Who qualifies for unemployment benefits?

Only those who have earned sufficient covered wages prior to becoming unemployed will have enough wage credits to potentially qualify for unemployment benefits.  It requires a recent history of many weeks of covered employment before an individual qualifies for jobless benefits.  In addition to filing a claim and having sufficient wages in covered employment, eligible individuals must generally provide the state unemployment agency with information which shows that they are all of the following:

  1. Unemployed, or have experienced a substantial reduction in hours of work through no fault of their own
  2. Able to work
  3. Available for work
  4. Actively seeking work
  5. Willing to accept any suitable work

The state unemployment agencies look at an unemployed worker's wages during a 52 week base period to determine whether he or she has earned enough to qualify.  Most states base eligibility on the wages earned during the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters.  If the wages during this period are too low, a growing number of states will look at the last 52 week wage history just prior to the individual's claim filing.  The weekly unemployment benefit amount for which a former employee is potentially eligible (the amount of money that may be collected weekly by a claimant) is based upon the amount of earnings reported by all employers during this one-year base period.  It is usually not important to know which wages will be used by the state to determine monetary eligibility.  However, it is important to understand that it is the employer, and not the worker, who pays for the benefits.

Disclaimer:  The information contained in the examples given on this page is general in nature and is not intended as legal advice.  There are no guarantees that a particular state unemployment adjudicator will rule as others have in the cited examples.  Individuals seeking legal advice concerning the handling of similar matters should consult with their attorney, rather than relying upon the information given.

The purpose of this document is to educate clients and potential clients about unemployment compensation. While some effort has been made to address the many differences in laws and procedures in the 53 different jurisdictions (each of the fifty states plus Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. and the Virgin Islands), the primary purpose of this presentation is to review some basic principles shared by many jurisdictions.