How to Get Unemployment Benefits — Even if You Quit Your Job

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Unemployment benefits relieve the financial burden of losing your job and help you get back on your feet. But what if you leave a company voluntarily? Can you file for unemployment if you quit your job?

Generally, you can still get unemployment benefits if you quit your job for a worthy cause that can be documented. While requirements vary from state to state, certain eligibility rules like these apply nearly everywhere.

If you’re one of the millions of workers who have recently taken an income hit, read on to learn how to qualify for unemployment, whether you quit your job or were laid off.

Can you file for unemployment if you quit your job?

If you’re wondering whether you can get unemployment if you quit your job, your eligibility likely depends on why you quit.

If you quit for good cause

You may 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, demoted you into an unsuitable role or didn’t pay you on time or in full. You might have “good cause” if you simply could no longer afford transportation to and from work.

If you quit your job, however, 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.

If you’re considering quitting due to COVID-19-related issues, check with your state’s unemployment office about its benefit requirements. The Department of Labor lists each state’s contact information.

If you quit without an urgent reason

Without “good cause,” you could be in for a bad result. A disqualifying event is if you quit your job without urgent reason to do so. If you simply didn’t like your work, for example, then quitting won’t lead to unemployment benefits.

What other situations qualify for unemployment?

Besides quitting for a just cause, you could be eligible for unemployment relief if you meet the following three conditions:

1. You were laid off from work
2. You meet requirements for time worked and wages earned
3. You’re legally authorized to work in the U.S.

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 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 in the previous year. Every state sets its own requirements. 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, like a freelancer, then you probably can’t get benefits. That’s because your employer may not have paid unemployment taxes while you were working.

With that said, during the coronavirus pandemic, federal relief was offered to self-employed and “gig” workers. Although these benefits are often temporarily extended to freelancers, it’s wise to check with your state’s unemployment office for the most up-to-date information.

3. 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?

In addition to quitting without an urgent reason to do, here are three reasons you might not be eligible for unemployment benefits:

1. You were fired for misconduct
2. You’re not actively job searching
3. You’re already getting severance pay

1. You were fired for misconduct

There’s a difference between getting fired and getting laid off. If you’re fired for “gross misconduct,” then 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, then 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’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, then the state could cut your allowance. You won’t get penalized for turning down a job that’s way below your pay grade or skill level.

Your benefits may 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.

3. 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?

Now that you know if you can file for unemployment if you quit your job, you may have other pressing questions, including:

  • Is unemployment compensation enough to live on?
  • How long will you receive payment while you search for your next job?

The answers all depend on where you live. Most states offer 26 or more weeks of benefits. Georgia has one of the shortest limits at 14 to 20 weeks but increased to 26 weeks during the coronavirus pandemic.

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 $275 a week. Massachusetts has one of the highest at $855.

How do you file for unemployment benefits?

Once you’ve answered the question, “can you get unemployment relief if you quit your job or are laid off?” head to the unemployment website of your state. There, you can find an application for benefits.

You’ll provide your name, address, Social Security or work visa number, and details about your last job. If you prefer to complete the process in person, then you can do so at your local unemployment office.

The process takes a few weeks, so start early. File a claim ASAP, and collect any documentation to support your case. If everything goes smoothly, you’ll be notified of your eligibility after three to four weeks. If approved, you’ll be financially supported as you search for your next job.

Are you currently on the job hunt? Check out this guide for tips on tackling common questions asked during a job interview.

And if you’re concerned about student loan repayment until you find work, review repayment strategies while unemployed.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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