Can You Get Unemployment Benefits If You Quit Your Job? Here's What the Experts Say

Thinking about quitting your job? You may not be able to rely on unemployment checks—unless you meet certain requirements.

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Unemployment assistance can be a valuable benefit to receive if you are between jobs, but the reason you're unemployed will determine whether you're eligible for those checks (i.e., a global pandemic). During the pandemic, about one in four workers depended on unemployment checks, according to data by think tank The Century Foundation, with federal aid providing $600 per week in addition to state UI benefits.

The pandemic has also changed the way Americans approach work; several industries have seen record numbers of employees quit in search of better pay and flexible hours. Better work life balance and compensation are certainly valid reasons for looking for a different job, but one thing to note: you likely won't be getting unemployment benefits if you quit voluntarily. "Workers should not count on receiving unemployment insurance benefits after they quit their jobs," says Nance L. Schick, an employment attorney and mediator in New York City.

However, there are some exceptions to the rule, if the reason qualifies as 'good cause.' Here's what you need to know about qualifying for unemployment if you quit your job.

You quit because of drastic changes in your workplace.

In order to receive unemployment benefits after quitting a job, you need to have 'good cause' for leaving. Generally, people who qualify for unemployment benefits need to leave a job through no fault of their own, such as getting fired or laid off. But there are some situations that can push you to quit a job, which could then make you eligible to get unemployment checks.

While the rules for what reasons qualify you can vary by state, most allow those who quit because of unsafe or hostile workplaces to receive UI payments. These reasons include "discrimination, unsafe working conditions, harassment, illegal activities, refusal to pay, dramatic change in job responsibilities, or reduction in hours that turn into part-time employment," says Anthony Martin, CEO of insurance agency, Choice Mutual.

To have the reason you're quitting be considered a good cause, you need to report it to your company. "When they ignore the issue, you have good cause to quit your job and potentially get unemployment," says Martin. "While harassment or discrimination can be exceptions to this, you can improve your chances of approval by getting proof by filing a formal complaint."

Circumstances that force you to quit your job can help you qualify for unemployment while you find another opportunity. You can check state-specific requirements for UI insurance on the Department of Labor's website for reasons your state allows.

You quit because of qualifying personal reasons.

There are also some personal reasons that could make you eligible for UI after quitting voluntarily. "Even a spouse getting a job offer in another state can be considered a good cause in some states," says Martin.

Quitting due to a medical reason such as a prolonged illness, injury, disability, or on your doctor's recommendation could also be acceptable—however, some states might only allow it if the injury was caused by the job. If you quit a job because of domestic violence or needing to care for a severely ill family member, you might be eligible for UI checks too.

Check your state's UI policy before quitting.

Because state laws vary on which reasons are considered good cause for quitting a job and being able to collect unemployment, it's a good idea to check what your state's rules are before you decide to quit. Once you do decide to quit, make sure you file for unemployment immediately after, because the approval time can take a while.

Still unsure if you qualify? Apply anyway, suggests Tina Hawk, senior vice president of HR at GoodHire. "Many others presume that their specific circumstances disqualifies them from receiving benefits, and in 99 percent of cases they're wrong," says Hawk. "On top of that, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits even if you've previously been denied them."

If you do get denied, you can try to appeal your claim—"but you might have a tight deadline (e.g., 10 days) to appeal, depending on your state," says Martin.

If you're approved and start receiving unemployment checks, you will need to file a claim each week to continue getting payments, and show proof that you are actively looking for a new job.

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