Unemployment Eligibility

This page provides answers to the following questions:

1. I quit my job. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

2. I quit my job for personal reasons. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

3. I quit because my job changed. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

4. I don't want to get a new job right away--I need a break. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

5. I'm unemployed because I could no longer physically do my job. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

6. Now that I am unemployed, I am going to move to another state. Am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?

7. If I turn down a job, does that mean I am ineligible for further unemployment benefits?

8. My employer paid me off the books. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

9. I am paid as an independent contractor. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

10. I have only been working part-time. Am I eligible to collect unemployment benefits?

11. When I left my job, I was given a severance package. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

12. I collect a pension from a prior job (not the one from which I was recently unemployed). Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

13. I am a union employee who lost my job when my union went on strike. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment?

14. Are federal employees eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

15. If my hours are reduced or I lose my job because my employer was adversely affected by foreign imports, can I receive any additional unemployment benefits?

16. I was laid off, but want to start my own business instead of finding another job. Is there any government assistance available for self-employment?

17. I served in the U.S. military- am I eligible for any unemployment insurance benefits based on this service?

18. I lost my job due to a natural disaster. Am I eligible for any unemployment benefits?

19. Where can I find more information?

1. I quit my job. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

If you quit your job, you risk being ineligible for unemployment compensation. However, if you quit for "good cause," you may still be eligible for UI benefits. Good cause requires more than just not liking the job. "Cause" here means some incident or situation that would lead a reasonable employee in that situation to quit, or in some cases may involve serious personal issues that require you to quit.

If you are using the employer's conduct to show "good cause," the situation has to be pretty bad before you are justified in quitting. Examples of "good cause" for quitting may include, depending on your state:

 

[Arrow] the employer's refusal or failure to pay you earned wages,
[Arrow] an unsafe working environment,
[Arrow] repeated and severe verbal or physical harassment, or
[Arrow] a demand by your employer to engage in conduct that you know is illegal.

Before you quit, you must give your employer an opportunity to rectify the situation. Where you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you should consult with your union about whether refusing to work in these circumstances would be permitted under the labor agreement or law and whether your union can first assist you in correcting the situation.

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2. I quit my job for personal reasons. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

It depends. Examples of personal issues that constitute good cause for quitting may include, depending on your state:

 

[Arrow] taking care of a new baby or sick relative,
[Arrow] moving to a new city to follow a spouse, or
[Arrow] your own health reasons.

However, remember that if you have good cause to quit, you also must be ready, willing, and able to take a new job to be able to collect benefits in a given week. Therefore, if the illness that caused you to quit makes you unable to work at all, you should not try to collect benefits until you are actually capable of working again. You may, however, want to apply for benefits (though not start collecting them) before you lose your eligibility (usually 1 year after you stop working).

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3. I quit because my job changed. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

Certain changes in your job are not considered good cause for quitting. For example, simply being demoted, with a decrease in pay, is generally not considered cause for quitting. On the other hand, a demotion from manager to janitor, or a significant reduction in pay or hours, would probably be grounds for quitting, as would removing all of your responsibilities and giving you no real work to do.

If you quit your job, you risk being ineligible for UI benefits. However, you should still apply for UI benefits because the state may agree that you had good cause to quit, and you have nothing to lose by applying. Just be sure to tell the truth about why you quit.

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4. I don't want to get a new job right away--I need a break. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

If you cannot truthfully certify that you are ready, willing, and able to work, then you will not be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. For instance, if you take a week-long vacation, you will not be entitled to unemployment compensation for the week that you were out of the job market. By being out of your regular area of residence, you made yourself "unavailable" for work in your area.

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5. I'm unemployed because I could no longer physically do my job. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

To continue receiving benefits, you must also be physically able to work. However, usually it is not necessary that you be able to do your last job if there is other work that you could perform (e.g. light duty work) and you are looking for that type of work. If this becomes an issue in your case, your options will depend on the nature of the medical problem. It may be necessary to obtain medical evidence of your ability to work, if this is being challenged by the state or your employer.

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6. Now that I am unemployed, I am going to move to another state. Am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?

If you relocate permanently to another state, you are generally still eligible for benefits if you are actively looking for suitable employment in that state. However, as indicated above, states interpret the requirements for unemployment eligibility differently. Before permanently relocating, you should contact the unemployment offices in both your current and future states of residence and/or an attorney to determine the effect that relocation will have on your eligibility.

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7. If I turn down a job, does that mean I am ineligible for further unemployment benefits?

In order to receive unemployment compensation funds, you must not refuse an offer of a "suitable" job. A suitable job is one that is reasonably equal, even though not identical, to the job you had before, even if it pays less and involves less responsibility. Whether the particular job is suitable depends on a number of factors such as the type of work, the pay, the distance from your home, and the shift you will be working.

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8. My employer paid me off the books. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

It's your employer's responsibility to pay UI taxes. States generally rely on employer's reporting for calculating the amount of UI benefits you receive. If your employer fails to report your wages (and to pay the UI taxes), the state will likely find that you are not eligible for UI benefits. You can appeal this determination and use bank statements or even a sworn letter to show the state that you did in fact work and earn wages, and therefore should be eligible for benefits. If you are in this situation, you may want to contact a lawyer or Legal Aid office near you to get help in getting the benefits due you.

