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Collecting Unemployment Benefits in New York

By Lisa Guerin, J.D. | Small Business

In New York -- 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 compensation in New York.

Eligibility for Unemployment in New York

There are three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment benefits in New York:

  • Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
  • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by New York law.
  • You must be available to 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 compensation. In New York, 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 you claim in October of 2010, the base period would be from June 1, 2009, through May 31, 2010.

New York 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, your work history and earnings must meet all three of the following requirements:

  • You must have earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters that make up the base period.
  • You must have earned at least $1,600 in the highest paid quarter of the base period.
  • Your total earnings in the base period must be at least one-and-a-half times your earnings in the highest paid quarter. If you earned more than $8,910 in the highest paid quarter, the agency will use $8,910 as your earnings during that quarter. In other words, your total earnings during the base period need not be higher than $13,455, no matter how much you made in your highest paid quarter.

Reasons for Unemployment

You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment compensation in New York. 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. You will also likely be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are fired because you don't meet the qualifications for the job or you fail to meet the employer's performance or productivity standards.

In New York, employees who are fired for work-related misconduct may not qualify for unemployment benefits. Examples of work-related misconduct include violating company policy or rules, such as those prohibiting absenteeism or insubordination. If you are fired for conviction of a felony (or admitting you committed one), you also won't be eligible for benefits.

If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment unless you had good cause for quitting.

Availability to Work

To maintain your eligibility for unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to work, and looking for work. If you are offered a suitable position, you must accept it. A suitable position is one for which you are a fit based on your training and experience. Even if the position pays less than what you used to make, you may not turn it down for this reason as long as it pays the prevailing wage for similar work.

You must keep written records of your job search efforts. If you are asked to come in to the state agency for a personal interview, you may be asked to bring these records.

The New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) determines your weekly unemployment benefit amount by dividing your earnings for the highest paid quarter of the base period by 26, up to a maximum of $405 per week. (If you earned less than $3,575 in your highest paid quarter, your earnings are divided by 25 to arrive at your weekly benefit amount.)

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 (for a total of 99 weeks), 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 NYSDOL to find out which programs are in place when you apply for benefits (you can find contact information below).

How to File an Unemployment Claim in New York

You may file your unemployment claim online, at https://ui.labor.state.ny.us/UBC/home.do, or by phone. (You can find the correct telephone number at http://www.labor.state.ny.us/ui/claimantinfo/ContactInfo.shtm.)

Once it reviews your application, the NYSDOL will send you a Monetary Determination, indicating whether you meet the work and earnings requirements outlined above. If your claim is granted, you will have to request payment every week, either online or by phone, and meet ongoing eligibility requirements (for example, searching for work).

How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in New York

If your claim for unemployment compensation is denied because you have not met the work and earnings requirements, the Monetary Determination will let you know. You may file a Request for Reconsideration of that determination if benefits are denied or if benefits are granted but you believe the agency has omitted earnings or work history. The agency will review your request and any information you provide and may issue a revised determination.

If you are denied benefits for another reason (for example, because you quit your last job without good cause), you will receive a separate Notice of Determination. You may appeal a denial of benefits by requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge, in writing, within 30 days after the date on the notice. After receiving your appeal request, a hearing will be scheduled. The administrative law judge will decide on your claim and issue a written decision.

If you disagree with the decision after the hearing, you may appeal it to the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board. (You may appeal only if you attended the hearing before the administrative law judge.) The Appeal Board will review the evidence and issue a written decision. If you disagree with this decision, you may file a civil case in the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court, Third Department.

The NYSDOL provides information on every aspect of the unemployment process at its website, www.labor.ny.gov; select "Unemployment Assistance" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more.

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

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