Do I Qualify for Unemployment? How to Tell If You’re Eligible

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It’s never easy to stare unemployment in the face, but if you qualify, unemployment benefits can make lean times a bit less stressful.

Today’s unemployment rate has leveled off after peaking to 10% in late 2009, but we still witnessed massive layoffs in 2012, and troubled companies are continuing to slash their payrolls. Nationwide, almost 128,000 workers were laid off in March 2013, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Despite the number of people out of jobs, many of those who qualify for unemployment benefits don’t cash in.

A study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank found that in the height of the recession in 2008 and 2009, only half of eligible people applied for unemployment. That figure eventually surged to 95% the following two years, but in total, about 200,000 people still missed out on unemployment benefits to which they were entitled.

So how do you know if you qualify for unemployment?

LearnVest Planning Services certified financial planner™ Rachel Sanborn gave us the scoop.

Are You Eligible for Unemployment?

According to the Department of Labor, you need to meet two criteria to qualify for unemployment:

  1. You are unemployed through no fault of your own: That means you are out of a job due to reasons beyond your control, like a layoff. So, if you quit your job or are fired for gross misconduct, you’re not eligible. “Gross misconduct” is a vague term, but generally refers to illegal or dangerous acts committed in the workplace, like stealing from your employer.
  2. You meet your state’s requirements for time worked or wages earned: Every state has different rules. For example, New York State requires you to have worked in at least two calendar quarters of your “base period” (generally that just means the year before), be paid at least $1,600 in wages in one of those quarters and during that period made a total of at least 1.5 times the amount you made in your highest-paid quarter that year. Complicated, right? Fear not: If you had a solid, long-term job that you lost, you probably meet your state’s minimum time and wage requirements. You can find your state’s rules here.

You also need to be actively looking for a new job, so those who head back to school full time won’t be able to collect because they’re no longer actively job-searching. Nonetheless, if you’re seeking training in a high-demand field, some states (like Washington and Oregon) have allowances that let you receive additional weeks of unemployment benefits without looking for work, as long as you’re enrolled and making satisfactory progress in your training program.

RELATED: How to Explain a Big Employment Gap on Your Resume

One thing to note: Contract laborers don’t qualify for unemployment because their employers didn’t pay unemployment taxes when they were working. 

What to Know When You File for Unemployment

Exact details vary by state. Some states require waiting periods, in which you need to be unemployed for a certain amount of time before you can collect benefits. Often, this is a week, so the second week you claim is the first week you’ll get paid for. The maximum benefit you can receive will also vary by state, and so will the formula for how those benefits are calculated. Keep in mind that severance pay or vacation time at the end of your job can delay when you begin receiving benefits.

Regardless, Sanborn says that newly laid-off people should file as soon as possible. “Don’t wait until you think you qualify,” she says. “It can be such a hassle and such a long, drawn-out process that the sooner you start, the better.”

  • caitlinbates

    “gross misconduct” can also stand for the employer lying to the former employee and the unemployment office, and can also stand for “you signed a piece of paper noting one minor mistake you made, vs a verbal warning when no other warnings were ever mentioned, but since you signed it you no longer qualify for unemployment”

    it’s stressful enough that people are having a hard enough time finding jobs and keeping them, as well as businesses trying to stay afloat, but some small companies will do whatever it takes to save a few bucks. it’s disgusting.

    • antz

      So if you were to get called into the office and they fired you, then ask you to sign papers don’t sign it….

  • regina

    If I worked June July august 2013 and made almost 6,000 dollars when should I open my unemployed??

  • Fanny

    Hi I work as a nanny but they laid me off because I don’t meet the expectection and the get a new nanny but I pay taxes every week and I work with them for 11 months also they have the federal identification number do I qualify ???

  • Paoge

    Hi I put my two weeks in at a job, and they let me go on the spot of turning it in. Can I file for unemployment no

  • Bobbie

    I worked for a Company for 2 years I am still employed there but haven’t got to work for months. They have a younger girl doing the job that I can do everyday but didn’t offer it to me. Should I file for unemployment?

  • judie

    Well I was fired cause my transmission blew and they say that it was cause of days tarties and I did work not so well and I recall doing a wonderful job

    • judie

      He lied and that’s not fair

  • pat

    if you cant meet expectations and quit are you eligible for benefits or do you wait to be let go

    • taylor

      can i get benefits if i quit my job

  • You don’t need viagra

    I got fired for smelling like marijuana . But some one told on me . Do I qualify for unemployment , was there for 3 years

  • redncke3420

    Can u receive unemployment if you went through a temp agency

    • Stacy

      Yes, you can as long as you earn more than the required income to be eligible or you must put in 6 months of employment minimum.

  • Steve Celestini

    Can I collect for maternity leave?

  • Wayne

    will I qualify for unemployment sense my employer does not want to work with my schedule of days I can and cant work?

  • Maranda Lewis

    I have worked for a yare an half an I have gotten 37 hours plus an they just cut my hours to 3 a week can I get unemployment

    • Lyn

      My sister collected unemployment well working part time but she worked 2 days out of the week. You can call unemployment and tell them that you are concerned about your finances and ask them to see if you are eligible. Good Luck!

  • Melissa

    I’ve been working for three months at a warehouse job. I sprained my ankle and had to take off work for a week, when I called to say I was going to come in the following day, I was told that I was getting terminated. They have a points system and I wasn’t at the maximum amount. Would I be eligible for unemployment benefits after working approximately three months time?

  • Doris dapo

    So I got slapped in the hand by a customer and I cussed him out then he called my boss later that after noon the boss called me and since I couldn’t be in his office in 5 mins he text me and told me to bring my shirts and key and that I wasn’t aloud on premises with out a apt and then after that told me I wasn’t aloud back on premises for 3 mths but the customer touched me I didn’t touch him I cussed him am I able for unemployment?

  • Debi Mills

    I was released from prison in Arizona in June of this yr was incarcerated for 18 months and relocated to California. I have been actively seeking employment with no results. Do I qualify for benefits and what state would I apply in??? Plz help

  • Brittey

    I did not quit my job but the employer says i did can i fight that and get unemployment

  • Lisa Manciaz

    I have only worked for this company for about 2 months and found out today that they are closing down immediately. Can I qualify?

  • kristie goodman

    Hello, I had a question regarding if I was eligible to draw unemployment. I work for an engineering company who was bought out in the beginning of July. Recently the projects we had been working on over the years has been finishing up and the new company doesn’t believe in laying people off. My hours this week dropped from normal, 40 hours to only working 9. The company wants us to stay with them but I can’t afford all my needs on a 9 hour pay check. Please help, I am trying to return back to school and this situation just threw my life a big curve ball. Thank you in advance for any feedback.

  • Mary Dalglish

    I am 75 years od worked over 30 years. Haven’t worked for the last 9 years. I have social security disability. Can I collect unemployment?

  • harold brannan

    can you get unemployment if your let go because of missing to much work even though you out because of medical reasons