Your employer's tax contributions, along with the tax contributions of other companies in your state, fund the state's unemployment insurance program. Unemployment insurance provides those who lose their jobs with weekly payments to help offset the cost of living while searching for new employment. Depending on the circumstances under which you lost your job, however, you may not be eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
Voluntary Job Loss
Quitting your job voluntarily usually renders you ineligible for unemployment benefits since you had the option to remain employed. Exceptions apply if you can prove you had a valid reason for quitting that would lead any reasonable individual to resign. For example, if you quit due to discrimination, your job was threatening your health or you needed to care for an ailing family member you may qualify for unemployment benefits.
Being fired by your employer does not mean you automatically qualify for unemployment. If your employer fired you due to misconduct, your claim for unemployment may be denied. Each state maintains its own regulations regarding what does and does not constitute "misconduct" when filing unemployment claims. Even if you were let go because you did not follow company policy, your employer must prove that it strictly adhered to your state's regulations for a misconduct dismissal in order to withhold unemployment benefits.
Lack of Earnings
Each state dictates a specific time period that workers must be employed and the amount each individual must earn with his employer before he becomes eligible for unemployment insurance.
While requiring workers to meet earnings requirements and stay on their jobs for a certain length of time helps employers avoid paying benefits to workers attempting to "cheat the system," it leaves many unemployed consumers without a financial safety net in the event of a layoff. A "USA Today" report notes that in March 2009, 13.8 Americans were unemployed, yet only 5.8 million --- less than half of those unemployed --- were collecting unemployment benefits.
You cannot collect unemployment insurance indefinitely. Each state caps the number of weeks an individual can receive benefits. While you have the right to file an extension if your unemployment insurance runs out, the extension is also only temporary. In New York, for example, qualifying consumers receive basic benefits for 47 weeks. If an individual has not found a job, and her unemployment benefits are in danger of running out, she can file an extension to receive an additional 20 weeks of benefits. Once that 20 weeks is over, the individual no longer qualifies for unemployment --- regardless of whether she successfully located employment during that time.
- California Employment Development Department: About the Program; 2008
- Connecticut Network for Legal Aid: Your Rights to Unemployment Benefits --- Can I Collect If I Quit My Job?
- Texas Workforce: Unemployment Insurance Law --- Qualification Issues
- USA Today: Many of the Jobless Get No Unemployment Benefits; Barbara Hagenbaugh; April 2009
- New York Department of Labor: Extended Benefits
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