Unemployment benefits are available to employees who are out of work temporarily, through no fault of their own. Most people who collect unemployment have lost their jobs. However, you may be eligible for benefits even if you are still working, if your hours or pay have been cut or you have been forced to take a part-time position and you can't get additional work.
In this article, we'll explain:
State law determines eligibility for unemployment benefits, including partial unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, however, an employee will be eligible for benefits if all of the following are true:
To figure out your weekly benefit amount, your state's unemployment agency will calculate how much you would receive if you were completely unemployed. (For information on how states make this calculation, see How Unemployment Is Calculated.)
Then, the state will subtract what you are actually earning each week, less a small allowance. Most states let applicants keep a little bit of what they earn, without reducing their benefit amounts, to encourage people to take occasional work. The difference is your weekly partial unemployment benefit.
Here are a couple of examples:
Example 1. David works in California and would be entitled to a weekly unemployment benefit of $400, based on his prior earnings. He currently earns $280 per week at his job because his hours and pay have been cut. California disregards the first $25 or one-quarter of an employee's earnings (whichever is more) in calculating partial unemployment benefits. The state would not count one-quarter of his earnings ($70), but would subtract the rest ($210) from the weekly benefit he would receive if he were unemployed ($400) to come up with his partial benefit amount: $190.
Example 2. Susan works in Washington, D.C. and would be eligible for a weekly unemployment benefit of $300, based on her prior earnings. She was laid off from her job, and she currently earns $250 per week from a part-time job. The District of Columbia disregards one-fifth of her earnings plus $20, in calculating partial unemployment benefits. Based on this formula, the state would take her earnings of $250 and subtract $70 (one-fifth of her earnings is $50, plus $20). The remaining number, $180, is then subtracted from $300 (the amount she would receive if fully employed), for a partial benefit of $120.
In some states, workers can receive a higher weekly benefit if they have dependents. For example, in Massachusetts, workers can receive up to $25 more each week per dependent. Dependents are usually limited to those who rely on you for financial support, including:
Unemployment benefits are not usually taxed by the state, but you do have to pay federal taxes on them. You can ask your state unemployment agency to deduct 10% of your benefits for federal taxes.
The duration of your benefits depends on your state, but typically will not be much longer than 26 weeks. (These timeframes are sometimes extended during periods of high unemployment, including during the coronavirus pandemic.) In Ohio, for example, unemployment benefits are usually limited to 20 to 26 weeks. In California, benefits usually last between 12 to 26 weeks depending on your earnings during the base period. In New York, your benefits are typically limited to 26 times your full weekly rate.
To start receiving unemployment, you will need to file a claim with your state's unemployment agency.
If your hours have been reduced or you've lost your job through no fault of your own, you can file a claim for full or partial unemployment benefits with your state's unemployment agency. Visit the website of your state's unemployment agency for eligibility information, filing instructions, and more.
Once your state's unemployment agency receives your claim, it will give your employer an opportunity to respond. Your employer might contest your claim, in which case you may need to provide additional information or documentation to the state agency. If your claim is denied, you might need to appeal. (See our article on how to appeal an unemployment denial.)
Most people can handle filing claims for unemployment without the help of an attorney, but it might be worth seeking help if your claim has been denied, particularly if your case is a complicated one. An experienced employment attorney can help you navigate the unemployment appeals process in your state, and greatly improve your chances of receiving benefits.