Read an Excerpt
How to File a Claim for Unemployment Compensation Benefits
Excerpted from Win Your Unemployment Compensation Claim by Lawrence A. Edelstein © 2002
You may be eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. You may even be eligible for a lot of unemployment compensation benefits. Until you file a claim for benefits, however, you will never see a penny.
States place the obligation of applying for unemployment compensation benefits upon the claimant. State agencies do not typically notify claimants when they are, or may be, eligible for benefits until after a claimant applies. Claimants are expected to know where to go, what to bring, what to do when they get there, and what happens after they leave.
WHERE TO GO
Unemployment compensation offices are typically included in the state government portion of the telephone directory. Most unemployment compensation offices are listed under the heading "Department of Labor" or "Department of Labor and Industry." The precise name given to these offices vary from state to state. Some states title them "Job
Centers" or "State Employment Services," while others list local offices under more official sounding names such as "Employment Security Commission."
Typically a claimant is free to file for benefits in whichever office he or she finds most convenient. The claimant does not have to file in a location closest to his or her former employer. In fact, if the claimant moves to another state after separating from work, the claimant may even file a claim near his or her new residence.
Most states have numerous local offices. If you do not find this to be the case, or if the nearest office still seems rather far, you should contact the telephone number listed in Appendix A to inquire about a closer location. Some states establish unofficial substations where a claimant may file for unemployment compensation benefits. If these substations are still too distant from the claimant's residence, some state laws provide for the organization of provisional offices to service particular claimants.
If this is not an option in your particular state, you may want to log onto the internet and search the web page of your state's unemployment compensation agency. There is a growing trend to allow claimants to file unemployment compensation applications on the Web.
WHAT TO BRING
Usually the initial filing for unemployment compensation benefits must be in person. Telephone filing, at least initially, is either rare or nonexistent. The claimant must normally complete a few forms on his or her first visit to the state unemployment office, and doing so over the telephone would be especially tedious.
What you should bring to your first visit to the state unemployment office depends on the type of documentation you have, and the arguments you expect to make. There are a number of documents that you should bring if you have them. The more documentation you keep concerning your employment and income history, the more you will be able to protect your interests.
In actuality, state unemployment offices expect very little with regards to records maintained by employees. Instead, the law usually mandates that employers keep records, within their own files, many of which are regularly filed with the state or federal government. To the extent that an employer errs or even loses one or more of these necessary documents, an employee may save a lot of aggravation if he or she also keeps copies of employment documents.
At a bare minimum, there are a number of documents that you really should make an effort to bring to your first visit. Certain information will be essential when you attempt to complete the required forms. While some states permit a claimant to complete these forms at home, a claimant typically has to wait in the office lobby for a period of time
before his or her claim is processed and may want to take advantage of this waiting period by filling out these forms while waiting.
The following is a list of documents that a claimant should strive to bring when filing for unemployment compensation benefits:
1. Social Security card. This is the identification instrument of choice and many unemployment offices will not allow a claimant even to apply for benefits without one. If you cannot find your card, you should bring another document containing your Social Security number. A W-2 or other tax form usually has this information.
2. Green cards. If you are not a citizen of the United States, bring proof of your authorization to work in the U.S., such as your alien registration receipt card, often called a green card. Such documentation is especially important in states such as Texas and California where illegal immigration is very common.
3. Layoff documents. If you are laid off from prior employment, bring any available documentation indicating a layoff. Many employers provide employees with a layoff notice.
4. Information about your last employer. Such information should include the employer's name, address, telephone number, and, if available, the employer's tax identification number. You should be prepared to answer questions regarding when you first began working for this employer, and when you ceased working for this particular employer.
You should also make an effort to bring information concerning the income you earned while in the employ of this employer. Ideally, you should not bring mere totals, but should bring a breakdown indicating exactly when such amounts were paid. Pay stubs are preferable, but tax forms such as a W-2 usually contain much of this type of information.
5. Information detailing your past work history. Be prepared to name all of your former employers over the course of the last two or three years. Be prepared to provide the addresses, start and ending employment dates, and employer identification numbers, if available, of such employers. At the very least, refer to your telephone directory to find the addresses of prior employers, and bring a list containing this information to the initial visit to the state unemployment office.
