How Long Do You Have to Work for an Employer to Be Able to Collect Unemployment Benefits?

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Unemployment benefits provide income to employees who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own so that they can continue to support themselves while searching for a new job. Employees must have worked for a significant period of time to qualify, however; short-term employees who lose their jobs after only a few weeks or months cannot receive benefits. Each state sets its own guidelines for unemployment eligibility. Contact your local unemployment office to see if you qualify for benefits.

State Laws Vary

Each state has slightly different rules about who qualifies for unemployment. Most states require you to have worked for one employer for at least two of the last four quarters. Some states, such as New Jersey, require you to have worked for one employer for 20 weeks out of the last 52. Most states also require you to have earned a specific amount in each quarter that you worked to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Base Amount

Most states require you to earn at least a base amount in one of the last four quarters, and to earn one and a half times that amount in all. For example, if you must earn at least $700 in one quarter, you also must earn at least $1,750 in total to qualify for unemployment.

Duration of Unemployment

State laws vary on the maximum amount of time you can receive benefits. In many states, you may receive benefits for between 72 and 79 weeks. However, many people will not receive benefits for the maximum number of weeks, as states take into account how long you worked and how much money you earned when determining how much you are entitled to and for how long you may continue to receive benefits.

Purpose of Eligibility Rules

You must work for a certain period of time before you can receive unemployment so that employees who have "paid in" to the unemployment system with their time can reap the benefits while those who have not put in the time do not get benefits. People who have worked for a longer period of time are also more likely to search for new work rather than depend indefinitely on unemployment benefits.

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About the Author

Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.