting fired and getting laid off. If you’re fired for “gross misconduct,” you likely won’t qualify. Misconduct could include chronic lateness or absenteeism, carelessness, or violence.
Some states only consider misconduct within the workplace. Others let employers fire employees for their behavior outside of work. (Seriously, keep those Facebook profiles private.)
If there’s bad blood between you and your employer, you can argue your case at an unemployment hearing. If the judge decides against you, your last recourse is to appeal the decision and try again.
2. You quit without an urgent reason
Another disqualifying event is if you quit your job without urgent cause. If you quit because you didn’t like your job, you can’t file a successful claim for unemployment benefits.
3. You’re not actively job searching
To maintain your unemployment benefits, you must show that you’re actively looking for work. If you end up turning down a suitable job, the state could cut your allowance. You won’t get penalized, though, for turning down a job that’s way below your pay grade or skill level.
Your benefits could also get reduced if you’re supplementing your income with part-time work. If you quit this part-time job without good cause, then your benefits could stay permanently lowered.
4. You’re already getting severance pay
If you get laid off, your employer may continue to pay you for a period of time. This payment is known as a severance package. In some states, receiving a severance package disqualifies you for unemployment benefits. Other states will give you benefits only after the severance pay ends.
What unemployment benefits will you get?
Is unemployment compensation enough to live on? How long will you receive payment while you search for your next job?
The government determines your benefits as a percentage of your former salary. States also set a cap on how much you’ll get. Alabama has one of the lowest limits at $265 a week; Massachusetts has one of the highest at $742.
How to file for unemployment benefits
Once you know how to qualify for unemployment, head to your state’s unemployment website. Once there, you need to fill out an application.
You’ll provide your name, address, social security or work visa number, and details about your last job. If you prefer to apply in person, you can do so at your local unemployment office.
The process takes a few weeks, so start early. File a claim as soon as you can, and collect any documentation to support your case. If everything goes smoothly, you’ll start receiving benefits once your application is approved. That way, you’ll be financially supported as you search for your next job.
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