What Are the Reasons for Denying Unemployment Benefits?

by Wilhelm Schnotz

Simply being out of work doesn’t automatically qualify you to receive unemployment insurance benefits. Although states’ requirements for eligibility differ slightly, they all administer the federal unemployment benefits system. If you don’t meet basic eligibility requirements in state and federal law when you apply for unemployment benefits, claims processors are required to deny your application.

Reasons Behind Termination

Federal law requires all unemployment insurance beneficiaries to be unemployed through no action of their own. In practical terms, this means you must have been laid off because of the closure of a business or a reduction in available hours at your workplace. If you voluntarily quit, you’re ineligible to receive benefits. If you were fired as a disciplinary measure, you’re also unable to qualify for benefits. Many employers would install progressive disciplinary policies to document steps taken to correct your behavior before termination, in case you challenged a finding that you didn't qualify for benefits.

Unable or Unwilling to Work

Unemployment insurance is designed as a safety net to keep you afloat while you look for a new job, not as an extended source of support. Federal law requires you to be willing and able to take a position if it’s offered. If you were laid off because of a disability or sickness that prevents you from working, you’re generally considered to be unable to return to work. In many cases, if you begin attending college or taking vocational education courses that conflict with work hours, your state unemployment insurance agency might consider you unable to take positions, and it could deny your claim.

Insfficient Earnings

Although state laws differ slightly on how they define employment base period eligibility, you must work minimum amounts to qualify for benefits. In most states, your base period spans the first four of the previous five calendar quarters – essentially the four quarters before the latest completed quarter – but some states offer alternative base periods of the most recent four quarters. Your earnings during this base period must be high enough for you to qualify for benefits. Depending upon your state’s laws, you might need to have earnings in your highest-earning quarter above a threshold, or to have earned a proportionate amount to your benefit amount, or to have earned a flat dollar amount.

Gave Up Employment Search

Once your state unemployment agency approves your initial claim, you’re not out of the woods. Federal law requires that every unemployment insurance beneficiary be actively engaged in a job hunt for every week he receives a benefit. If you throw in the towel and take a break from looking for a job, successive weekly claims might be denied. Additionally, if you take a vacation that limits your ability to search for work, you might not receive a benefit for the weeks you were out of your employment area.

Too Many Claims

If you’re serially unemployed, you can rely on unemployment benefits for only so long. Many states impose a limit on the number of weeks in a year that you can receive benefits. After you reach that, you’re ineligible to receive benefits again, even if you were briefly employed before being laid off a second time.

About the Author

Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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