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How Long Do You Have to Work to Collect Unemployment

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Get Benefits While Job Searching

Unemployment benefits help you cover your expenses when you are between jobs and searching for a new position. Even if you worked only part-time to be home with the kids, you may qualify for benefits, especially if you were laid off through no fault of your own. If you are fired for misconduct or voluntarily quit a job, you are not eligible. Your earnings and work history are examined to determine if you qualify for benefits.

Who is Eligible for Unemployment?

To be eligible for unemployment, you must meet guidelines that are set by your specific state; however, federal guidelines for all states dictate two specific requirements to be eligible for benefits.

You are out of work through no fault of your own. For example, you may have been laid off temporarily or the company has cut back on employees. However, you may still get benefits if you were not terminated for cause. Termination for cause might be due to problems with your collegial or management relationships or an inability to fulfill your job’s duties. Many other reasons exist for termination for cause, such as:

  • Breach of contract
  • Conviction for some crimes
  • Extreme insubordination
  • Falsifying records
  • Failing a drug or alcohol test
  • Harassment
  • Lying
  • Stealing
  • Threatening behavior

The Department of Labor for your state has an entire list of termination for cause reasons.

You must have been employed for the amount of time specified by your particular state. This can be measured by a certain number of weeks, earning a minimum amount as a flat dollar amount or earning a minimum amount of wages. The minimum of wages is based on the quarter of work in which you made the highest earnings. You may also be eligible for benefits if you work at one job for at least the minimum amount of time designated by your state, change jobs and then get laid off quickly, since being laid off qualifies you for benefits.

If you quit a job, you generally can’t receive benefits, although in some cases you may still qualify. If you quit a job because of unsafe working conditions or the company wasn’t paying you, then you may still qualify for benefits. To find out all the requirements for your particular state, visit the Unemployment Extension and click on your state.

Your Work History Examined

State agencies look at your work history to determine if you are temporarily out of work by contacting your most recent employer to verify your last day of work the wages you earned. Your earnings and work history are examined through a “base period.” You have to have been working recently to qualify. So, a stay-at-home mother who hasn’t worked in years wouldn't qualify for benefits.

Most states have a one-year base period, which is the first four complete quarters of the last five quarters of the calendar year. This can be hard to wrap your head around at first.

For example, if you apply for unemployment in June 2021, your base period would be January 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020 to cover the four quarters preceding the last one you completed in 2021.

This doesn’t take into account your most recent work history and can even eliminate six months of income from the base period. In 18 states including Texas, Massachusetts and Ohio, employees don’t have to skip the last complete calendar quarter, but can use the last four calendar quarters to establish qualifications.

Additional Considerations

When you file for unemployment benefits, you’ll likely be responsible for registering with a local workforce center. You have to be actively looking for work and be able to work when you collect unemployment benefits. You will be responsible for searching for work and reporting to the office to keep your benefits. If you are looking for a job in a different field, you can find financial aid for training and education at the workforce.

If you are a union worker, you may not have to register at a local workforce center.

If you are temporarily laid off and returning to work soon, you may not have to register at a workforce center.


Mary Lougee has been writing for over 10 years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree with a major in Management and a double minor in accounting and computer science. She loves writing about careers for busy families as well as family oriented planning, meals and activities for all ages.

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