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9. I am paid as an independent contractor. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

While true independent contracts are ineligible for UI, many employees are incorrectly labeled independent contractors by their employers. An independent contractor is someone who is in business for him or herself. Many companies label short-term employees as contractors in order to avoid certain obligations to employees (including UI benefits).

If your employer controls how you perform your work and controls your schedule, you may really be an employee and therefore eligible for UI benefits. You must notify the state because they will likely not have record of your employment and therefore will find you ineligible for UI benefits. Your state labor department may have additional information on how to determine whether you are an independent contractor. For more information, see our site's independent contractor page.

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10. I have only been working part-time. Am I eligible to collect unemployment benefits?

You may be eligible for UI benefits even if you are working one or two days per week. If your employer reduced your schedule from full-time to part-time or if you worked full-time, lost your job, and then found a part-time job, you may be eligible for partial UI benefits. The rules vary from state to state.

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11. When I left my job, I was given a severance package. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

Severance benefits may or may not make you ineligible: the rules vary from state to state.

If you received severance pay from your employer, the severance is often considered income and may offset any unemployment compensation to which you are entitled. Salary continuation, when you stay on the payroll for a certain number of weeks after you stop working for the company, will usually make you ineligible for unemployment for as long as the employer continues to pay your salary.

If your employer pays you severance all at once in a "lump sum," you may or may not be entitled to unemployment benefits. If the lump sum is just an up front payment of a number of weeks of your pay, the agency may treat the payment like salary continuation. You will be ineligible for benefits for the number of weeks of severance you received.

You should apply for unemployment compensation even if you are receiving severance. You should begin the paperwork immediately. When and if your severance runs out before you find another position, you can simply send in a request for compensation and the original administrative steps that you took will speed up the process of payment.

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12. I collect a pension from a prior job (not the one from which I was recently unemployed). Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?

If you are actively ready, willing, and able to work, you may still be eligible for UI benefits. Rules vary from state to state. Often, the value of the pension will offset to some extent the amount of UI benefits you can receive. Of course, if you are truly retired and not looking for work, you are not eligible for UI.

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13. I am a union employee who lost my job when my union went on strike. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment?

Some states disqualify employees whose unemployment results from any type of "labor dispute," be it a strike or lockout. However, some states distinguish between disqualifying "strikes" and "lockouts" that render employees eligible, while other states allow striking workers to collect benefits after an initial period of disqualification. To find out what the rules are in your state, please see our site's page on Resources: State Government Agencies, where you can find the contact information and web links for the agency in your state which oversees the unemployment compensation program in order to obtain further information about the laws in your state. In addition, unions often have a strike fund that provides emergency assistance to members who have lost wages during a strike. Payments from such funds may offset the amount of unemployment benefits you can receive.

Sometimes there is a dispute as to whether the activity in question is a strike or a lockout. You should consult with your union representatives to learn whether the union believes that the activity is a strike or a lockout and whether your union is advising members to apply for unemployment benefits. What appears to be a strike, or what you and your union call a strike, may be considered a lockout under unemployment compensation law. Don't assume it is a strike. If you have any doubt, file for compensation.

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14. Are federal employees eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

Yes. States administer the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program to assist eligible unemployed federal civilian employees. The state where your last official duty station in federal civilian service was located provides the law which determines eligibility and other details of unemployment insurance benefits. This federal program mirrors the basic unemployment insurance provided for non-federal employees by states.

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15. If my hours are reduced or I lose my job because my employer was adversely affected by foreign imports, can I receive any additional unemployment benefits?

You may be eligible for additional funds after your regular unemployment insurance benefits have expired, under the Trade Adjustment Act. Benefits could potentially include assistance for finding employment in a new area, training for a new job, or relocation to a geographic area where work is available. To receive these benefits, the Department of Labor must receive a Petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance- see your state unemployment insurance agency for information about this document. If this petition is approved, then you can file a claim.

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16. I was laid off, but want to start my own business instead of finding another job. Is there any government assistance available for self-employment?

Several states have Self-Employment Assistance programs that help workers while they start their own business. Usually you must have been permanently laid-off from a job, eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, and determined by the state as likely to exhaust these regular unemployment insurance benefits. Participants are given a weekly allowance while they are starting their business, with the amount being equivalent to traditional unemployment assistance.

The following states currently have Self-Employment Assistance programs: Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

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17. I served in the U.S. military- am I eligible for any unemployment insurance benefits based on this service?

A program called Unemployment Compensation for Ex-servicemembers provides unemployment benefits to individuals who are former members of the military. Also, those who worked for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps may be eligible. To receive these benefits, the conditions under which you left service must have been honorable.

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18. I lost my job due to a natural disaster. Am I eligible for any unemployment benefits?

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance program provides unemployment benefits to those who have had their employment or self-employment affected by a natural disaster, and are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance. Eligibility for this program occurs when those who work, are scheduled to work, or live in a zone declared to be a disaster area by the president are unable to work because the disaster has prevented them from traveling to their workplace, the workplace itself is damaged, or they have become injured due to the disaster.

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19. Where can I find more information?

For more information, please visit our site's listing of state government agencies. There you will find the contact information and web links for the agency in your state which oversees the unemployment compensation program.

Select your state from the map below or from this list.

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