To be eligible for employment benefits, you must be temporarily out of work through no fault of your own. (This is only one eligibility requirement; for information on the other requirements, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment?) Employees who are laid off or lose their jobs for economic reasons (because their employer had to cut costs, close a plant, or shut down a production line, for example) will meet this requirement. Employees who are fired will also be eligible, as long as they weren't terminated for serious misconduct.
But what about employees who quit? These employees may also be eligible for unemployment benefits, but it depends on why they quit. An employee who voluntarily quits, without good cause, won't be eligible to collect unemployment in any state. But each state defines good cause a bit differently.
There are many good reasons to quit a job that don't count as good cause. For example, you might decide to quit your job because you want to change careers, you'd like to find a position that pays better, or your job has become unfulfilling and you want to try something new. All of these might be very good reasons to move on, but you won't be able to collect unemployment benefits if you do. They don't qualify as "good cause," legally speaking.
In some states, an employee will be eligible for unemployment benefits only if the employee quit for good cause relating to the job (for example, because the job was unsafe or the employee had a serious work-related injury). In other states, an employee who quits for compelling personal reasons will also be eligible. Here are some situations in which you might have good cause to quit -- and be eligible for unemployment benefits:
Your state may define good cause more generously. For example, some states provide benefits to an employee who quit to move with a spouse who has accepted a job in another state or has been reposted by the military. To find out what your state considers good cause for quitting, contact your state's unemployment insurance agency. For links to each state's agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.