What Can Disqualify You From Unemployment Benefits?

Pile of disposable medical face masks surrounding Unemployment Benefits forms.
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Out of work? Nearly all of us have been there. Being unemployed can make life extraordinarily difficult — especially when considering that so many of us are already living paycheck to paycheck. What can one do when left out in the cold, job-wise? They can collect unemployment — or try to, anyway. 

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This form of federal assistance does come with strings attached, and you must meet certain criteria to have and maintain unemployment benefits. It’s a bit tricky to break down unemployment benefits in terms of qualifications and restrictions in a general sense because what you can receive depends on your location.  

“Because unemployment insurance is a jointly administered federal-state program, eligibility requirements vary widely between states,” said Emerson Sprick, economic policy analyst at Bipartisan Policy Center

That said, there are certain across-the-board rules intact. Let’s explore what can disqualify you from unemployment benefits and reasons you can be denied unemployment benefits. 

You Were Fired for Cause or You Quit 

​”In order to qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have lost your job through no fault of your own,” said Linda Shaffer, chief operations officer at Checkr, an HR technology firm. “This means that if you were fired for cause you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits.”

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You Were/Are a Gig Worker 

“One important caveat is that recent-work requirements must be fulfilled with covered employment, which is generally employment for which wages are reported on a W-2,” Sprick said. “This excludes a significant portion of the population, including gig and contract workers and graduate students receiving stipends for their research or teaching duties, when they become unemployed.”

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You Aren’t Up for Doing the Job 

If you’re not “ready, willing and able to work,” you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. 

You’re Receiving Disability Benefits 

If you’re receiving disability benefits from the state, you likely are not eligible for unemployment benefits. 

You Refuse a Suitable Job 

“Refusal to accept a suitable job can also disqualify you from unemployment benefits,” said Bill Ryze, a chartered financial consultant and board advisor at Fiona. “Here is an example of a non-suitable and suitable job offer: Let’s say you were a HR in your previous job and you get offered a secretarial position in a new company. You can turn it down and be eligible for benefits. But, if a company offers you an HR job that matches your skillset and pay, and you turn it down, you risk losing unemployment benefits.”

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You Haven’t Worked Long Enough 

You can be denied unemployment benefits if you do not meet your state’s criteria for amount of time worked. 

“This varies by state; but, at the least, it’s typically required that you have worked a minimum of six months in order to qualify for unemployment,” said Adem Selita, co-founder of The Credit Card Monster. “This prevents individuals from taking advantage of the unemployment system.”

You Quit Without Reason 

“If you quit your work voluntarily or without a valid reason, you will typically be prohibited from obtaining unemployment benefits,” said Antoine Boquen, CEO and co-founder of Horizons. “You may have quit your job, for instance, because you are unhappy with your salary, you want to switch careers, or your job is unsatisfying and you want to try something new. All of these may be valid reasons for quitting your work and moving on, but you will not be eligible for unemployment insurance payments. 

“Note that state laws define ‘good cause’ differently,” Boquen added. “For instance, in Texas, good cause is the employee’s failure to perform tasks that a prudent person would have performed under comparable circumstances.”

You Didn’t Make Enough Money 

“Some states have specific rules about how much money you must have earned in order to be eligible for benefits,” said Harry Turner, founder of The Sovereign Investor. “In some states, the minimum threshold is at least $1,500 in the past four calendar weeks. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. For example, if you were laid off due to a plant closure or natural disaster, you may still be eligible for benefits even if you haven’t met the earnings requirements.”

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You Lied on Your Paperwork 

“Another common reason people get denied unemployment is false information in their unemployment paperwork,” Ryze said. “Yes, you want to be eligible for unemployment benefits, but lying or filling out false information leads to disqualification.”

You’re Not Actively Looking for Work 

If you’re sitting around living up your unemployment benefits and not looking for work, your benefits can be promptly dropped. Make sure you’re hitting up job boards and sending out your resume as often as possible. 

You Refuse To Return to Work

Refusal to return to work after being summoned back from a layoff can also cause you to lose your unemployment benefits. 

“With the virus, this is a major issue at the moment,” said Sai Blackbyrn, CEO of Coach Foundation. “Many of my building contractors called workers back to work, but many declined due to the additional $600 each week from the federal government. They lost their jobs for good the following week and were not able to receive unemployment benefits.”

Speak With a Specialist in Your State 

“(Since) each state has its own rules and regulations regarding unemployment benefits, it’s best to speak with an unemployment benefits specialist in your state to find out more about whether or not you qualify,” Turner said. “Generally speaking, most people who are actively seeking work will qualify for unemployment benefits, but there are some exceptions.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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