Labor and Employment

How to File an Unemployment Claim

By Serena Lipski, ​J.D., University of Toledo College of Law
Learn when and where to file your unemployment claim.

While unemployment claims may be decreasing nationally, many workers still face the devastation of a job loss. Unemployment compensation is designed to bridge the gap while the worker seeks a new position. In most states, filing a claim for unemployment benefits is a fairly straightforward process. This article describes how and when to file your claim for unemployment compensation.

When to File Your Claim

In most states, such as California and Ohio, you have to be unemployed for at least a week before you can receive benefits for a new claim. This is often known as the “waiting week.” However, you should file your claim as soon as you are separated from your employment so that the clock will start running on your waiting week. You can’t get benefits for the time before you file your claim, so don’t delay in filing.

Where to File Your Claim

You should typically file your claim for benefits in the state where you worked, even if you live in a different state. For example, if you live in Massachusetts but you performed all of your work in New York, you should file your unemployment claim in New York. If you worked for employers in multiple states, you can usually choose which state to file in, Once you decide on the appropriate state, you will need to file with that state’s unemployment agency. For contact information, select your state from our list of state unemployment agencies.

Information to Gather Before Filing

Most states have standard claim forms requesting information about you, your former job, and your dependents. To make the process smoother, you should check your state’s unemployment agency's website for a list of information you need to file your claim. For example, most states will ask for your social security number, the name and address of your employer, your dates of employment, and the reason for your separation.

The state unemployment agency will use the information you provide on your claim to determine your eligibility for benefits. While the rules are slightly different in each state, you will typically need to meet all of the following requirements:

  • You must have earned a certain amount in wages, or worked a certain number of hours, during a 12-month period called the “base period.”
  • You must have lost your job through no fault of your own.
  • You must make continuous efforts to find a new job while receiving unemployment benefits.

For more information on eligibility, see Overview of Unemployment Compensation.

Filing Your Claim

Most states have an online filing system, in addition to filing in person or over the telephone. You may use whatever method you wish, although online filing is typically faster and more convenient. Before submitting your claim, make sure to carefully review all of your answers. In most cases, the unemployment agency quickly issues a determination based on the information you provide in your initial claim form.

Most importantly, pay special attention to the questions about why you were separated from your employment. In most cases, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits if you were fired for misconduct or if you quit your job without good cause. Make sure to accurately describe what happened without leaving out relevant information. For example, if you were fired for violating your employer’s attendance policy, you should say so. But you should also explain that you had a very good reason for missing work—such as a medical emergency. Likewise, if you quit because you were being sexually harassed and your employer wasn’t doing anything about it, you should state that (rather than just saying that you voluntarily quit and leaving it at that).

After Your Claim is Filed

Once your claim is filed, your state unemployment agency will review the information you provided. It will check with your employer to confirm your employment dates and reason for separation. Your employer will have also have an opportunity to contest your claim.

Within a week or so after filing your claim, you should receive a determination letter from the state agency telling you whether you are eligible for benefits and in what amount. If your claim is denied, the letter should provide information about your appeal rights. For more information on how to appeal, see How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits.

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