Also make an effort to bring information concerning the income you earned while in the employ of these past employers. Again, you should not bring mere totals, but should bring a breakdown indicating exactly when such amounts were paid. Pay stubs are preferable, but tax forms such as a W-2 usually contain much of this type of information
6. Union information. If you are affiliated with any labor unions, bring the name, address, and telephone number of such organizations. This is especially important where you expect the union to aid in your job search.
7 . Benefits information. If you currently receive pension or Social Security benefit s, or expects to receive such monies within the next year, bring any documents you may have concerning such benefits.
8 . Dependent information. If you were employed in a state that provides additional dependency benefits, bring information concerning your dependents. Normally, if you are claiming one or more children as dependents, bring the Social Security numbers of your children (and your spouse's social security number, as well).
NOTE: With the exception of the documents listed in paragraphs 1 and 2 above, you will rarely be asked to produce any other documents.
There are essentially two main purposes for lugging all this information down to the office. First, as explained previously, much of the information contained in these documents must be included on one of the forms you will need to complete. Some of this information may also be requested by unemployment office personnel.
The second reason for bringing this information is just as important. The claimant who is armed with this information can guard against errors, either accidental or otherwise, by office personnel and former employers. While it certainly is not common practice for employers to intentionally report inaccurate income and employment data to state agencies, the motivation of tremendous tax savings through such fraudulent acts will always make this possibility a real risk.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU GET THERE
The layout of unemployment offices, and the manner of processing claims, varies, not just from state to state, but within states as well. This section details the inner workings of a typical state unemployment office. Generally, such offices are user-friendly. They expect, and are prepared for, a significant amount of traffic from first-time filers who
are not well acquainted with the facilities.
State unemployment offices tend to be broken down into two distinct areas. The front area typically contains a lobby with a large number of chairs and a reception desk. After notifying office personnel that a claimant desires to apply for unemployment compensation benefits, the office personnel usually provide the claimant with a few forms, or direct claimants elsewhere in the lobby area where such forms are kept. Some
unemployment offices assign a number to the claimant at this time for waiting purposes. Some of the busier offices actually have deli-ticket numbering systems. In some states, however, the unemployment office requires the claimant to return to the office on a later date for further processing. In such states, the claimant should bring his or her stack of
documents when returning.
In many states, the claimant is expected to complete the forms while he or she is waiting for an available representative to process his or her claim. The quantity of forms, and the information requested on such forms differs from state to state.
The application forms generally request two types of information. The first type of questions are geared toward benefit eligibility issues. These questions center on information concerning the claimant's past employers. In general, claimants are advised to keep their responses short and to the point. Often these forms do not provide much room for responses anyway
The second type of questions concern employability issues. Many of these questions resemble those standard to employment applications. Questions concerning a claimant's education and experience are typical. By completing these questions the claimant is essentially registering for work as required in many states.
The standard state unemployment office has messages, brochures, and pamphlets posted haphazardly around the lobby. Some of the signs provide information on how to file for benefits. A few unemployment offices are equipped with a videotaped presentation providing instruction on, among other topics, how to apply for benefits and who is eligible for benefits. Other postings describe the resources available in the office.
Most offices are equipped with job research assistance resources. These range from sophisticated computer systems to general billboard postings on work available. Most claimants underestimate the value of the information available in these unemployment offices in their search for new employment.
Eventually, in most states, claimants are directed to the second distinct area of the unemployment office. This section normally contains several offices or cubicles where unemployment office representatives sit at desks. Formerly, each claimant would be handled individually and provided a personal orientation concerning information on filing for benefits, benefit eligibility, and calculating benefits. There is now a growing trend to provide group orientations on these matters.
After this brief orientation, the unemployment office representative normally meets one-on-one with each claimant. The representative makes certain the claimant completed the requisite forms correctly. He or she may ask several follow-up questions as well. Again, be polite and courteous, but keep your responses to these questions short and to the point.
Purposely failing to disclose important information to personnel at the unemployment compensation office is grounds for disqualification in most states as well. On rare occasions, the representative will contact a claimant's former employer via telephone to ask some questions.
Often, at the completion of the discussion, the unemployment office representative will provide the claimant with a general assessment on whether he or she believes the claimant will be deemed eligible for benefits. Such assessments, however, are usually non-binding and are subject to reconsideration.