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What should I know about Unemployment Insurance?

Authored By: GeorgiaLegalAid.org
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Important Coronavirus Updates for Unemployment Claims Unemployment Insurance benefits in Georgia Resources

Important Coronavirus Updates for Unemployment Claims

If your work is affected by the Covid-19 crisis, you are encouraged to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.

 

Unemployment Insurance benefits in Georgia

What should I know? +

Contents


What is Unemployment Insurance?

Georgia has an Unemployment Insurance (also known as unemployment compensation) program that:

  • supports people who have lost their jobs and cannot find enough work

  • pays a portion of the wages of the job you lost, from a minimum of $55 up to a maximum of $365 each week (as of July 1, 2019), and

  • lasts for a minimum of 6 weeks and a maximum of 14 to 20 weeks.

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Who is eligible for Unemployment Insurance?

The main requirements for unemployment benefits are:

  • You must have lost your most recent job through no fault of your own or quit the job with good cause;

  • You must be currently unemployed, or partially unemployed;

  • You must currently be able to work, available for work, and be looking for full time work (NOTE: The work search requirements are waived for all unemployment claims filed after March 15, 2020 for up to 120 days (sooner if the emergency is declared to be over)); and

  • You must have worked and earned enough in the past sixteen months. This is called the “base period.”

 

Immigration status: You may receive unemployment benefits if you are: 

  • a U.S. citizen, 

  • a lawful permanent resident ("green card"), 

  • otherwise authorized to work in the U.S., or 

  • in one of several special immigration categories. 

In almost all cases, if you are in the country illegally, you cannot receive unemployment benefits.

 

What counts as losing your job through no fault of your own?

If you were laid off

You will usually qualify for benefits if your job ended because of things that had nothing to do with you personally, such as:

  • Your employer went out of business;

  • Your employer laid you off because there was not enough work for you; or

  • Your position was eliminated because of "downsizing."

 

If you were fired

You may still be eligible for benefits even if you were fired or terminated. You lose eligibility only if you were fired for misconduct. This means you intentionally ignored your employer's rules or interests. It does not include other reasons, such as:

  • Your boss didn't like you; or

  • Your employer thought you weren't doing a good enough job.

 

Your employer must show that the firing was your fault. You should still qualify for benefits if:

  • You made a good faith effort to perform your job duties but are simply unable to do so;

  • You did not intentionally fail or consciously neglect to perform your job duties;

  • The discharge occurred because of absenteeism and the absences were caused by your illness or that of a family member, unless you did not notify the employer;

  • The discharge occurred as a result of a violation of an employer's rule that you didn’t know about. 

  • The rule was not enforced for other employees; and

  • You were fired for exercising a protected right to protest against: 

    • wages, 

    • hours, 

    • working conditions, or 

    • job safety under the federal National Labor Relations Act or other laws.

 

If you quit

Quitting your job voluntarily will usually disqualify you from receiving benefits. 

 

However, you may still be eligible if you can show that you quit with "good cause." Under Georgia law, you must prove good cause. A "personal" reason would not be good cause. There could be good cause to quit if the employer changed the terms and conditions of work.

 

Factors that the Department of Labor must consider include:

  • If you were demoted and it was not your fault;

  • If you were harrassed on the job;

  • If your employer broke your contract;

  • If your employer reduced your salary far below industry standard;

  • If your health was placed in jeopardy by conditions on the job. 

  • If you quit because your employer’s rules and expectations were unreasonable.

 

What Counts As Being Currently Unemployed?

Total Unemployment

If you are not doing any work for pay, and you are not doing work for your own business, then you are totally unemployed and are eligible for full benefits.

 

Partial Unemployment

If you are working part-time, but not full-time, you may still be eligible for benefits.You can earn up to $50/week and still get full benefits. Any amount over $50 will be deducted from your benefits. 

 

What counts as being able to work and looking for work?

To be eligible for Unemployment Insurance:

  • You must be physically and mentally able to work;

  • You must be actively looking for jobs like those you have had in the past or are able to do; and

  • You must accept such jobs if offered.

 

Examples of when you CANNOT refuse a job and still get Unemployment Insurance:

  • You've done the same job recently, but don't want to go back to that kind of work.

  • The job offered is temporary, but you want to wait for something permanent.

  • The wages are less than you're used to earning, even though they are typical for the job.

 

Examples of when you CAN refuse a job and still get Unemployment Insurance:

  • The job requires an unreasonably long commute.

  • The job pays much less than usual for that type of work.

  • The job is not the kind you've done before or are able to do.

