Who Is Entitled to Unemployment Benefits?

Regularly looking for new work is part of unemployment eligibility.

Regularly looking for new work is part of unemployment eligibility.

If you've lost your job, you're probably hoping that unemployment benefits will help pay your bills until you find new work. Whether or not you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits depends on several factors, including the reason for the job loss and the amount of time worked. Each state maintains its own unemployment insurance program and eligibility can vary according to the state. However, if your unemployment application is denied, you can appeal that decision.

Not Your Fault

In order to receive unemployment benefits, you usually can't quit your job -- your employer must let you go. However, there are exceptions, such as leaving your job to care for a sick spouse or child. You must attend a hearing to make your case regarding quitting and unemployment eligibility. If your employer fires you for misconduct, criminal activity or substance abuse, you won't qualify for benefits. What constitutes actual misconduct depends on state statutes. You can appeal a disqualification for benefits.

Base Periods

If you've been laid off from a job you had only a short time, you probably won't qualify for unemployment benefits. Each state establishes a minimum base period for which workers must have been employed before becoming eligible. In many states, this base period consists of four out of the previous five calendar quarters prior to your claim filing. You also must earn a minimum amount of wages in the base period to qualify for unemployment compensation. That minimum varies by state.

Looking for Work

In order to receive unemployment compensation, you must be physically able to work, actively seek new employment and make yourself available for a new job. Some states might require claimants to register with a state employment service in order to find new work. If you turn down an employment offers similar to your previous job, the state might decide you're no longer eligible for benefits. Some states offer job training so the unemployed can learn new skills. If you're enrolled in a state-approved job training program, you might not have to actively seek work during that time period.

Freelance and Moonlighting Work

If you had what you considered a primary job but supplemented your income with freelance work or a second, part-time job, that extra money could mean you're ineligible for unemployment or significantly reduce your benefits for a particular week. It all depends on your gross earnings for that time period. If you don't report this income to the unemployment office, you're committing fraud and could face benefit repayment or even incarceration.

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