Is My Employee Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?


Even in a pre-pandemic world, this is a question that I have been asked frequently. Usually, there is not a clear answer, as there can be a variety of factors in play. My answer often starts with “possibly,” which isn’t always what someone wants to hear.  

State laws differ from each other in a lot of ways (especially in states with more employee-friendly laws like California and New York). For the most part, states may have similar types of requirements. Oftentimes, an individual will have to earn at least a certain amount of income during a set time to be eligible for unemployment. This income level is determined by each state and may vary for each person. Most of the time, the individual will have to be unemployed through no fault of their own to trigger unemployment eligibility. Basically, quitting without good reason will likely disqualify the employee from receiving unemployment benefits, but that doesn’t mean the employee who quits can’t apply. An individual could apply but it is up to the state’s unemployment department to make the determination on whether that person receives unemployment benefits.

In the past, I’ve had employees file for unemployment even though they quit or were terminated for misconduct. In those cases, the organization contested the former employee’s unemployment claim. This would require gathering documentation such as an employee’s resignation notice or disciplinary action notices. Often, employers also provide a signed employee handbook acknowledgment demonstrating an employee’s understanding of the company’s rules regarding acceptable conduct at work. These documents are also important when preparing for an unemployment hearing to review the facts and evidence for a hearing officer to make an informed decision. The process can be time-consuming. If you’ve never contested an unemployment claim, it can be daunting at first. SHRM has a how-to guide available for members: How to Determine if You Should Contest an Unemployment Claim.

As an HR Knowledge Advisor, I’ve spoken with SHRM members who have received unemployment claims for an employee who is still working their normal schedule and has not experienced a layoff or a reduction in hours that would make them eligible for unemployment. These employees are usually not even aware that a fraudulent claim has been filed using their name.

Unfortunately, unemployment claim fraud has become a huge problem for many states. Fraud doesn’t only impact individuals who haven’t been able to receive benefits or are not getting the correct benefit amount. Fraudulent claims that have been filed with stolen information can also impact the ability of those individuals to receive benefits in the future. Employers want to make sure they are providing accurate and timely responses to any unemployment claims, and some check their claims report frequently. Notifying the state as soon as possible of any errors or suspected fraud will reduce incorrect claims. This is important to avoid possible increases to the company’s unemployment tax rate for the following calendar year.  

If you want to know more about unemployment benefits or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an email. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!

SHRM’s Ask an Advisor service is a member benefit through which SHRM’s HR Knowledge Advisors share guidance, real-life personal and professional experiences, and resources to assist members with their HR-related inquiries. We receive questions from HR professionals on a wide range of topics ranging from COVID-19 to workers’ compensation.


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