  • The job is with a past employer and you left on bad terms.

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What are my rights and responsibilities with Unemployment Insurance?

If you meet the eligibility requirements, you have a right to Unemployment Insurance. It is your responsibility to apply for Unemployment Insurance. 

 

If you qualify, you must meet the requirements to continue getting the benefits. You must:

  • Actively seek work. You must submit three new job search contacts each week. NOTE: The work search requirements are waived for all unemployment claims filed after March 15, 2020 for up to 120 days (sooner if the emergency is declared to be over)

  • Register for employment services through Employ Georgia.  

  • Respond to notices from the Department of Labor,

  • Report all earnings for each week.

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What are an employer’s rights and responsibilities with Unemployment Insurance?

Employers in Georgia must pay taxes into the Unemployment Insurance fund. 

 

An employer has a right to appeal if  they do not agree with a decision made on the reason for your separation from work. For example, if the Department of Labor finds that you quit for good reason, your employer might appeal that decision.

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What can I do? +

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How can I apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits?

Note: At this time, you should file for unemployment insurance ONLINE. You can file for unemployment insurance benefits by calling or visiting your local Georgia Department of Labor office. You can file online if you have a valid email address and have earned Georgia wages in the past two years.

You should have the following information ready when you apply:

  • Your Social Security number.

  • Your government-issued picture ID.

  • Your Employment Authorization Document, if you have one.

  • The names and addresses of all employers for whom you've worked within the past two years

  • Your Employer Separation Notice (if you were given one)

 

After you file your claim, you will need to complete an Applicant Status Affidavit. The affidavit verifies that you are legally allowed to work in the U.S.

 

If you live in Georgia, you must also register for employment services at EmployGeorgia.com when you file your claim. 

 

If you live outside of Georgia and have earned Georgia wages in the past two years, contact the State Workforce Agency in your state to register for employment services.

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When should I apply?

Eligibility is based on work history during the "base period"

 

This is a complicated part of the law. If you are unsure whether you qualify, you should go ahead and apply. 

 

Eligibility for unemployment insurance depends on how much you earned in the "base period." The base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters. Georgia also has an "alternative base period" that allows the most recent completed quarter's wages to be counted if you do not qualify using the regular base period. Using the quarter system, you must have worked in two or more quarters, and earned enough over the entire base period to qualify.

 

It does not matter whether the earnings came from a single job, or from different jobs. If you worked steadily and you meet these requirements, your earnings should qualify you for unemployment benefits in some amount.

 

Be sure to ask whether it would be BETTER to wait a few weeks for the next calendar quarter to begin before applying. When your work history is concentrated in the past few months, you may receive more benefits if you wait until the next quarter so that all of your wages may be counted in the calculation of your weekly benefit amount.

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How can I get my Unemployment Insurance payments?

If you are approved for Unemployment benefits, you can be paid by:

  • Direct deposit, or

  • A Georgia Unemployment Insurance debit card. 

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How can I appeal an Unemployment Insurance decision?

Many people who deserve unemployment benefits are wrongly turned down when they first apply. Often you can still get your benefits by appealing that decision and presenting your side of the story before an administrative hearing officer. Call your local legal services or legal aid office to see if you qualify for free legal help.

There are a number of different situations in which the Department of Labor may turn down your claim for benefits. There are two notices to watch for in the mail: the "Wage Determination" and the "Claim Determination":

  • Wage Determination: You may receive a "Wage Determination" that says "Our records show that you do not have the required employment and earnings in the base period shown below to establish an Unemployment Insurance claim as of the above effective date." Or it may simply show a WBA (Weekly Benefit Amount) of $0.

    • If the information listed on the notice is accurate, but you have more recent earnings that are not listed, you may still be able to get benefits by reapplying for benefits at the beginning of the next calendar quarter. Calendar quarters begin in January, April, July and October.

    • If your earnings from a job do not show up on the notice, your employer may have failed to report your wages to the State of Georgia. This can happen if you were paid "off the books" or if you were improperly labeled an "independent contractor." If this happens to you, gather and provide any documentation you can, such as check stubs or bank deposit slips, to the Department of Labor.

  • Claim Determination: You will also receive a "Claim Determination." In it, the claims examiner rules whether or not you are eligible to receive benefits on your claim. If what it says under "Reason" is not true, you may still be able to get benefits by proving your case to an administrative hearing officer in a hearing. This can happen if your employer gave false information to the Department of Labor about why you lost your job. The most common examples are saying you got fired for something that you didn't really do or saying you quit when you really got fired.

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How can I request an Unemployment Insurance hearing?

