Unemployment benefits are available to people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own and who meet other basic eligibility requirements. Unemployment offices typically require that you register for work and take jobs offered to you. However, for a short period after you start getting your unemployment benefits, offices may allow you to reject job offers that don't pay rates comparable with what you previously were paid.
Although the United States Department of Labor oversees unemployment programs in general, the federal government permits each state to regulate its own unemployment programs. Thus, every state has slightly different guidelines on work and general eligibility. To be absolutely sure you can collect unemployment after being offered a lower-paying job, you must contact the unemployment insurance office for your jurisdiction. Most state unemployment insurance offices have eligibility requirements on their websites as well.
Previous Wage as Guide
In the majority of states, you can use your salary from your previous job as a basis for screening work offers while on unemployment. If the job you are offered pays significantly less, you can turn it down without violating the eligibility requirements. However, you still must show that the wages offered are below your skill set or the standard for the industry in which you work. Unemployment insurance offices will not allow you to reject a job offer without an explanation.
Even though you generally can use your former job rate as a basis for accepting or rejecting work while on unemployment, states limit the amount of time you can do this. In Wisconsin, for example, the period during which you may reject lower-paying work and still collect full benefits is six weeks. After that, you generally have to take any job for which you are qualified and which pays reasonable rates based on industry standards. This means that the likelihood of a pay cut increases the longer you wait to get a job.
You may continue to collect unemployment if you reject a lower-paying job. However, the rejection must occur within the first few weeks of getting benefits; you must accept any suitable work after your state's canvassing period ends. Unemployment offices have these stipulations because unemployment is supposed to be only temporary assistance. By requiring you to take any suitable work after a set period, the office is able to increase the likelihood that you eventually can work enough to get off assistance.