If you lose your job, file a claim with the local office of the Employment Security Commission or State Unemployment Insurance Agency promptly. In many states, you can file a claim online or by telephone.
Not everyone who is out of work qualifies for unemployment insurance. People who have been self-employed aren't eligible because no employer has been paying into the system for them.
For most workers, there are two essential conditions:
- You must be out of work through no fault of your own. States determine their rules, but usually that means you didn't quit (unless there was a good reason to do so) and you weren't fired for work-related misconduct. If you did quit, you'll likely have to prove that there was a good reason, such as unsafe conditions or medical problems, and that you tried to correct the problem before resigning. Some states will allow people to receive benefits if they quit a job to move with a spouse, especially if the spouse is in the military.
- You must have worked long enough for your employer to pay a sufficient amount of money into the system. This condition is often described as having "established an attachment" to the workplace. If you haven't been working fairly steadily, you're probably ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. States set their formulas for determining eligibility. Often, the state agency will look at the last five calendar quarters (3-month periods) before the one in which you lost your job to see if you earned enough in at least two of those quarters. Those quarters become your base period.
You'll need to give the state agency information, like your Social Security number, the names and addresses of your most recent employers, your pay rate, and the dates of your employment. Take time to make sure the information is correct and complete, or your claim may be delayed.
If your claim is denied, you have the right to appeal. Each state has its own rules about appeals, including time limits.
If your claim is approved, your state will determine the amount of money you receive based on a percentage of your wages during your base period. Most states will send you information about the wages your former employer reported for you. If anything looks wrong, notify the commission. The state should also let you know the amount of your benefits and when you can expect the first check.
What if your benefits run out and you still don't have a job? Read on to learn about extended benefits.