Filing for unemployment if you’ve lost your job because of coronavirus

If this is your first time filing, you might feel confused or intimidated. But don’t worry. Filing for unemployment is straightforward when you have the right information.

Amy White |
Categories: Career Advice

No one expects to lose their job because of a global pandemic. We know these are crazy times and we’re so sorry you’re going through this. We’re here to help you every step of the way. 

No matter what’s happening with coronavirus, you need money to make ends meet. A lot of people are in the same boat, so be sure to apply for unemployment benefits while you search for your next job. There’s no shame in asking for unemployment benefits.

If this is your first time filing, you might feel confused or intimidated. But don’t worry. Filing for unemployment is straightforward when you have the right information. 

Follow these steps to file for unemployment while you start your job search. The weekly benefit will give you some much-needed financial wiggle room.

How to file for unemployment

1. See if you’re eligible first

You need to meet eligibility requirements to receive unemployment benefits. 

Eligibility varies depending on the state you live in. Most states say that you must have been employed for a period of time to qualify. The number is usually between 3-6 months. 

It also matters how you lost your job. Did you quit? Were you fired for breaking company policy? If so, you probably aren’t eligible. (Sorry.)

You probably qualify if you were laid off, though, especially due to a business closure because of coronavirus. To be sure, check your state’s Department of Labor site. 

2. File the paperwork

Qualified to file? Let’s get started.  

Make sure you file as soon as possible. It may be hard to remember when you're reeling from a layoff, but you need to file as soon as you lose your job. This gets your application into the system ASAP, which means you get money in your pocket more quickly. 

Have your Social Security number, address, employer information, phone number and two years of work history for the application. The government will also need to know your dates of employment, the date of termination and 2-3 pay stubs.

You might be able to file by phone or online, but that depends on your state. 

3. Appeal the decision (if necessary)

If the state rejects your initial claim, you can ask for an appeal. Read the rejection letter and make careful note of how to appeal the decision.

The exact process differs between states, but you’ll probably need to file your appeal in writing. 

You may be asked to give contact information for your former employer. This is so the employer can verify your unemployment claim.

Unemployment quick tips

You’ll need to know a few things about your unemployment benefits. Don’t forget to follow the state’s instructions!

1. How unemployment benefits work

The state uses a lot of factors to decide your unemployment benefit amount. The biggest factor is your full-time or part-time salary from the previous year. 

The state will usually approve unemployment benefits anywhere from 50-75% of your past income. Follow application instructions to get the maximum benefit—you don't want to leave money on the table.

There’s usually a limit on how much money you can receive and how long you can use unemployment benefits. The federal government limits unemployment to 99 weeks, but your state unemployment agency might have a shorter limit. 

Unemployment laws change all the time and vary by state, so get familiar with your state’s rules. Also keep an eye on the news, as government agencies are making changes to help Americans deal with the impacts of coronavirus.

2. Keep your benefits current

Unemployment comes with a lot of rules. Follow them to keep your benefits and avoid stiff penalties (like jail time). 

Once you find a job, let the state know immediately. It’s illegal to collect unemployment when you have a job, for obvious reasons.  

Keep in mind that, in some states, you might be able to work part-time while collecting unemployment. There are a lot of rules around unemployment work, so check with your state unemployment office before you take a part-time job. 

You probably wouldn’t do this, but we need to mention it. Don’t treat unemployment as a cash cow. 

The state requires you to look for jobs when you’re receiving unemployment benefits. You might need to call in and report on your applications and interviews. 

You’ll want written proof of this, too. Most states want proof of applications and interviews. Whether it’s an interview schedule or email, they want proof that you actually need help and that you aren't bumming off the state.

3. You owe taxes on this income

People don’t realize that unemployment compensation counts as income. That means you owe unemployment tax! 

You definitely owe on the federal level. Depending on state law, you might owe at the state level too. 

Don’t forget to report this income on your tax return.

The bottom line

Losing your job sucks, especially when it’s out of your control because your employer is forced to shut down to keep everyone safe. We know filing for unemployment benefits can be frustrating, so follow these tips to get your bills paid while you look for a new job.