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What California Residents Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits

Have you recently lost your job? If so, you may qualify for unemployment benefits: money paid by the state to those who are temporarily out of work.

This site provides clear, accurate information on collecting unemployment benefits in California, including:

Here are three things to keep in mind as you get started:

1. You may be eligible for benefits even if you quit or were fired for cause. 

Some people mistakenly believe that unemployment is available only to employees who are laid off. However, you don't have to lose your job in a layoff to qualify for benefits. The key question is whether you are out of work without fault on your part. So, if you were forced to quit your job in lieu of being fired, or you were fired because you don't have the necessary skills for your job, you could still be eligible for benefits. 

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How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in California?

California's unemployment insurance agency website gives you the information you need to apply for unemployment insurance in California. The California Employment Development Department’s website tells you:

  • What information you’ll need on hand to apply for unemployment insurance benefits
  • How to apply online for unemployment insurance benefits
  • How to apply for unemployment insurance benefits by phone by calling the California Employment Development Department at 800-300-5616
  • How to calculate the amount of unemployment insurance benefits you can receive, and
  • What to do to keep receiving unemployment insurance benefits in California.

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Who Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in California?

You qualify for unemployment benefits in California if you meet two basic requirements:

  • you must have earned at least a minimum amount in the time before you lost your job, and
  • you must be out of work through no fault of your own.

If you meet these two qualifications when you apply, you will likely be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. (To keep receiving benefits after you are found eligible, you will also have to meet your state’s job search requirements; to learn more, see What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in California?)

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How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in California?

In California, you can earn up to $450 per week in unemployment benefits. 

Every state has its own rules for calculating unemployment benefits. Typically, the amount you receive each week is based on your earnings when you were employed. After all, unemployment benefits are intended to replace some of the income you lost along with your job, and tide you over until you find new work.

Calculating Your Benefit Amount

Your weekly unemployment benefit amount depends on your earnings during the base period.

Generally, your weekly benefit in California will be one twenty-sixth of your earnings in the highest paid quarter of the base period. If your earnings are lower, however, this might vary. You can look up how much you will receive in the Unemployment Insurance Benefit Table

Currently, the most you can receive each week is $450 per week; the minimum amount you can receive is $40 per week. These limits are adjusted from time to time for inflation.

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How Long Will My Unemployment Benefits Last in California?

In California, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks.

Each state sets its own rules for how long unemployment benefits last. Until quite recently, virtually all states offered a maximum of 26 weeks of benefits. In the last five or six years, however, some states have changed their rules on duration of benefits (in most cases, to offer benefits for a shorter period of time).

There are two programs that provide additional weeks of benefits in times of high unemployment: extended benefits (EB) and emergency unemployment compensation (EUC).

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What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in California?

After your application for unemployment insurance benefits is approved by the California Employment Development Department, you can’t just sit back and collect benefits—you have to do certain things to stay eligible. After your initial claim for unemployment benefits is approved in California. You have to:

  • be unemployed or underemployed (generally, earning close to what you receive in weekly benefits)
  • be able and available to work
  • be actively looking for work, and
  • file to continue to receive benefits.

Unemployed Or Underemployed

You have to be unemployed or earning significantly less than you used to (also called being “underemployed”) to continue to receive unemployment benefits. You have to report any earnings from work to the California Employment Development Department. In some states, you will still be entitled unemployment benefits if you earn less than your weekly benefit amount; about half the states will allow you to continue receiving benefits even if you earn a bit more than your weekly benefit amount. You will be allowed to set aside some of what you earn (the amount varies from state to state). The rest will be subtracted from your usual weekly benefit amount, and you will receive the difference. For more information about receiving partial unemployment benefits, see How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in California?

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Can I Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in California?

If California Employment Development Department denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the California Employment Development Department will send you a written determination of your eligibility for benefits and, if it finds you eligible, how much you will receive in benefits. But, if the California Employment Development Department finds that you are not eligible for benefits or grants you benefits in a lower amount than you believe you are entitled to, you can appeal that decision. And, if the California Employment Development Department finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.

If you want to appeal the California Employment Development Department decision, check the California Employment Development Department website and handbook for:

  • Any forms and instructions for filing your appeal
  • The deadline for filing your appeal
  • What to do if you are filing late
  • Where and how to file your appeal
  • How long the appeal process takes
  • What happens to your benefits while you wait for a decision on your appeal, and
  • A link to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board that will review your appeal.

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Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Unemployment Benefits in California?

Having your own lawyer to represent you in the unemployment insurance benefits process in California will level the playing field for you—because your ex-employer will be represented. Your ex-employer is almost certainly going to have a lawyer or two offering guidance through the California unemployment process. This legal advice can give your ex-employer an edge over you in the process, especially if they intend to challenge your claim for benefits. Your own lawyer can:

  • Help you figure out if you are eligible for unemployment insurance benefits in California
  • Tell you if your employer’s stated reason for terminating you is valid and will bar benefits
  • Guide you through California’s unemployment insurance benefits claim process
  • Advise you on how to keep receiving unemployment insurance benefits, and
  • Assist you if you need to appeal a denial of unemployment insurance benefits by the California Employment Development Department

Check the website of the California Employment Development Department before you see a lawyer to get information about applying for unemployment benefits and your rights and obligations under the unemployment laws of California. The website and the California Employment Development Department claimant handbook, Unemployment Insurance: A Guide to Benefits and Employment Services, have answers to your questions about the filing process. To find a lawyer in California, check the California Bar Association lawyer referral services and the lawyer directory of Nolo.com.

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