The economic shocks of the coronavirus pandemic have been felt in every corner of the US since the start of the outbreak. In many parts of the country, businesses are still reeling from the severe effects of the pandemic, making it harder to provide paying jobs. Consequently, millions of American workers are finding themselves unemployed and attempting to navigate their state’s unemployment system.
In the majority of US jurisdictions, there is a waiting period of one week between the time you file for unemployment and the time you can collect any money. Despite the waiting period, it is best to contact the nearest unemployment office as soon as you lose your job to prevent any delays in claiming benefits.
By acting quickly, you can provide all the required information, complete the needed paperwork, and confirm that the agency representatives are investigating your claim. Here, we will discuss the steps necessary to start processing your unemployment claim and what you can expect as you proceed.
Eligibility for unemployment benefits
To file for or collect employment benefits, you first need to ensure you are eligible. As the California Employment Development Department (EDD) explains, these eligibility requirements also continue to apply throughout the period you collect unemployment benefits. This means, if you qualify, you must still continue to prove every week that you:
- Have earned sufficient wages during the “base period”;
- Are entirely or partially unemployed;
- Have lost your job for reasons that are not your fault;
- Are physically able to work;
- Are available to work; and
- Are ready and willing to accept available work immediately.
The EDD describes the base period as a 12-month period that they use to determine if you made enough in wages to establish an unemployment benefits claim. If you are eligible to apply, you may be able to replace your lost income with benefits between $40 and $450 a week.
Due to the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus, there are added circumstances where you may be eligible for unemployment. Federal law allows states to pay unemployment benefits where:
- Your employer stopped operations temporarily due to coronavirus, leaving temporarily without paid work;
- You are in quarantine but have expectations of resuming work after quarantine;
- You left your job because of a risk of exposure or infection, or in order to care for a family member.
Currently, states are facing unprecedented numbers of unemployment applications and as a result, the system is strained. This means to make the most of your application, and prevent unnecessary delay, you should carefully check to ensure you have the correct documents.
Your claim will get processed faster if you bring the proper documentation when and if you visit your local unemployment office. If you are applying online or by phone, the documentation should be nearby and easily accessible. You will probably need the following:
- Information about your last employer, including the company name and the contact details of a supervisor
- Your recent pay stubs. This is important to show your gross earnings in the last week you worked. If you cannot locate a paystub, typically any other wage documents that you have, such as the W-2 form, will suffice.
- Your Social Security card and any other document that clearly shows your Social Security number.
- Additionally, if possible, bring any documentation you have that shows you are unemployed, such as a layoff notice or dismissal letter from your employer. This is important to show the last date you were employed and why you are no longer working. If you know it, or can locate it, bring the company’s unemployment insurance account number.
You will also need to provide information on all the employers you worked for within the past 18 months. This should include the name of the employer, address, dates of employment, wages earned, hours worked per week, and the reason you are no longer in the job.
Typically, the unemployment insurance claims office in your state will require some type of formal or informal orientation, ranging from reading informational pamphlets to attending advanced video productions or live group seminars. Compliance is typically necessary for the state to process your unemployment claim.
What to Say & What Not to Say
When finalizing your unemployment application, one of the fundamental questions you see will be something like the following: “Explain in your own words why you left your last job.” The question does not leave much room for long-winded explanations. Take any evidence that you have and keep your responses non-committal and straightforward.
Unless you were dismissed from your job because you clearly violated the company’s policy, applicants must remember to avoid using the word “fired” while filling out any forms or answering any interview questions at the unemployment office. While many individuals use the words “fired” and “laid off” interchangeably, in the legal unemployment field “fired” is usually taken to mean that you did something wrong and were dismissed because of your inappropriate conduct.
If you lost your position because business was quite slow, that is actually considered a lay-off. “Laid off” is a somewhat vague term, but it is less prone to raise questions about the legality of your application when processing your unemployment claim.
Furthermore, if your employer discharged you, you should note whether you were: “Discharged without any misbehavior” or “Quit for valid cause personal reason.” You should leave out any qualifying details, such as, “I was the only woman in my department, and my supervisor hated me, so naturally I was the first to be laid off.”
This is important because losing your job due to misconduct or legal violations may be detrimental to your unemployment application. So it is important to ensure you are avoiding mistakes that can paint your application in the wrong light.
How to apply
Normally, you would be able to file required documentation in person at an unemployment office near you. While this may be possible after lifting of lockdown regulations, social distancing regulations mean applying in person may not be safe or as fast as you would like.
The EDD provides other means through which you may apply, including through an online portal, by phone, and by fax or mail.
An application may also be completed by phone by calling any of the numbers listed below between Monday to Friday, 8am to 12noon (Pacific time):
- English 1-800-300-5616
- Spanish 1-800-326-8937
- Cantonese 1-800-547-3506
- Mandarin 1-866-303-0706
- Vietnamese 1-800-547-2058
- TTY 1-800-815-9387
People with general questions about registration, password resets, or instructions to use UI Online can call 1-833-978-2511 between 8am to 8pm, every day of the week. However, none of the phone numbers will be available on state holidays.
Finally, you can file your unemployment claim using the paper Unemployment Insurance Application, then send it by mail or fax. There are different forms for people with different work backgrounds, all of which you can access here.
What to expect after filing your claim
As mentioned, unemployment offices around the country are facing millions of UI applications. As a result, getting your claim may take a while, at least three weeks, as EDD advises.
After filing, you will receive important information regarding your claim that you may be required to respond to. This may include an overview of the information filed so you can crosscheck for corrections and further information you need to know about the process. You can learn more about this documentation here.
Most people who file for unemployment are also required to add or update their résumé on CalJOBS within 21 days after filing. Failing to do so may lead to delays in processing your UI claim or even outright denial.
In some cases, EDD may need to conduct an interview with you where it is necessary to obtain further information. You should receive proper notice of the interview, including the time, date, and sample questions you can expect from the interviewer. The interview will be conducted over the phone.
It makes sense to prepare properly for the interview. This includes reviewing the eligibility requirements and what makes you qualified, as well as details on your current unemployment situation.
Importantly, do not miss the interview. If you fail to attend the interview, EDD will be left with no choice but to make a determination based on the documentation you already filed. This may result in undue delay or denial of your benefits.
In conclusion, filing for unemployment can be a somewhat daunting task, but it is necessary if you find yourself all of a sudden unemployed. The best way to lessen your frustrations while filing an unemployment claim is to stay organized, have all required documentation and keep your responses non-committal and straightforward.
If you are one of the millions of individuals who are now unemployed and you have questions about the unemployment process or potential claims against your former employer, contact Eldessouky Law to discuss your options today.