Can I Get Unemployment Benefits?
No one likes to lose a job, but unemployment insurance can help cushion the blow by providing much needed income until you find your next job. But many people often wonder whether they qualify for unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance is a federal program which is administered by the states. That means that, although each state might have somewhat different rules regarding unemployment insurance, the basic framework remains the same.
Which Workers Can Get Unemployment Benefits?
Who can get unemployment insurance depends on numerous factors. In general, in order to receive unemployment insurance you must be:
- A U.S. citizen or permanent resident;
- Employed by someone else for a certain period of time;
- Employed long enough to earn a certain amount of money;
- Available and able to work; and
- Actively looking for new work.
Note that students, recent graduates that have never been employed, and self-employed individuals are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
I'm Unemployed and I'm Covered! Does That Mean I Can Get Benefits?
It depends on how you left your last job. If you were fired, it must have been for economic reasons in order for you to collect benefits. You could not collect benefits if you were fired for misconduct, including any illegal activities, extreme insubordination, or anything else that might cause injury to the employer's business.
If you quit your job, it must be for good cause. Good cause includes:
- The job endangered your life or health, or the working environment was intolerable;
- The employer moved too far away for you to commute;
- A compelling personal reason, such as taking care of a sick relative.
In most cases, leaving the job because of dissatisfaction is not enough to trigger unemployment benefits.
Some states also allow workers who have temporarily left their jobs to collect unemployment insurance. This includes some workers on strike, and workers that are out of work due to factory shut downs. Be sure to check your state's laws to see if you qualify.
What Can I Do While On Unemployment Insurance?
Mostly, you can and must actively look for work. It's a good idea to sign up for job website newsletters, and keep track of any applications you send out in case you are ever audited. If you get a job offer, you might be able to reject it if:
- The wages, hours, or commute time are much worse than in your previous job;
- 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.