Q: Who is eligible for unemployment benefits?
A: Individuals are eligible to apply for unemployment if they:
• have become unemployed through no fault of their own at the time they file for benefits (this includes layoff, job restructuring, business closing, etc.);
• have completed at least 20 weeks of employment with an employer, or employers, who have contributed to unemployment insurance during the “base period”;
• earn an average weekly wage of at least $230 in 2013 (this figure changes every year).
Q: What is the “base period”?
A: The “regular” base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters. (For example, if your claim begins anytime from October 6, 2013 through January 4, 2014, your base period will be July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.) An “alternate” base period is the last four completed calendar quarters before your claim begins.
Q: For how long may an individual receive unemployment compensation?
A: From 20 to a maximum of 26 weeks depending on how many weeks the individual worked before filing for unemployment compensation. This limit is occasionally extended during times of economic hardship. For example, the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in February 2009 provided for extended (and increased) unemployment benefits, and Ohio passed a law in the spring of 2009 further extending benefits.
Q: What if the applicant quit his or her job?
A: An applicant who can show “just cause” for leaving a job (what the law considers a “good reason” for quitting) will be eligible for unemployment benefits. To be considered eligible for benefits, an applicant who quits a job must show that:
• the employment endangered his or her health;
• the employer refused to honor the terms of an employment contract;
• the employer refused to supply the applicant with any required safety equipment;
• the employer required the applicant to engage in illegal or immoral activities.
Q: What if the employer claims that the employee was fired for just cause?
A: If an employer claims that the employee is not eligible because he or she was fired for just cause, the terminated employee can appeal any challenge to his or her unemployment compensation eligibility. The appeals process includes a hearing at which both the employer and the applicant have an opportunity to present their sides of the case. The applicant must continue filing claims during the appeal in order to receive compensation for the weeks the appeal was pending.
Q: How soon after leaving a job should an individual apply for unemployment benefits?
A: As soon as possible. The benefit period starts at the time of application, and no benefits will be given to an applicant for any period of unemployment before the application is completed. Therefore, the sooner the applicant files, the sooner he or she will start receiving payment. Applications should be submitted in writing to any local branch of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, filed online at http://unemployment.ohio.gov, or filed by telephone at (877) OHIOJOB (644-6562).
Q: Will payments continue automatically?
A: No. Applicants must meet weekly eligibility requirements in order to continue to receive benefits. An applicant must be:
• physically able to work;
• available for work; and
• actively seeking work in order to receive benefits.
Q: Will my compensation be affected if I receive payments from my employer, such as severance payments or payments to settle discrimination claims?
A: It might. Applicants should consult a lawyer before agreeing to a severance agreement or settlement. Depending on how such a payment is structured and when it is received, it could affect unemployment compensation eligibility. Other payments, such as early pension distributions, can also affect eligibility under some circumstances, so it is a good idea to consult a lawyer and/or the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services before arranging to obtain early pension or retirement benefits.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. This article was prepared by attorney Fred Gittes, partner in the Gittes Law Group, who is a member of the OSBA’s Labor and Employment Certification Specialty Board. It was updated with help from Jeffrey Vardaro of the same firm.