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What If I Have Surgery While on Unemployment Benefits?

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Whether a planned or an emergency procedure, surgery can really take a toll on your life. Even if it’s a minor procedure, with the doctor’s appointments, the rest and recovery and the actual procedure, there’s a lot to be adjusted. If you’re collecting unemployment benefits during your surgery, you may be ineligible for part or all of your benefits during that time. Unemployment compensation requires you be both available and able to work to receive payments. Each time you certify for a payment, you must report your ability or availability to work or risk penalties from the state.

Able to Work

One of the little known requirements to collect unemployment benefits is the ability to work. As an unemployment claimant, you have a duty to actively seek work; and if you are physically unable to work, you can’t truly seek work. If your surgery procedure is one that would prevent you performing your job if you were employed, you couldn’t collect unemployment benefits for that time either. The definition of "the ability to work" depends on the type of work you have experience doing. For example, foot surgery might prevent a construction work from being able to work but it wouldn’t necessary do so for an insurance agent.

Available to Work

Availability to work is another lesser known eligibility requirement for unemployment benefits. Although availability to work and ability to work sound similar, they are actually very different. You may be able to perform work but any time you’re required to be somewhere else, you’re not available to work. Pre- and post-surgery doctor's appointments as well as the actual procedure can prevent your availability to work. For example, if you’re an insurance agent who has surgery on his foot, you might be able to work the day after the surgery. However, you wouldn’t be available to work on the days you had to attend a physical therapy program.

Reporting Your Availability and Ability

As an unemployment claimant, you have a responsibility to report your availability and ability to work each time you certify for an unemployment payment. Log into your state labor office’s website or call in to the claim line. Answer the questions about your eligibility for the previous week, including your availability or ability to work, truthfully. If applicable, input the dates you were unavailable or unable to work. The state labor office will adjust your unemployment benefits to only pay you for the time you were available and able to work.

Failure to Report

If you fail to report your availability and ability to work accurately, you can be penalized by the state. At the very least, you’ll have to pay back any compensation you received as a result of failure to report accurately. If the state labor office determines that your intent was to defraud the unemployment program, you can be assessed penalty weeks, where you qualify for benefits but don’t receive any money as a penalty. In some cases, you can be criminally prosecuted and receive jail time or penalty fines.


Michaele Curtis began writing professionally in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Centers for Disease Control, Nationwide Insurance and AT&T Interactive, her work has appeared in "Insurance Today," "Mobiles and PDAs" and "Curve Magazine." Curtis holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Louisiana State University.

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Bill Oxford/iStock/GettyImages