The Law Office of Richard Vaznaugh

Unemployment Eligibilityn


This page provides answers to the following questions:


n 1. I lost my job due to a natural disaster. Am I eligible for any unemployment benefits?n

The Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program is a federal program that provides unemployment benefits to those whose employment or self-employment is affected by a natural disaster. It is available to those who are not eligible for traditional unemployment insurance. DUA is available only when the President has declared a “major disaster.” To receive DUA, you must be out of work as a direct result of the disaster, and you must not be eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.

Once the availability of DUA is announced (the same day or very soon after a major disaster has been declared) you must apply for benefits within 30 days.

The amount of benefits you receive under DUA is the same as what you would receive if you were eligible for traditional unemployment benefits. The maximum amount of time you can collect benefits is 26 weeks, or six months after the declaration of a “major disaster,” whichever comes first.

The General Requirements for DUA eligibility are:

  • Individuals should not be eligible for regular unemployment insurance;
  • Individuals must be unemployed or partially unemployed as a direct result of the major disaster;
  • Must be able and available to work; unless injured as a direct result of the disaster;
  • Must file an application for DUA within 30 days of the date of the announcement of availability of DUA; and
  • Have not refused an offer of employment in a suitable position.

For more information about DUA see the following resources:
FEMA Disaster Assistance page
Workplace Fairness State Agencies page for information about your state unemployment agency.
Department of Labor DUA information page  

n 2. I quit my job. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

If you quit your job without good cause you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits in any state. Keep in mind that while there are many reasons why you may choose to leave your job, not all of these reasons are considered “good cause”. You may have “good cause” to quit if, when faced with the same situation, a reasonable employee would quit his or her job. In some cases, you may also encounter serious personal issues that require you to quit.

Examples of “good cause” for quitting, depending on your state may include:

  •  The employer’s refusal or failure to pay you earned wages,
  •  An unsafe working environment,
  •  Repeated and severe verbal or physical harassment,
  •  A demand by your employer to engage in illegal conduct,
  •  Caring for a family member, or
  •  Lack of transportation to and from work.

Before you quit, you must tell your employer about any problems you are experiencing and give your employer an opportunity to correct them. You may also need to show that you took steps to fix the problem yourself. Where you are covered by a collective bargaining agreement, you should consult with your union about whether refusing to work in these circumstances would be permitted under the labor agreement or law and whether your union can first assist you in correcting the situation.

n 3. I quit my job for personal reasons. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

It depends. Examples of personal issues that constitute good cause for quitting, depending on your state, may include:

  •  Taking care of a new baby,
  •  Moving to a new city to follow a spouse, or
  •  Your own health reasons.

However, remember that if you have good cause to quit, you also must be ready, willing, and able to take a new job to be able to collect benefits in a given week. Therefore, if the illness that caused you to quit makes you unable to work at all, you should not try to collect benefits until you are actually capable of working again. You may want to apply for benefits (though not start collecting them) before you lose your eligibility (usually 1 year after you stop working).

n 4. I quit because my job changed. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

Certain changes in your job are not considered good cause for quitting. For example, simply being demoted, with a decrease in pay, is generally not considered cause for quitting. On the other hand, a demotion in position, removal of responsibilities, reduction in pay, or reduction in hours would likely be grounds for quitting. If you quit your job, you risk being ineligible for UI benefits. However, you should still apply for UI benefits because the state may agree that you had good cause to quit, and you have nothing to lose by applying. Just be sure to tell the truth about why you quit.

n 5. I don’t want to get a new job right away–I need a break. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?n

In order to collect unemployment benefits, you must be available to work. “Available to work” means that you are actively looking for work and nothing currently prevents you from accepting job offers. For example, if you are unable to work because you are sick, on vacation, or cannot work full-time without restrictions, you will not be entitled to unemployment compensation. Because you were unable to accept work, you have made yourself “unavailable” for work.

n 6. I’m unemployed because I could no longer physically do my job. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?n

To continue receiving benefits, you must be physically able to work. However, if you can perform light duty work and actively seek other work that you are qualified for, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. If you were unable to work due to an injury or illness, the state or your employer may require a doctor’s note before deeming you available to work.

n 7. Now that I am unemployed, I am going to move to another state. Am I still eligible for unemployment benefits?n

If you relocate permanently to another state, you are generally still eligible for benefits if you are actively looking for suitable employment in that state. However, states interpret the requirements for unemployment eligibility differently. Before permanently relocating, you should contact the unemployment offices in both your current and future states of residence and/or an attorney to determine the effect that relocation will have on your eligibility.

n 8. If I turn down a job, does that mean I am ineligible for further unemployment benefits?n

In order to receive unemployment compensation funds, you must not refuse an offer of a “suitable” job. Each state has their own definition of “suitable” so be sure to check your state’s individual unemployment laws. In most cases, aA suitable job is one that is reasonably equal , even though not identical, to the job you had before, even if it pays less and involves less responsibility. Whether the particular job is suitable depends on a number of factors such as the type of work, the pay, the distance from your home, and the shift you will be working.

n 9. My employer paid me off the books. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

It’s your employer’s responsibility to pay UI taxes. States generally rely on employer’s reporting for calculating the amount of UI benefits you receive. If your employer fails to report your wages (and to pay the UI taxes), the state will likely find that you are not eligible for UI benefits. You can appeal this determination and use bank statements or even a sworn letter to show the state that you did in fact work and earn wages, and therefore should be eligible for benefits. If you are in this situation, you may want to contact a lawyer or Legal Aid office near you to get help in getting UI benefits.

n 10. I am paid as an independent contractor. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

While it is true that independent contracts are ineligible for UI, many employees are incorrectly labeled independent contractors by their employers. An independent contractor is someone who is in business for him or herself. Many companies label short-term employees as contractors in order to avoid certain obligations to employees (including UI benefits).

