5 Things to Know Before Trying to Collect Unemployment

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Lorelei Yang718
Wonky consultant with a passion for words
May 19, 2024 at 7:37PM UTC
Life happens. Sometimes, you may find yourself unemployed. Depending on the circumstances that led to your unemployment, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits, which are meant to provide temporary financial assistance while you're looking for your next job. Filing for unemployment is pretty simple — all you have to do is file a claim. Read on to learn how to collect unemployment benefits and remain eligible for this benefit.

What is unemployment?

Unemployment is a joint state-federal program that allows unemployed people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own to receive temporary financial assistance while they're actively looking for their next job.

Steps for collecting unemployment.

1. Determine your eligibility.

Each state will have a different set of rules determining eligibility for unemployment benefits. To find your state's unemployment website, you can go to the U.S. Department of Labor's main website, which lists all states' pages.
Once you find your state's website, you'll be able to research the best way to apply for unemployment, be it online, by phone or in person. Most likely, your state will have its application form on the internet, which is the easiest route.
You'll want to file in the state where you were employed, not the state where you live, if your state of residence and the state where you worked weren't the same.

2. File right away. 

In most states, workers can file for unemployment online as soon as they're terminated. While claims may be mailed in, applying online via your state's unemployment benefits website will allow you to complete the process more quickly and get your benefits quickly. Try to apply for unemployment as soon as possible (within a week of the end of your employment), because there's often a lag between submitting your initial claim and receiving your first paycheck. 
To file for unemployment, you'll need: 
  • Your Social Security number
  • Your driver's license or Motor Vehicle ID card number
  • Your complete mailing address and zip code
  • A phone number that you can be reached at during normal business hours
  • Names and addresses of all your employers from the past 18 months (including out-of-state employers)
  • Your most recent employer's Employer Registration Number or Federal Employer Identification Number (FEIN) (the FEIN is on your W-2 forms)
People in certain specific situations will also need additional documents:
  • Your Alien Registration card number, if you're not a U.S. citizen
  • Copies of forms SF8 and SF50, if you were a federal employee
  • Your most recent separation form (DD 214) for military service

3. Apply for jobs every week.

Continuing to seek new employment is a condition of unemployment benefits. Therefore, in order to remain able to collect unemployment, you'll have to keep looking for a new job and document your job search efforts.

4. Stay on top of weekly claims.

Once you've set up your account and filed your initial claim, you need to ensure that you're filing claims as routinely as needed to receive your checks on a regular basis. In most states, you'll have to apply for your benefits on a weekly basis.

Do I qualify for unemployment benefits?

There are three types of unemployment eligibility requirements: 

1. Earnings requirement.

To receive unemployment, a worker must meet the unemployment eligibility requirements for wages earned or worked at their previous job. Generally, you'll have to have worked at the job for a year. 

2. Eligibility based on type of job loss.

Since unemployment only covers people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, it usually doesn't apply to people who were fired or willingly quit their jobs. 

3. Hours worked requirement.

Most states require a person to meet minimum requirements for hours worked before their termination. While each state's specific requirements differ, most people who lose steady, long-term employment will likely meet their state's criteria as long as they're not leaving their companies by any fault of their own.

What will disqualify you from unemployment benefits?

1. Being fired for cause.

As discussed above, unemployment only covers people who are unemployed for reasons beyond their own control. Therefore, people who were fired for cause (such as misconduct, willful behavior or other justifiable costs) will be ineligible for unemployment. 

2. Quitting without good cause.

Someone who quits a job of their own volition, without good cause, is also usually ineligible for unemployment benefits. The definition of "good cause" varies from state to state, but generally, it includes illegal discrimination or illegal actions by the employer. However, it's worth noting that most reasons for quitting — such as going back to school, getting married, being involved in a labor dispute (like a strike) or simple job dissatisfaction — don't qualify as good cause.

3. Being an independent contractor.

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you'll have to have been an employee, not an independent contractor, at your former employer. As technically self-employed workers, independent contractors aren't eligible for state unemployment benefits. 
You can determine whether you're an independent contractor by looking at your paychecks and tax information. If taxes are taken out of your paychecks, you're an employee; if not, you're an independent contractor.

4. Failing to seek new employment.

Unemployment benefits are given to those who are actively seeking new employment. Thus, if you stop looking for a new job or refuse a suitable job offer, you'll be disqualified from receiving further unemployment benefits.

5. Filing false information with your unemployment claims.

Providing incorrect information on your paperwork, including claim forms, with the state unemployment department will disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits.
Lorelei Yang is a New York-based consultant and freelance writer/researcher. Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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