What is Unemployment Eligibility?

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  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2020
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If you have worked steadily for at least a year, in a non-contract or freelance position, losing your job may mean you are eligible for unemployment. Unemployment is not only defined as you having lost a job, but it can also be defined as a US federal and state program that helps to partially compensate workers who have lost a job through no fault of their own. In other words, if you’ve been laid off, fired, or had to quit because of a hostile work environment, there’s a good chance you possess unemployment eligibility.

Not everyone who loses a job or who quits is automatically eligible for unemployment benefits. Generally, the person must work for a year, and they must make no grave errors in their work, which have caused them to lose their job. Since employers pay for unemployment benefits, if you lost your job through poor work behavior, like never showing up for work, or always showing up late, employers may contest your right to benefits. In most cases, job loss is considered not the fault of the employee, and may have to do with company layoffs. Even if you’ve done your job poorly, but at least shown up consistently, you still may have unemployment benefits available to you.


The unemployment program in the US is a cooperative state and federal program. Each state administers its own program, takes applications for unemployment benefits, and makes disbursements from in-state locations. You are paid weekly for up to 13 weeks, and must show proof that you are actively seeking a job during the time you receive benefits. When unemployment rate is particularly high, people may receive unemployment checks for longer, based on federal discretion.

As long as you lost your job in a way that is faultless, unemployment eligibility considers the following when determining your benefits:

  • The length of time you have worked.
  • The highest salary you made in a single quarter (three months) in the past year.

Not all workers have the same unemployment eligibility, and there is a cap or top payment you can receive on a weekly basis. Even if you made a significant amount of money, the highest monthly benefit you can receive is less that $2000 US Dollars (USD). For most people this falls well short of their monthly expenses, particularly if they need to carry insurance during their periods of unemployment through COBRA programs.

Low disbursements of unemployment benefits may offer you eligibility in other programs, like federal medical insurance, called Medicare, and welfare payments. These programs consider the total income made in your household and the number of dependents you are supporting. Unemployment eligibility is not based on your household’s total income, but solely on the income you made in the highest earnings quarter you had in the last year.

To check unemployment eligibility, contact your state unemployment department. If you’re unsure what this is named in your state, you can call any of the state welfare programs to find out what the program is called. This can vary from state to state. It’s important to file as soon as you lose a job, so that you can begin receiving disbursements as quickly as possible.


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Post 4

Thanks for this article -- my sister is about to file for NJ unemployment, and wanted to know more about the process, since she had been failed to get unemployment insurance eligibility before.

Thanks for the info.

Post 3

How are the rules on State of Michigan unemployment eligibility? I just left my last job because of a hostile work environment, and I'd like to know a little bit more about how the process works before I start signing things.

My lawyer said I should file as soon as possible, so I really want to get on it, but I'd hate to go in there and screw it up.

Has anybody filed for unemployment in Michigan? How does eligibility work here?

Post 2

Thanks for this article -- these are exactly the kinds of things that I need to know! I know that a lot of people are in the same boat as me right now, and need to have clear, easy to understand information about unemployment benefits and eligibility.

Thanks for putting the information out there in a way that readers can easily understand. I mean, it's not as if it's easy to file for unemployment to begin with, and it's even more embarrassing if you walk in there feeling like you have no idea what's going on.

Now at least I know a little bit about unemployment compensation eligibility before I go and mess with all the red tape.

Post 1

I've been laid off several times, and one of the most important things I've learned is to go to the unemployment office as soon as possible after a job loss to find out if you are eligible and if there are any waiting periods or other rules you have to follow. The first time I was laid off, I waited to file, sure that I would find a new job quickly and that it wasn't worth the effort and pride it would cost me to go down to the unemployment office. It ended up taking me nearly six months to find a job, and I struggled for far longer than I should have before I filed.

Now, in most

places, you can file for unemployment online, so you often don't even need to go into an office. After my last lay off, I filed as soon as I could, and only went into the actual office once, when a mistake caused me to stop receiving benefits.

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