  • Check the date on your Wage Determination Notice or Claim Determination. You have 15 days from the date on your Notice to request a hearing. Don't miss the deadline!

  • Request a hearing in writing online, by email, fax, or in person. Include the following information:

    • The date on the determination or decision you are appealing;

    • The docket number if you are appealing a previous appeals decision;

    • Your name and social security number;

    • Your address and phone number;

    • A detailed explanation of why you are appealing.

  • While you wait for a hearing date, call in (or log in on-line) weekly and claim your UI benefits. Even if you win your hearing, you will still only receive benefits for the weeks that you claimed.

  • In about 2 to 3 weeks, you will receive a Notice of Hearing. The notice must be mailed 10 days before the hearing date. It will give your case number and hearing date, time and location; and the "Purpose of Hearing." The Purpose of Hearing is the issue or issues that will be talked about at the hearing.

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How can I prepare for an Unemployment Compensation hearing?

A hearing is an informal trial held before an Administrative Hearing Officer. Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the judge will decide whether you are entitled to unemployment insurance benefits.

Preparation for the hearing
  • Using a calendar if you can, take time out to remember the date you last worked, the date you filed for benefits, and any other helpful dates. You will be more persuasive if you know these details.

  • Prepare an explanation of what happened to make you lose your job. Focus specifically on why you disagree with the reason given in the Claim Determination.

  • Gather and bring both originals and photocopies of anything that will help to prove your case, such as letters you wrote or received, your journal or date book, pay stubs, etc. Try to obtain letters that back up your story, such as a note from your doctor if you missed work due to illness.

  • Contact any witnesses that can back up your version of the events, such as a co worker who saw what happened when you lost your job. Bring any witnesses with you to the hearing. Subpoenas are available from the Department of Labor.

  • Visit the Department of Labor and look at your file. You can do this if you arrive more than half an hour before your hearing, or if you come on an earlier day. Your file will contain any information your employer gave to the Department of Labor, so you know what to expect at the hearing.

What Happens at the Hearing
  • The hearing will be held either on the telephone or in a small office with a table that seats 4 to 5 people at most, with the judge's desk at one end of it. The entire hearing can take anywhere from 30 minutes to more than one hour.

  • The hearing will be tape recorded, and everyone who testifies must swear an oath to tell the truth. No written statements or affidavits are allowed. Your witnesses (and the employer's witnesses) must be present to testify.

  • The ALJ will explain the procedure for the hearing and will probably ask both you and your employer questions about how you lost your job.

  • In addition to the ALJ's questions, both sides will be given an opportunity to: present evidence, such as documents or statements by you or your witnesses; ask questions of the other side's witnesses (This means that your employer can ask you questions about what happened.); and make closing statements.

  • Remember to focus on what's wrong with the reason given in the Notice, not other complaints you might have about your job. The "last incident" or "triggering incident" should be the focus at the hearing. You will get a decision in the mail in about two weeks. 

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Can I appeal an administrative hearing officer’s decision?

If you disagree with the decision, you may appeal it to the Board of Review, which simply reviews the record of the case, including a transcript of the hearing.

 

If you wish to appeal the decision of the Administrative Hearing Officer, you must file an appeal in writing to the Board of Review within 15 calendar days of the release date on the administrative hearing officer’s decision letter. Follow the appeal instructions in the decision letter. The Board of Review will mail a notice acknowledging receipt of your appeal and advising you of the timeframe allowed for written argument. You may submit a written argument stating in detail the reason(s) for your appeal. The Board does not normally hear oral arguments, but to request oral argument, you must:

  • submit a written request to present oral argument to the Board of Review no later than 10 calendar days from the date on the acknowledgment letter from the Board of Review, and

  • receive written approval from the Board of Review.

 

If the Board of Review agrees to hear oral argument, it will notify you of the time and place to appear.

 

The Board’s decision will affirm, modify, or reverse the administrative hearing officer’s decision. If appropriate, the Board may also send the case back to the administrative hearing officer for another hearing. The Board’s decision will be mailed to you. If the Board’s decision is unfavorable, you may file a written request for reconsideration within 15 calendar days of the release date on the Board’s decision letter. Any decision of the Board, unless the Board states otherwise, becomes final 15 days from the release date on the Board’s decision letter.

 

If you disagree with the decision of the Board of Review, you may request a judicial review by filing a petition in the Superior Court in the county in which you last worked within 30 days from the release date on the Board of Review decision letter. If you last worked in another state, you must file the petition in Fulton County, Georgia.

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Resources

Last Review and Update: Jan 21, 2020