Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Illinois

    By Lisa Guerin, J.D. | Small Business

    In Illinois -- as in every other state -- employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own may qualify to collect unemployment benefits. The eligibility rules, prior earnings requirements, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state, however. Here are the basic rules for collecting unemployment benefits in Illinois.

    Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in Illinois

    There are three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment in Illinois.

    • Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
    • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Illinois law.
    • You must be able, available, and looking for work.

    Past Earnings

    Virtually all states look at your recent work history and earnings during a one-year "base period" to determine your eligibility for unemployment. In Illinois, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your claim for benefits. For example, if you filed your claim in October of 2010, the base period would be from June 1, 2009 through May 31, 2010.

    If you have been out and receiving temporary total disability payments under the Illinois Workers' Compensation and Occupational Diseases Act, you may have low or even insufficient earnings during the regular base period to qualify for benefits. In this situation, the agency may allow you to extend the base period to capture up to one year of earnings before the regular base period began.

    Illinois also recognizes an alternate base period for those who can't meet the earnings requirements (below) in the regular base period. The alternate base period is the last four completed quarters before the person files for unemployment. This alternate period takes more recent employment into account. Even filers who qualify using the regular base period can ask the agency to instead use the alternate base period to calculate their benefits, if that would result in a higher weekly amount.

    During the base period, you must have earned at least $1,600 total, and you must have earned at least $440 of that total outside of your highest paid quarter.

    Reasons for Unemployment

    You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment compensation. If you are laid off, lose your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or get downsized for economic reasons, you will meet this requirement. In Illinois, employees who are fired for theft or committing a felony will not qualify for unemployment benefits. If you are fired for other types of work-related misconduct, you also may not be eligible to collect benefits.

    If you quit, you will remain eligible for unemployment if you had a good reason relating to your job, such as sexual harassment. If you left the job because of domestic violence, for health reasons, or to accompany a spouse in the military, you may still be eligible for benefits. And, if you quit your job to take another position (but that position fell through), you may still be eligible to collect unemployment.

    Availability to Work

    To maintain your eligibility for unemployment, you must be able to work, available to accept a job, and looking for work. If you are offered a suitable position, you must accept it.

    You must register for work with the Illinois Employment Service, either online or in person. You must keep a record of your job search efforts, including the dates and places you apply for work. When you apply for benefits, you will receive a form on which to record this information, which you may have to provide to the agency.

    Your weekly benefit amount is determined by adding together your earnings in the two quarters of the base period when you earned the most, taking 47% of that total, then dividing the result by 26. The current maximum weekly unemployment benefit in Illinois is $385 per week. For example, let's say Todd had a steady job during the entire base period, earning $20,000 per year. In the highest paid two quarters, he earned $10,000 total. The state agency will take 47% of that amount ($4,700) and divide it by 26 to come up with his weekly benefit: $180 and change.

    Illinois also offers an allowance to filers who are married and whose spouses don't work. This additional amount can be up to $74 per week, currently. If you have a dependent child, you may receive an extra benefit amount of up to $147 per week, currently. You may claim the nonworking spouse allowance or the dependent child allowance, but not both.

    Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. If you are still unemployed when your regular state benefits run out, you may be eligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and/or state extended benefits. These additional programs, enacted to help those who became unemployed during the recession that began in 2008, currently provide up to 73 weeks of additional benefits, depending on when you first became unemployed. These additional benefits are temporary, and have been subject to much Congressional debate. Also, the availability of certain benefits depends on the current unemployment rate in the state. Contact the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) to find out which programs are in place when you apply for benefits. (You can find contact information below.)

    How to File a Claim for Unemployment Benefits in Illinois

    You may file your claim online, at, or at a local IDES office. (You can find your local office by entering your zip code at the online office locator at Once it reviews your application, the IDES will send you a finding indicating whether your claim has been granted or denied and how much you will receive in benefits. If your claim is granted, you will be assigned a "call day" when you must contact the agency to certify that you have met the eligibility requirements for the previous week, and then request benefits.

    How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in Illinois

    If your claim is denied or if at any time you are denied benefits (for example, because the agency finds that you were not actively searching for work), you may appeal the decision within 30 days after the letter of denial is mailed to you. After receiving your appeal request, the IDES will schedule a hearing before a referee. Following the hearing, the referee will make a decision and mail it to you.

    If you disagree with the decision after the hearing, you may appeal it to the Board of Review, a five-member panel. You must do so within 30 days after the date of the referee's decision. If you disagree with the Board's decision, you may file an appeal in the Circuit Court for your county.

    The IDES provides information on the unemployment process at its website,

    If you want some advice from a lawyer, Nolo's Lawyer Directory can help you find a local employment lawyer.

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