Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment can be a scary thought. For most people, paying the bills is hard enough when they are working full time. Without a steady income stream, how can anyone manage to survive?

One way to make up at least part of the lost income is by obtaining unemployment benefits. The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) will provide temporary payments to unemployed individuals who: 1) are unemployed through no fault of their own; 2) are able and available to work and actively looking for work; and 3) have worked for four of the previous five quarters (i.e. three-month time period) and made at least $1,600 during these four quarters. 

In order for an unemployed person to be eligible for unemployment benefits, that person must be unemployed through no fault of his or her own. For example, those who are out of work because of company layoffs or reductions in force are eligible for unemployment benefits. However, those unemployed who quit their jobs or were fired because the purposely broke a company rule are not eligible for unemployment benefits. There are some exceptions to these general rules. Employees who quit because of an illness, or to follow a spouse who moved, or because working conditions at their previous job were unsafe, will be eligible for unemployment benefits. Similarly, employees who were fired because they attempted to unionize or refused to do something illegal will be eligible for benefits. 

The second condition necessary to receive unemployment benefits is that the unemployed person be able and available to work and be actively looking for work. In order to be “able” to work, an individual must have the physical and mental capability to perform a job. This means that those who are too sick or injured to work are not eligible for unemployment benefits (they are eligible for disability benefits instead). In order to be available for work, an employee must be able to accept a new job. If an employee cannot work certain hours, or does not have the transportation required to get to work, then he is not “available” to work, and therefore is not eligible for  unemployment benefits. 

Furthermore, an unemployed person must be “actively seeking” work to obtain unemployment benefits. This means that the employee must be applying to jobs or attempting to do so. In Illinois, this requires the unemployed person to register at www.IllinoisJobLink.com. The IDES also requires those receiving unemployment benefits to identify what they are doing to find work, the kind of work they have been seeking, and their prospects of being hired.

The third condition necessary to obtain unemployment benefits is that the unemployed person must have worked in four consecutive quarters over the past five quarters (this is known as the “base period”), and earned at least $1,600 doing so. A quarter is a three month period. There are four quarters in a year: January–March, April–June, July–September and October–December. 

If an unemployed person is eligible to receive unemployment benefits, these benefits will be paid weekly, and range from $51 to $418 per week. The weekly benefit amount is calculated by adding up the highest amount of money earned in the two highest quarters in the base period, multiplied by .47, and then divided by 26. An individual is eligible to receive benefits for up to twenty-six weeks. In periods of high unemployment, Congress will sometimes extend this period. 

For help obtaining unemployment benefits, contact the Illinois Department of Employment Security or an experienced attorney.