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


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.

2017 Update: How Do I Know If I Qualify for Unemployment? and Other FAQs Answered

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:

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.

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….

    • Sandra Mimi Zastawecky

      I was given a giveaway box with products as well as the rest of the employees. The company had 3 different line of products but, as part pf the giveaway a different less quality product was included. Mu car broke and I had told my supervisor about my financial harship. I posted FB items foe sell, my camera and other personal items along with a small lot of the lesser quality products for a $40 or Best offer value and then: they called me in and without previous discusion they fired me! I claim the products were mine and even when they were a present I could do with them as I pleased! The sell was never completed! It was postes but did not even had an offer
      And they just decided to fire me and didn’t tell me what was the law that I was breaking. My supervisor even said: you should ask me about it befor you decided to sell them!
      They stink!
      I removed the post but, still they said it was final, not a warning.
      I wasn’t goin to lie in my application. I am just praying to God that Dept of labor finds it an insufficient reason to deny unemployement.

  • 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

    • Jodie Conrad

      Does anyone know the answer?

  • 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

  • Jenny

    Can i file unemployment if i work from may to oct 2016

  • Chris

    I was working as a manager in a high volume restaurant. My back went out and I was hardly able to walk. I tried to work they told me to just sit at a table for my shifts (if anyone has worked in the restaurant industry knows is nearly impossible). I did go to the Dr where they diagnosed me with spinal stenosis and arthritis in my spine and that I need to rest and should seek further medical attention. My GM and Regional told me I wasn’t able to call in and had to work when I couldnt even walk without crying. I didn’t go to work. Am I eligible for unemployment?

  • Shannon Haas

    I am an office manager. My boss is verbally inappropriate, telling uncomfortable jokes, vulgar langage etc. There is also a theft, vandalism and drug problem with our customers and I have made my boss very aware of these situations. Instead of fixing the issues, he has told every customer that I have brought to his attention that I am trying to get them kicked out and I have it in for them. Since then, my car windshield has been smashed and customers have been nasty to me, in my face and angry. Does this qualify as a hostile work environment? My stress level has reached the heights that it is affecting my health. I have lost 60 pounds over the last 4 months (obviously I had some to lose, but I am not and have not been dieting), my sleep is poor and I am full of anxiety every day I work. I am actively searching for other employment, but I don’t know if I can hang on until I find something else.

    • Luoai Saleh

      Shannon, this is very unhealthy and you need to tell HR about your problem immediately and even tell your doctor about some of the symptoms you are encountering

  • Perla Suarez

    I was told I was going to have to work 6 days a week from 7-6:30 to.cover for a co worker going on vacation . . . I have a 4 month old at home and my babysitting situation isnt ideal so im not completely sure i will be able to handle this schedule. If i miss work or have to leave at my regular time and i am fired for it, would i qualify for unemployment?

  • Demo

    I have a hard time finding a job because of a small disability. I di not collect disability.I did work as seasonal help for a couple of months 2 months ago. Would I qualify for unemployment?

  • Castrena Morgan

    Hi I am trying to file my claim today and it won’t let me does anyone knows why is the site down

  • Fjames

    I was on medical leave for 6 weeks on the job for 6 months I’m I qualify for unemployment?
    And I’m in Pennsylvania

  • Paula Maria Mccutchan

    Ive been working at a resturant for 8mos when i was hired they knew i did not have a car but i had a ride with 2 siblings that also worked there well one quit and now the other one has put their 2 wk notice in so im not going to have a way the job is 30 min away so thats no fault of my own can i draw unemployment

  • Gloris James

    Hi I was working in company for four months and they fire me because of two of my coworkers was not happy with the job I was doing. Mindyou they hire me to by be administrator assistant. But they office are all over the play and they Lai off the property inspection and I ask if I can give a try as inspectors and what they require they said just to go take pictures and follow the inspection sheet. That’s what I been doing for two month and recently they hire one property manager and she was the one that’s complained about my inspection. Mind you I never got training of what I was doing. They said everything was fine and the company was happy with my job.
    Just last Wednesday I got slammed with I have to get lai off because they wasn’t happy with my job. Do I get unemployment? It’s more to it but my comment is long as you can see to continue

  • lill wright- belcher

    I was terminated from work cause my coworker was walking around our unit each time she passed me by she kept calling me names so I asked her at the end of the night did I do something to her for her to be calling me names and she went crazy she start calling me names I recently lost my brother and September and I had that my co-workers know that I lost my brother and she took it upon herself to say in my face that’s why your brother is dead I said to her my brother doesn’t have anything to do with me asking you what did I do to you for you to be calling me names she went and told that I threatened her and she called the police once she didn’t never tell me what she was calling me names for I walked away from her I get a call from my HR saying I was suspended until they do investigation 11 days later they terminated me they never gave me a reason for my termination they just told me I was terminated for the incident that happened on that day what should I do will I be able to collect unemployment they said that they will not fight me for my unemployment what does that mean