How Long Do You Have to Work for an Employer to Be Able to Collect Unemployment Benefits?

A few months of service at one company doesn't mean you can't collect unemployment.
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A new job can mean plenty of excitement and opportunity -- and a little uncertainty. Some companies have a "last hired, first fired" philosophy and, if times get tough, you could be looking for work again after only a few months on the job. You might wonder if you qualify for unemployment benefits, given your short time with the company. The answer depends on your work history, both with this company, and the companies you worked for before.

Base Period

The unemployment office bases your benefit checks on your work history, but they consider more than the most recent time period you worked. They look at the five quarters prior to when you file for benefits. If you file in October, the employment office will look at the wages you earned over the previous 15 months. They usually don’t consider the wages you earned in the quarter immediately prior to making your claim, which in this case is August through September. If you only worked for your last employer during that “lag” quarter, these wages won't be counted in your base period.

Eligibility Requirements

Most states want you to work a minimum amount of time, or make a minimum amount of money during your base period. If you haven’t been employed long, your benefits will be figured with an alternate base period. In this case, they'll take into account the most recent quarter you worked. Some states, such as Connecticut, will figure your benefit on one quarter of wages. In Washington, you must work at least 680 hours during your base year to qualify. If you haven’t worked long enough to meet your state’s minimum requirements, you can’t collect benefits.

Wage Requirements

Each state determines how much it will pay in employment benefits. In Connecticut, you don't get anything unless you earned at least 40 times the minimum weekly benefit amount during your base period. If you didn’t work very long during your benefit period, you may not accumulate enough earnings to make you eligible for an unemployment check. In California, you must earn at least $1,300 in one quarter of your base period. If you worked two quarters, you must have made at least $900 in one of the quarters, and earned 1.25 times the amount you made during your highest-earning quarter.

Multiple Employers

Since these benefits are based on work history, it doesn't matter how many employers you worked for during the base periods. The only time a short work history with a single employer makes a difference is if you're new to the job market, and that was the only employer you had. In that case, if you didn’t work long enough or make enough money, you can’t collect benefits.

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