Who is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in California?

Find out who qualifies for unemployment compensation in California.

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In California, employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of the own may collect unemployment benefits. Eligibility for unemployment is based on various factors, such as prior earnings, reason for unemployment, and other eligibility requirements created by California's Employment Development Department (EDD).

To collecting unemployment benefits in California, you must meet three eligibility requirements. You must have earned more than a set amount in the past, you must be unemployed through no fault of your own, and you must be able, available and actively seeking work.

Past Wages

The EDD will look at your recent work history and wages when you file for unemployment. The department will consider earnings during a one-year base period, which is generally the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you file for unemployment. In California, qualified applicants must have earned at least $1,300 in their highest paid quarter of the base period, or have earned at least $900 in their highest paid quarter of the base period and at least 1.25 times their earnings in the highest paid quarter during the entire base period.

Reasons for Unemployment

Most people who collect unemployment benefits have been laid off from their jobs, either permanently or temporarily. An employee who is laid off, loses a job in a reduction-in-force, or gets downsized for economic reasons, will meet the department's requirements.

When it comes to employees who are fired, the department examines the facts and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis. If an employee is fired for not being a good fit or for lacking the necessary skills to competently perform the job's duties, the employee should be able to collect benefits. However, an employee who is fired due to his or her own breach of contract or professional misconduct will not be eligible for benefits. In California, an employee who is fired for misconduct is ineligible for benefits only if the employee failed to perform a material duty to the employer, in a manner that showed wanton or reckless disregard for the duty and tended to harm the employer's interests. 

(Learn more about unemployment benefits for those who are fired).

Although people are generally unable to collect unemployment if they quit their jobs, there are certain reasons for quitting that won't render them ineligible for benefits. For example, an employee who quits because of adverse or unsafe working conditions may be able to receive benefits. In this situation, the employee must be able to show that any other reasonable person who genuinely wanted the job would have left under the same circumstances. Generally, the employee must give the employer notice of the problem and an opportunity to correct it before quitting, in order to remain eligible for benefits. 

Some employees quit their jobs for valid reasons that don't have anything to do with the employer. These include compelling personal health issues, family problems (like domestic abuse), or the need to care for a seriously ill family member. In California, employees who quit for compelling personal reasons like these will likely qualify for unemployment benefits. 

(To learn more, see Getting Unemployment Benefits After Quitting).

Available and Actively Seeking Work

Those who apply for unemployment must be available for work, able to work, and actively seeking work. The Employment Development Department asks employees to affirm that they meet these requirements when submitting benefits claims. The EDD may also ask for the names of employers contacted, the dates on which the applicant contacted potential employers, and the outcome of those communications. 

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