Can a Salaried Employee Receive Unemployment Benefits?

Not everyone is eligible to receive unemployment benefits.
Not everyone is eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (Image: Blonde woman looking at diary image by Sophia Winters from

Salaried employees are typically exempt from overtime laws (e.g. chief executive officers, chief administrative officers); they generally earn higher wages than overtime eligible employees, and it is not uncommon for salaried employees at private organizations to receive severance pay when they are laid off. Employers mandate whether salaried employees receive severance. However, state labor departments ultimately decide whether laid-off salaried workers are eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Workers Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits

State departments of labor require unemployed workers to earn a certain amount of money and work a minimum number of weeks in covered employment before they approve them to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Full-time and part-time workers who worked in covered employment are eligible to receive the benefits, including salaried employees. Children who work for their parents and spouses who work for one another do not work in covered employment.

Time Worked

Unemployed salaried workers must earn a minimum gross wage during the first four of the last five quarters. This period is referred to as the base period. For example, as of January 2011, in Ohio unemployed workers must earn at least $215 in gross wages a week during the first four of the last five quarters to qualify to receive unemployment benefits.

Amount of Benefits

Benefit amounts for salaried and hourly unemployed workers is determined by the amount of money they earned during the base period. States use different formulas to calculate the amount of unemployment insurance salaried workers receive. For example, Colorado divides the total amount of money salaried workers earn during the base period by 26 to calculate a professional’s weekly unemployment benefits amount. Ohio divides the total gross wages the worker received during the base period by the number of weeks the professional worked to arrive at their weekly unemployment benefit amount. Each state has a maximum weekly amount that claimants can receive as well. As of January 2011, in New Jersey the most unemployed workers can receive is $598 a week, regardless of how much they earned during the base period. The maximum amount salaried workers who lose their jobs can earn in Colorado is $445 a week as of January 2011.

Filing for Benefits

Professionals categorized as a salaried employee before they were downsized or laid off should contact their state’s department of labor to file for unemployment benefits. Some states require salaried workers whose former employers pay them their regular wage for a specified period of time (e.g. 12 weeks) by placing them on active employee status (AES) to wait until the end of their AES period to file for unemployment benefits. Just as hourly workers are required to do, salaried employees must file a bi-weekly unemployment recertification to continue to receive benefits. Information they must provide on the recertification includes whether they looked for employment, if they attended approved training and whether they moved since they filed for unemployment.

Seeking Employment

Even if their employer paid them a bonus or severance check before they left work that the worker could survive on for several weeks, salaried workers must actively seek employment to qualify to continue to receive unemployment benefits. They can post their resumes at state unemployment office job boards and search Workforce Development job sites for new jobs.

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