While the unemployment insurance program provides an important financial safety net for people who lose their jobs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. However, not everyone who does not have a job will be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. These benefits are designed to replace a portion of a worker’s wages temporarily while they are out of work until they find a new position. However, people must meet the eligibility requirements before they will be approved for benefits. If you have lost your job and wonder whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits, the attorneys at Swartz Swidler can offer some guidance to you.
Understanding the unemployment insurance program
The unemployment insurance program in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is jointly run by the federal and state governments. The states’ laws determine the eligibility of workers for unemployment insurance benefits, the duration of the benefits, and the amounts that recipients receive. In general, applicants for unemployment insurance benefits must meet the following three requirements to be approved for benefits:
- Job loss was not the workers’ fault
- Workers meet the minimum tenure or earnings requirements
- Available, able, and actively searching for work
These general requirements are defined differently within each state.
Reason for being out of work
In general, applicants for unemployment benefits must have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. If you lost your job because of a plant closure, cost-cutting measures, or were laid off, you should meet this requirement. If you quit your job or were fired, it may be more difficult for you to recover unemployment benefits.
Reason for being fired
People who were fired from their jobs may still be eligible for unemployment, but it will depend on why they were terminated. Many states do not approve employees who were fired for severe misconduct. In New Jersey, for example, severe or gross misconduct includes being fired for committing a criminal offense. If you were fired because of committing a crime, you will likely be ineligible for unemployment benefits through your former employer. If you were fired for simple misconduct, you will be ineligible for benefits for the week during which you submit your application and the subsequent seven weeks. However, if you were fired for substandard performance, you will likely be eligible for benefits.
Even if you were fired for severe or gross misconduct, your ineligibility will not be permanent in New Jersey. However, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits until you have gained eligibility by working for the required tenure for a new employer. In some states, however, people who are fired for severe misconduct are made permanently ineligible for unemployment benefits.
If you voluntarily resigned from your job without a good reason, you will be ineligible for unemployment benefits. However, if the reason that you quit your job amounted to a constructive discharge, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. For example, if you quit your job because you were the victim of illegal discrimination and the working environment became unbearably hostile, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. An attorney at Swartz Swidler can review what happened and advise you about your potential eligibility.
Job tenure and earnings requirements
Unemployment benefits are only available to people who have a connection to the workforce. If you have been out of work for a long period or have only worked seasonally or occasionally, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. To put this in another way, your lack of employment must be temporary.
To determine whether or not you have met these requirements, the state will examine the hours that you have worked and your earnings during a base period. In most states, the base period is one year and consists of the earliest four out of the last five quarters before you submit your application for unemployment compensation.
Many states require applicants to have earned a set minimum during the base period to qualify for unemployment benefits. These earnings are measured in a few different ways. Some states review the total wages that the applicant earned during the base period. Others consider the earnings during the quarter during which the applicant earned the most money. Other states require that applicants earned a specific multiple of the minimum weekly unemployment benefit. In New Jersey, applicants must have earned a minimum of $200 per week during the base year over 20 or more weeks or have earned at least $10,000 during the covered period.
Available, able, and actively looking for a job
To be eligible for benefits through the unemployment insurance program, applicants must demonstrate that they are available and able to work and that they are actively searching for new jobs. Being available for work means that you can accept a new position if one is offered to you. However, you are not required to accept a new job if it pays substantially less than what you are qualified for. If you have gone back to school or have assumed the responsibilities for caring for your children, you will also not be eligible for benefits unless you can show that you could quickly adjust your schedule to work if you are offered a job.
You must also be actively searching for work to receive unemployment benefits. A qualifying job search will depend on how things generally work in your field. For professional jobs, you might send resumes and cover letters, engage in networking activities, and apply for jobs that have been posted. For retail positions, you might ask about job openings, go to stores, and submit applications.
States engage in various activities to verify the job search activities of applicants. Some states only require people to check boxes confirming that they are searching for jobs. Others ask for detailed information about the applicants’ job search activities.
Get help from Swartz Swidler
If you have lost your job and are unsure whether you might be eligible for unemployment benefits, an employment lawyer at Swartz Swidler can review your case and explain the options that you might have. Contact us today to request a free consultation by filling out our contact form or calling us at 856.685.7420.