Am I Covered by Unemployment Insurance?

Unemployment insurance, or unemployment compensation or UI, helps unemployed workers maintain some level of income while in between jobs.  The federal government, in conjunction with state programs, operates these programs from revenues garnered from American taxpayers.  Each state program operates their unemployment compensation programs differently concerning administration, qualifications for benefits, and how much benefits unemployed persons can receive.

What Unemployed Workers Are Covered?

Industry estimates note that nearly ninety-seven percent of American workers are eligible for some form of unemployment insurance coverage, including temporary and part-time workers.  Although almost all occupations offer some form of unemployment insurance coverage to non-disabled workers, not all individuals are immediately eligible to receive these benefits. Several qualifications that workers must meet before receiving unemployment compensation, including:

  • Applicants have been employed for at least a specific amount of time and earned a given amount of wages per state laws.  In most states, an employee only proves eligible if they have worked for the past six months before loss of their job. 
  • Applicants must be citizens of the United States and legally employable according to the INS.
  • Applicants must be immediately available for work.  Individuals taking another job or moving from the state immediately become ineligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Applicants must be able to physically perform their previous job.  If applicant is physically unable to do so, they must file for assistance under Social Security disability or via workers’ compensation.

What Makes Workers Ineligible for Unemployment Insurance?

There are also a number of factors rendering an individual ineligible to receive unemployment compensation.  The most commonly cited factor revolves around the terms under which an individual left their employer.  In cases of workers leaving or quitting due to an undocumented legal reason, unemployment compensation is not afforded to them.  Additionally, some workers exhibit patterns of behavior that would disqualify them from benefits.  The disqualifying behaviors most likely resulted in firings due to misconduct in the workplace.

Some of the most commonly encountered factors disqualifying applicants for unemployment insurance include:

  • Voluntarily quitting or leaving your job without a legally noted reason
  • Being terminated from your job due to misconduct, criminal activity, or incompetence
  • Refusing a comparable job offer in spite of being unemployed
  • Participating in a strike, walkout, or picket resulting in your termination
  • Employees working only solely a commission basis
  • Newspaper carriers under the age of eighteen
  • Employees and other workers of religious organizations
  • Some corporate officials and other executives

Disqualifying behavior can be any of the following scenarios concerning employers firing workers, including:

  • Gross, wanton, or reckless negligence
  • Repeated and deliberate misconduct and rules violations
  • Criminal acts and other unethical actions during the course of employment

In some cases, workers that voluntarily quit their job due to a good reason can still receive unemployment insurance benefits.  The definition of a good reason is difficult to ascertain, but workers should immediately notify their employer about new developments that prohibit them from continuing to work.  If adjustments are not made and the employee is still convinced they must quit, then an employee who has quit their job may qualify for unemployment benefits.

Some of more widely acknowledged reasons for leaving a workplace that will protect your right to unemployment compensation include:

  • You were subject to illegal or unethical behavior and actions by your employer
  • Your expected work location is no longer possible to reach
  • The nature of your work has been altered significantly from your original hiring expectations
  • Your health and safety were endangered by employers or employment conditions
  • Your hiring was based on deception or misrepresentation
  • You have some other compelling and well documented reason, which an employer refused to help accommodate

Next Page: Calculating and Filing for Unemployment

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