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Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

If you lost your job, you may be wondering "do I qualify for unemployment benefits?" The answer depends on a few key factors which we cover here.

evident Editorial Team
December 1, 2023
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If you lost your job through no fault of your own, you are not alone. Historic numbers of Americans have lost their jobs recently due to forces outside of their control.

And when you’re out of work, it can be tough to make ends meet. But you may be entitled to cash benefits through unemployment insurance in order to help get you through these challenging times.

So, you’re probably wondering “do I qualify for unemployment benefits? And how do I know if I qualify for unemployment benefits?”

Every state has its own unemployment insurance program, but they all follow the same federal guidelines. Although the eligibility requirements vary state by state, typically you will qualify if you:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of your own
  • Meet certain work and wage criteria (meaning you worked enough and earned enough during what’s called a “base period”)
  • Are able to work, available to work, and actively seeking employment
  • Satisfy any additional requirements in your state

Congress has also recently expanded access to unemployment benefits and increased states’ flexibility to administer their unemployment programs in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The CARES Act allows states to extend benefits to independent contractors and others who might not ordinarily qualify for unemployment benefits.

Information on these changes can be found here.

Key Takeaways

“No fault of your own”

In most states, being unemployed “through no fault of your own” basically means that you were let go because there wasn’t enough work to go around. So if you were part of general layoffs, for instance, you would satisfy this criteria.

The key issues people might run into that could disqualify them from benefits are:

  • If you quit without good cause, or
  • If you were fired with good cause

States have different definitions of what counts as “good cause” for quitting, and you should check the rules in your state. Generally, though, reasons such as being unhappy or unfulfilled at your job are not sufficient.

But, if you quit because you had to relocate for your spouse’s job or you have a medical emergency in your family, many states will consider these and similar such reasons “good cause.” In those circumstances, you are still eligible for unemployment benefits even though you quit.

If you were fired, eligibility standards may vary state by state depending on the reason your employment was terminated. If you were part of general layoffs or they closed the plant you worked at, you probably qualify for unemployment benefits. But you may not be eligible if your employment was terminated because of serious misconduct such as:

  • Failing a drug test
  • Violating workplace safety rules
  • Committing a crime

If your employment was terminated for one of these reasons, you may be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for at least some period of time.

Work and wage requirements for unemployment benefits

In most states, you need to have worked a certain amount of time or earned a certain amount of money (or both) during what is called a “base period.”

The base period in most states is the first four out of the five most recently completed calendar quarters. Sounds complicated, but it’s just a way to have a consistent standard for measuring peoples’ eligibility.

So let’s say you apply for unemployment insurance in March 2021, the base period would be October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020.

Timeline example of a base period

To learn more about the work and wage requirements in your state, check your state’s unemployment resources here.

Able to Work, Available to Work, and Actively Seeking Employment

The “able to work” and “available to work” requirements are pretty straightforward.

To be able to work, you must be both physically and mentally able to work. If you are unable to work because of a disability, but could work if provided a reasonable accommodation, you qualify as able to work.

Being available to work, on the other hand, means that you would be able to accept a new job opportunity if one came along. For instance, this means you would need to be able to travel to a job that is reasonably nearby, or would be able to make childcare arrangements if necessary.

In terms of actively seeking employment, states evaluate this requirement in different ways. And what counts as an active job search depends on your work experience, prior positions, and other related factors.

For example, if your previous job was as a cashier at a grocery store, you might be expected to ask about job openings and submit applications at similar establishments. If your last job was in a corporate office, you might be expected to send out cover letters and respond to online job postings.

To verify you are actively seeking employment, some states may ask what you are doing to search for work or to provide the names of companies you have applied to, while others might simply ask you to confirm in your weekly benefits claim that you are in fact looking.

Can you get unemployment if you work part time?

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits even if you work part-time. 

There are two things to keep in mind, though. First, the federal guidelines still apply. So for instance, you must be available and willing to work to be eligible to receive partial-unemployment benefits. Second, state guidelines vary, so whether or not you are able to receive benefits depends on the rules in your state.

Most states provide partial unemployment benefits to people whose hours have been reduced through no fault of their own. Many states also provide benefits to employees who have lost full-time employment and are now working part-time to replace some of their lost income.

Be aware though that most states will not provide benefits if an employee has voluntarily cut back their hours or chooses to work part-time instead of full-time.

But again, each state administers its own unemployment programs, so your best bet is to confirm the rules with your state's unemployment office.

What to remember about unemployment insurance

So, who can receive unemployment benefits? Typically it is people who:

  • Are unemployed through no fault of their own
  • Meet their state’s work and wage criteria 
  • Are able to work, available to work, and actively seeking employment

Historic numbers of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Unemployment insurance is a crucial tool to help people make ends meet during these tough times until they can get back on their feet.

Contact your state’s department of labor to see if you qualify for unemployment benefits.