What Can Disqualify You from Collecting Unemployment?
What will disqualify you from collecting unemployment? There’s one thing worse than losing your job: Losing your job and not being able to collect unemployment insurance benefits. Here are some of the reasons why people can get disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and how to keep from being one of those people.
Quitting Without Good Cause
Some people believe you can’t receive unemployment insurance benefits at all if you quit. That’s not entirely true. You can be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits even if you quit – as long as it’s for a good cause.
That raises the question, what’s a good cause? Well, it depends. As you may recall, unemployment insurance is a federal benefit that is administered by the states. Consequently, each state gets to determine what is or isn’t a good cause. For example, under Texas law, good cause is the employee’s failure to carry out his/her duties that a person of ordinary prudence would carry out under similar circumstances, according to FileUnemployment.org, an organization devoted to unemployment insurance information.
Quitting, resigning, or failing to show up for work because you’re dissatisfied with your job, your company, or your boss
Quitting to pursue other interests
Quitting to travel
Quitting to start a charitable organization
For a resignation to be considered good cause, it typically has to be related to the job itself, and you have to indicate that you’ve tried to solve the problem first, Upsolve writes. Here are some reasons for quitting Upsolve gives that may be considered good cause:
You had a concern for your personal safety at your job.
Your pay was drastically reduced.
You were subject to unbearable or abusive working conditions such as sexual harassment or criminal behavior.
You or a family member had an illness or a medical emergency and your employer failed to make accommodations.
You lost your means of transportation.
Your employer didn’t hold up their end of an employment contract.
Fired for Misconduct
As with quitting, some people believe that you aren’t eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if you were fired. That’s not entirely true. What matters is whether you were fired for misconduct.
Like good cause, definitions of misconductvary by state. “Misconduct is a deliberate violation or negligent disregard of a reasonable work rule or standard of behavior of your employer,” according to Nevada Legal Services. “This intentional or careless action must show a substantial disregard of the employer’s interest. Ordinary negligence in isolated instances and good faith errors are not misconduct. Your behavior must also include an element of wrongfulness. The employer has the burden of proving misconduct.”
Examples of misconduct include breaking company rules, theft, harassment, continued unexcused absences, using drugs or alcohol on the job or failing a drug or alcohol test, intentionally neglecting your job duties, falsifying records, lying, insubordination, criminal conduct, fraud, or disclosing confidential information or trade secrets. (Refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination, if getting one was a company policy, can also disqualify you.)
The good news? “If you were fired for not meeting the company’s or your boss’s performance standards, making honest mistakes, or excused absences with proper notice to your employer, then you probably won’t be disqualified from unemployment benefits,” Upsolve writes.
Most states calculate how much of an unemployment insurance benefit you receive based on your earnings during a certain time period, typically a year. If you haven’t been working for a full year, or if the amount
of money you earned was too small, you may not be eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits, depending on your state.
For example, in Texas, your “base period” is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the effective date of your initial claim. If you do not have enough wages from employment in the base period, you cannot receive benefits. In addition, you must have had wages in more than one of the four base period calendar quarters; your total base period wages had to be at least 37 times your weekly benefit amount; and if you qualified for benefits on a prior claim, you must have earned six times the new weekly benefit amount since that time.
Typically, you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits only if you are an employee, not an independent contractor or otherwise considered to be self-employed. That’s because when you’re employed, your employer contributes to your state’s unemployment insurance trust fund, out of which unemployed people receive unemployment insurance benefits. If you’re self-employed, you typically aren’t contributing to the unemployment insurance trust fund.
That said, even if think you’re working for a company, you might be considered an independent contractor. Increasingly, companies are declaring that certain employers are contractors, meaning they aren’t eligible for job benefits such as health insurance, vacation, or sick days, as well as unemployment.
“An individual can determine whether they are an independent contractor or an employee by looking at his or her paycheck and tax information,” according to the website FreeAdvice.com. “Employees have taxes taken out of their earnings, including Social Security and unemployment compensation benefit taxes, while independent contractors do not have deductions from their income.”
On the other hand, during COVID-19, even self-employed people were able to file for unemployment insurance benefits, thanks to funding provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. While those programs have generally ended, there’s some talk about re-creating them in some states. So if you are self-employed, but become unemployed, pay attention to the news to see whether it’s possible for self-employed people to file for unemployment insurance benefits.
Not Looking for a Job
All of these other cases typically involve being disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits altogether. It’s also possible to become disqualified while you are receiving unemployment insurance benefits, either completely or just for a week at a time.
One of the most common reasons for becoming disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits is by not following your state’s requirements for looking for work. As with everything else, each state is different.
Some states require you to make one action toward looking for work – such as applying for a job, attending a job fair, or reaching out to a contact — per week. Some states require as many as five such actions a week. Moreover, some states have been changing the requirements. So make sure you know what the current job search requirements are to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits in your state.
Generally, you need to log these attempts, and be prepared to provide them to your state’s unemployment office to prove that you’ve been looking.
Similarly, some states may disqualify you for not accepting a job offer of “suitable work.” What makes work “suitable”? Is working at a fast-food restaurant “suitable” for someone who was a company president in a previous job? Again, it depends on how your state defines it, and some states have been changing their definitions of this as well.
For example, in Tennessee, “a position is suitable if it is reasonably related to your qualifications and if the hours, pay, distance, and other working conditions are typical of your occupation,” according to the legal website Nolo.org. “However, the longer you are unemployed, the more willing you’ll have to be to accept a position that requires less skill or that pays lower wages. For example, by the time you have been unemployed for 13 weeks, you must accept a position that pays 75% of your average weekly wage during the highest quarter of your base period.”
“In New York, for example, suitable work means any work-related not only to your primary skill but also any work related to secondary areas of skill and experience,” writes The Balance website. “After a certain number of weeks on unemployment, the definition of suitable work expands. For example, suitable work then includes any work you can do, even if you have no experience or training. In California, suitable employment means work related to your previous occupation or primary skills and experience. Along with this, suitable employment in California also takes into account any risk to your ‘health, safety, and morals,’ your prior earnings, length of unemployment, and the likelihood of you getting a job related to your primary skillset. Some requirements include how related the work is to your skillset, the salary you would receive, and even the commuting time.”
If you think you don’t qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, what should you do? Apply anyway, according to Forbes. “When in doubt, apply for unemployment as soon as you lose your job,” the organization writes. “Your employer can’t deny you benefits, and doesn’t decide who qualifies. That decision is up to your state’s unemployment office. Your employer has been paying into unemployment on your behalf; those funds belong to you. If the state denies you benefits, you have the right to appeal and will get a chance to tell your side of the story.”