Illinois Unemployment Law: Overview of Basic Eligibility Rules

Learn the rules for collecting unemployment benefits in Illinois.

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Schaumburg, IL

Practice Areas: Unemployment

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Although unemployment insurance is federally mandated, each state has its own rules about which employees are eligible for benefits. This article explains the eligibility rules for collecting unemployment in Illinois.  

Last Chargeable Employer

To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must have a "last chargeable employer." In simple terms, this means you must have worked for an employer to whom the claim will be attributed. It does not matter if you were a part-time or full-time employee. If your claim for unemployment benefits succeeds, your former employer's tax rate will go up.

Qualification

You must be eligible to receive unemployment benefits under Illinois law. To qualify, you must be able and available to work and must not place undue restrictions on your job search. Being able and available means that you are physically able to work, have means of transportation, and possess the necessary knowledge and skills to perform particular job duties. Undue restrictions come into play when an employee, after losing a job, limits the new search to a small geographical area or certain number of hours or days. It is an ongoing obligation to exercise all reasonable efforts to find a new job while you are unemployed.

Reason for Termination

If you have a last chargeable employer and you are able and available to work with no undue restrictions, the next step is to look at why you are unemployed. There are two ways a person's employment can be terminated, for purposes of unemployment:

  • the employee quit, or
  • the employee was terminated (fired or laid off).

In either scenario, the employee may or may not be eligible for unemployment, depending on the circumstances. 

Even if you quit your job, you may still be eligible for unemployment in these situations:

Lack of Work. If an employer does not have enough for an employee to do, it is called "lack of work." Typically, this scenario arises during a decline in the demand for the employer's services or products. Usually employers cut down on employees’ hours. If the employee is a non-salaried worker and does not make enough money because of lack of work, the employee would be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Voluntary Leave. As the term suggests, voluntary leave occurs when an employee voluntarily, with no fault attributable to the employer, leaves the job. In these cases, the employee is generally deemed not eligible for any unemployment benefits. Sometimes, however, an employee argues that there was no work available or the employee was actually forced to quit. In these situations, a judge might find that the employee was constructively discharged, and the employee can be eligible to receive unemployment. 

Exception to Voluntary Leave. An exception applies when the employee had to quit because of sickness or because the employee had to care for a sick close relative or a child. In this instance, employee will receive unemployment compensation, but the last chargeable employer will not be penalized, and the employer's rate will not be affected. Other exceptions to the voluntary quit rule include:

  • the employee is in poor physical health
  • the employee left employment due to sexual harassment
  • the employee left work due to domestic violence, or 
  • the employee quit to accompany his or her spouse who is in the military.

If you were discharged, there are several issues to consider.

Was there "misconduct"? For this purpose, misconduct is defined as willful and deliberate violation of a reasonable employer's policy, provided that such violation hurt the employer. Usually the burden is on the employer to prove each part of this definition. By the preponderance of the evidence, the employer must prove:

  • The employee willfully violated the policy. This means that the employee was aware of the employer's policy, violated it at least once before the termination, and was adequately warned. 
  • The employee deliberately violated the policy. The employer has to prove the employee's state of mind at the time of the violation. In other words, simple negligence would not be enough. 
  • The employer's policy must be reasonable. Usually this is easy to prove. The policy must be directly connected to the employee's duties and performance at work. Almost all employers’ policies can be considered reasonable as long as there is some nexus with the work itself.
  • The employee's violation of the policy must hurt the employer. 

Finally, the employee's actions or a failure to act must be within the employee's control. Usually, unemployment judges look at the very last incident that led to the termination of the employment. If the employee was sick or was involved in a car accident and was late to work, for example, the employee will be eligible for benefits even though the employee was constantly late to work.

Felony. An employer may terminate an employee immediately if employee commits a felony in connection with the work. This will render the employee ineligible for benefits.

Refusal to Work. If someone refuses to accept suitable work for no good cause, that person will be ineligible for unemployment benefits. This is one of the most unsettled areas of Illinois unemployment law. Very often, an employee argues that they have been forced to quit when they were asked to perform some unsuitable work. The burden is on the employer to prove otherwise. The bar is not very high. The employer must prove by preponderance of evidence that the job was suitable. For the job to be suitable, it must not require any additional skills, knowledge, responsibility or commitments. In these situations, judges often look to the original employment agreement or job description.

The biggest confusion under this rule comes when an employee is promoted and refuses to work. Even though promotion is usually a good thing, an employee has a right to refuse being promoted. If such promotion requires longer hours, more responsibility, or additional training, the employee can refuse to be promoted. Such refusal would be considered good cause, and the employee will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

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