If your employer controls how you perform your work and controls your schedule, you may really be an employee and therefore eligible for UI benefits. You must notify the state because they will likely not have record of your employment and therefore may find you ineligible for UI benefits. Your state labor department may have additional information on how to determine whether you are an independent contractor. For more information, see our site’s independent contractor page.

n 11. I have only been working part-time. Am I eligible to collect unemployment benefits?n

You may be eligible for UI benefits even if you are working one or two days per week. If your employer reduced your schedule from full-time to part-time or if you worked full-time, lost your job, and then found a part-time job, you may be eligible for partial UI benefits. The rules vary from state to state.

n 12. When I left my job, I was given a severance package. Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

In some states, you may forfeit your right to unemployment benefits if you receive severance pay. If you have received severance pay from your employer, the severance is often considered income and may offset any unemployment compensation to which you are entitled. You will be ineligible for benefits for the number of weeks of severance you received.

If your employer pays you severance all at once in a “lump sum,” you may or may not be entitled to unemployment benefits. If the lump sum is just an upfront payment of a number of weeks of your pay, the agency may treat the payment like salary continuation. A salary continuation is when you stay on the payroll for a certain number of weeks after you stop working for your company and it will usually make you ineligible for unemployment for as long as the employer continues to pay your salary.

You should apply for unemployment compensation even if you are receiving severance. You should begin the paperwork immediately. If your severance runs out before you find another position, you can simply send in a request for compensation and the original administrative steps that you took will speed up the process of payment.

n 13. I collect a pension from a prior job (not the one from which I was recently unemployed). Does that mean I am not eligible for UI benefits?n

Rules vary from state to state. If you are actively ready, willing, and able to work, you may still be eligible for UI benefits. Often, the value of the pension will offset to some extent the amount of UI benefits you can receive. Of course, if you are truly retired and not looking for work, you are not eligible for UI.

n 14. I am a union employee who lost my job when my union went on strike. Am I eligible to apply for unemployment?n

It depends. Many states disqualify employees whose unemployment results from any type of “labor dispute,” be it a strike or lockout. Some states distinguish between disqualifying “strikes” and “lockouts” that render employees eligible, while others allow striking workers to collect benefits after an initial period of disqualification. Also, some states permit workers who participated in a strike to receive unemployment benefits if the strike resulted from an employer violation of the law, or collective bargaining rights.

To find out what the rules are in your state, please see our site’s page on State Government Agencies, where you can find the contact information and web links for the agency in your state which oversees the unemployment compensation program in order to obtain further information about the laws in your state. In addition, unions often have a strike fund that provides emergency assistance to members who have lost wages during a strike. Payments from such funds may offset the amount of unemployment benefits you can receive.

Sometimes there is a dispute as to whether the activity in question is a strike or a lockout. You should consult with your union representatives to learn whether the union believes that the activity is a strike or a lockout and whether your union is advising members to apply for unemployment benefits. What appears to be a strike, or what you and your union call a strike, may be considered a lockout under unemployment compensation law. Don’t assume it is a strike. If you have any doubt, file for compensation.

n 15. Are federal employees eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?n

Yes. States administer the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program to assist eligible unemployed federal civilian employees. The state where your last official duty station in federal civilian service was located provides the law which determines eligibility and other details of unemployment insurance benefits. This federal program mirrors the basic unemployment insurance provided for non-federal employees by states.

n 16. If my hours are reduced or I lose my job because my employer was adversely affected by foreign imports, can I receive any additional unemployment benefits?n

You may be eligible for additional funds after your regular unemployment insurance benefits have expired, under the Trade Adjustment Act. Benefits could potentially include assistance for finding employment in a new area, training for a new job, or relocation to a geographic area where work is available. To receive these benefits, the Department of Labor must receive a Petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance- see your state unemployment insurance agency for information about this document. If this petition is approved, then you can file a claim with the US Department of Labor.

n 17. I was laid off, but want to start my own business instead of finding another job. Is there any government assistance available for self-employment?n

Several states have a Self-Employment Assistance (SEA) Program that helps workers while they start their own business. Usually you must have been permanently laid-off from a job, eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, and determined by the state as likely to exhaust these regular unemployment insurance benefits. Participants are given a weekly allowance, and expected to work full-time while they are starting their business, with the amount being equivalent to traditional unemployment assistance.

The following states currently have Self-Employment Assistance programs: California, Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Washington.

n 18. I served in the U.S. military- am I eligible for any unemployment insurance benefits based on this service?n

A program called Unemployment Compensation for Ex-servicemembers provides unemployment benefits to individuals who are former members of the military. Also, those who worked for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps may be eligible. To receive these benefits, you must have been on active duty with a branch of the military, and separated under honorable conditions.

n 19. Where can I find more information?n

For more information, please visit our site’s listing of state government agencies. There you will find the contact information and web links for the agency in your state which oversees the unemployment compensation program.

For more information, please visit our site’s listing of state government agencies. There you will find the contact information and web links for the agency in your state which oversees the unemployment compensation program.

Select your state from the map below or from this list.

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U.S. Department of Labor: <? createlink(“”) ?>State Unemployment Insurance Benefits

National Employment Law Project: <? createlink(“”) ?>Unemployment Insurance 101: A Basic Glossary of Terms

Disaster Unemployment Benefits: