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How do I Become Eligible for Unemployment?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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The only requirement for unemployment is to be out of work, but in order to be eligible for unemployment compensation, a worker must meet certain criteria mandated by the state in which he or she resides. Many employers pay unemployment insurance for each employee while they are employed, so in essence, a laid-off worker is applying for unemployment compensation already collected under that fund. To become eligible for benefits, however, a worker must become unemployed through no fault of his or her own.

One way to become eligible for unemployment compensation is to be laid off through lack of work. If an employer decides to let go of an employee during an economic downturn, that employee can get compensation immediately after his or her last day on the job. The employee did not lose his or her job because of any personal misconduct, nor did he or she quit voluntarily. These conditions of job separation become very significant when the state unemployment department determines eligibility for benefits.

Some employees may assume they can voluntarily quit or resign from a job and still get unemployment benefits, but under most circumstances, this is not the case. When an unemployment claim is filed with the state, the application is reviewed to determine the circumstances surrounding the separation. If an employee voluntarily quit his or her job for strictly personal reasons, he or she would not qualify for benefits. If the conditions of the job would make a reasonable person quit, or if the employer asks an employee to commit an unethical or illegal act, however, then the employee could get compensation.

People who are self-employed or working in a part-time position may be eligible for unemployment if their available work hours fall below 40 hours through no fault of their own. This eligibility would be determined after the worker has filed for benefits. Some workers may feel pressured to retire involuntarily from their jobs, especially those who have reached their maximum salaries. Such employees can still apply for unemployment benefits, but they must prove they had no intention of retiring from the workforce at the time they were dismissed.

Workers who were terminated for violating reasonable policies or unexcused absenteeism generally cannot get unemployment compensation. This condition sometimes triggers a "quit before you get fired" mentality among disgruntled workers, but in reality, neither decision is more beneficial when it comes to filing for unemployment compensation. Arguably, a worker who can prove definitively that employment conditions were inhumane or illegal might have a better claim for unemployment than a worker who lost his or her position through willful misconduct, but it can be very difficult to justify a voluntary quit without documentation.

It is important for laid-off or discharged workers to follow all of the state unemployment department's requirements in order to remain eligible for compensation. Unless the applicant is physically or mentally unable to perform regular work, he or she will be expected to apply for suitable employment every week and to accept reasonable work offers whenever possible. Under regular economic conditions, unemployment benefits generally last up to 26 weeks, but they can be extended during periods of high unemployment.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon940467 — On Mar 18, 2014

I was forced to quit my laundry aid job because of all the hours they were cutting back and the layoffs they were making in 2010. But, since our service was contracted through another company working for the place, I wasn't eligible for unemployment benefits when I quit due to the fact that my paycheck was only enough to cover gas to get back in forth to work.

It took me a while to realize I was unable to get benefits because we have to go through a state website and submit all the info first, then wait on the response. I had to submit it twice before calling and having someone explain to me that quitting on account of a 'low paycheck' is not enough reason to leave a job, although I'd like to ask how often can an employer cut your hours/pay before an employee eventually cannot afford to work there?

By anon347717 — On Sep 09, 2013

I was terminated due to injury and I cannot do my job of 30 years. I could work in a sedentary or desk type job. They want me to apply for jobs I cannot physically do. I have been denied disability. I don't know what to do.

By anon342608 — On Jul 22, 2013

I have medical problems and can no longer do my job. I have worked all my life and always paid my taxes. I was told I cannot get unemployment because I had to resign. I cannot get disability yet because I can still work. My question is why was my tax money going to take care of those who just don't want to work and now that I need it and really can't support my family? Everyone is laughing in my face.

By anon331328 — On Apr 22, 2013

I lost my job of 12 years and found another one, but only lasted a month. I didn't make over 3.453 dollars so why do they go back to my last employer? What's the reason for that?

By anon322031 — On Feb 25, 2013

Several years ago, the company I worked for for 19 years downsized and moved out of state. I was denied unemployment as I found myself the sole caregiver for my mother, who had Alzheimer's. I was honest and paid the price.

I have looked for work since she passed but the economy was declining by then. Is there any way I can get the unemployment I was denied? After working 25 years and never receiving anything from the government, it doesn't seem right I cannot get help now.

By anon321355 — On Feb 22, 2013

My company is talking about layoffs. If I get laid off, I would qualify for unemployment, but I would have to sell my house. When my house sells, would that be considered income? Would I not be eligible for unemployment after the house is sold?

By anon318286 — On Feb 06, 2013

For those of you posting questions about your personal situation, sit down with an attorney who practices labor law. No one is going to answer your questions here, and even if they did, you need professional guidance specific to your situation, not the comments of random people on the internet.

By fool426624 — On Jan 12, 2013

I accepted a "management" job and have worked one day. The pay is too low to qualify as "exempt". During that one day, I found out that I will not be paid at all for required job duties which I am not permitted to perform during the regular forty hour work schedule. I am required to engage in racial discrimination of certain customers; I am required to engage in illegal price-fixing and sales activities. I am required to violate DoL/ICE requirements and to enforce violation of NLRB rules. These are not details which I could reasonably have known prior to accepting the job. I was on unemployment prior to this. Can I quit as a "constructive discharge" and continue to collect?

By anon274299 — On Jun 11, 2012

I quit my job today after being told for the past two years they wanted to provide me with training to do another job. I have been a kitchen porter for the past four years at the same restaurant. Recently, my manager took me into her office and told me again they want to train me up on salad bar and prep duties and I was very excited because I am really stressed about my job and really need a change, but to my disappointment, they went behind my back and gave the job to someone who only been working for them for five months. So I asked again, and was told I would be trained up after the schools went back from holiday. Still no training.

So the guy who got my job left and I thought I would get my chance but again, they brought someone new in to do the job I was promised training for. Bear in mind this has happened over and over again. So when I went in to inquire about why I have not been trained, I was told I don't have any experience and no qualifications and recently have had bad attendance levels due to stress at work but bottom line is I am not getting training due to lack of experience and qualifications. I mean, does that not defeat the purpose of training someone so they can obtain the experience? And after a shouting match with the boss, I walked out. Someone mentioned constructive or disruptive dismissal, I'm and just wondering if anyone had any info on that or any advice.

By anon138380 — On Dec 31, 2010

i recently quit my job where i was employed for over 2 years. i am four months pregnant and felt it best due to the high stress environment. i was put on medical leave for four weeks due to nausea and vomiting.

On my first day back to work, my boss had began taking pictures of the quantity of my work. i wrote an email to her boss, our director and HR. the next day i was in trouble. that's when i decided to quit. everyone keeps telling me to try and qualify for unemployment but i don't think i qualify.

By Rixxy6 — On Dec 18, 2010

I'm due to be made redundant next year, and if I start my own business will I be able to claim my mortgage protection insurance from the bank and extra redundancy cover I took out if self employed? Obviously i would need a loan to start would this count in my favor? thanks for any help, Rick

By anon120012 — On Oct 20, 2010

I have a prejudiced supervisor and she is always telling people that I am crazy! She does a lot of lying and she is friends with human resources. If you go and complain they say well, there's nothing we can do about it. Can I file for unemployment and get benefits?

By anon109850 — On Sep 09, 2010

I have been on the job, would be four months in a couple of weeks. I am very distressed, and due to that, I have been working very hard at keeping my job. But almost from the very beginning, I have been disrespected and ignored and not being given proper training at the proper time.

The last incident happened a few days ago, and gave me the worst migraine. I called in for two days. Called to make sure that I was due to come back to work on the day that I was supposed to. Was suspended for two days accused of, "No call, No show", It is a call center, we are all in the same room. That was after I spent several days with a horrific migraine due to my manager, who would not stop screaming and snatched the headset off my head.

What I have noticed, is that my co-workers also get mistreated really badly. I guess they do not notice it anymore. The pay is very little. Can't take it. That manager really put me down on front of my co-workers. These are the last two incidents. Simply too much abuse going on in there. I cannot take anymore of the mistreatment and put downs. I am supposed to go back today. I don't think I can.

If I don't and apply for benefits, would I be eligible?

By anon106553 — On Aug 26, 2010

I recently started a new job which is not in any way what I was promised. The position and job duties are not in my job description and what I am doing is in no way of interest to me. Essentially, I was lied to when I accepted the position and I feel as though they are taken advantage of my time. Would I be eligible to collect unemployment if I quit in between finding a job that better suits me?

By anon91878 — On Jun 24, 2010

I was researcher at a college. The school claims I was self-employed because I brought in my own funding to pay my salary, benefits and supplies. When the grant ran out, I was out of a job. Will this count as being discharged?

By cmiller — On Mar 08, 2010

I no longer have a baby sitter as of the end of the week. Can I get unemployment if I quit my job to take care of my children?

By anon49466 — On Oct 20, 2009

I am currently in the car business and strictly commission, due to the downfall in business. if I was to walk away would I be eligible for unemployment benefits?

By anon40667 — On Aug 10, 2009

my employer relocated me to another location. it is 5 miles further than the current location, and I am getting demoted, but I am keeping my salary. am I elgible for unemployment?

By arkady6619 — On Jun 12, 2009

I am full-time employee working from 5:00AM to 2:00PM. To get it, I have to wake-up at 3:00AM. Accordance with my age (65.5) and health conditions, my doctor gave me note with recommendation to change my schedule, but HR is saying that they do not have another schedule for my position. Could they in this situation fire or give me laid-off?


Arkady Kamenetsky

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to WiseGeek, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range...
Learn more
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