The unemployment compensation (UC) system is designed to provide a short-term "safety net" of benefits which provide income when you lose your job through no fault of your own.
Generally speaking, to be eligible for UC benefits, you must be able and available to work. The determination of whether you are eligible for benefits is a three step process.
The first step is to determine whether you are financially eligible for benefits. This step generally involves two questions. The first question is whether you earned enough wages to qualify. Your earnings are reviewed using your "base year". The base year is generally the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters prior to the date you applied for benefits. The base year is different for individuals who separated from their employment due to a compensable work-related injury. The amount of benefits you are entitled to will be based on the highest of the four quarterly wages.
The second question is whether you have 16 or more "credit weeks." Credit weeks are defined as weeks in your base year in which you earned $50 or more. If you have less than 16 credit weeks, you are not eligible for benefits. The UC office will perform these calculations and issue a financial determination. The second step is to determine whether you are eligible to receive benefits based on the circumstances of your job loss. There are primarily two reasons for losing a job: either you quit or you are fired. Some people have the misconception that if they quit their job they are not entitled to benefits. This is simply untrue.
Under certain circumstances, you are able to quit your job and subsequently receive benefits. For example, you are eligible for benefits if you quit due to a health problem which affects your ability to perform your job, as long as you have given your employer an opportunity to offer you suitable work. This involves a discussion between you and your employer prior to quitting. If your employer has no accommodations or other suitable work, you may quit and be eligible for benefits.
On the other hand, if you were fired from your job, you still may be entitled to benefits. I have represented people who have been fired for many different reasons, such as violating an employment rule or policy, unsatisfactory work performance, or committing too many mistakes at work. Just because you were fired from your job doesn't mean that you are not entitled to benefits. In this type of situation, an employer has to prove that you committed "willful misconduct." This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis depending upon your circumstances. You may have particular reasons to justify your conduct. For example, if you are fired from your job as a delivery person for having too many vehicle accidents, you may still be entitled to benefits. You might be able to prove that the accidents were truly accidents, and not intentional nor deliberate.
The third step involves maintaining your eligibility for benefits after you begin to receive them. If you are both financially eligible and eligible based on the circumstances surrounding your loss of employment, you will begin to receive benefits one week after you apply for benefits. Upon receiving benefits, you must continue to be able and available to work. You are not entitled to benefits if you are not physically able to work at any job due to medical reasons. You must also be available to work and, for example, not be on vacation or in jail. In addition, you must report your current employment status to the UC office every other week.
If the UC office determines that you are not eligible for benefits, you have a limited time to appeal that decision. On appeal, a referee will hold a hearing to review the circumstances of your claim based upon testimony from both you and your employer. Each party has the right to be represented by an attorney. After the hearing, the referee will issue a new determination regarding your eligibility for benefits.
If you are contemplating quitting your employment, call me at 724-552-2745 before you quit to discuss your circumstances and how to preserve your right to benefits. If you have already been denied benefits, I can help you appeal your claim and represent you at your hearing.
Attorney James A. Horchak represents people who have been denied unemployment compensation benefits. If you find yourself out of work, you may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. In order to receive benefits, you must apply either online at https://www.paclaims.state.pa.us/UCEN/Welcome.asp or call the Unemployment Compensation Service Center at 1-888-313-7284.