District of Columbia Unemployment Guide

Coronavirus Update! -- What District of Columbia Residents Need to Know About Unemployment Benefits

As the coronavirus sweeps across the country, the unemployment rate is skyrocketing in every state. If you have lost your job in the District of Columbia, apply for unemployment benefits at the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services. Learn about how unemployment claims relating to COVID-19 will be handled in the District of Columbia.

As of the end of July 2020, approximately 30 million people -- one in five workers -- were collecting unemployment. This figure includes the millions of employees who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 and the steps state and local governments have taken to contain it, from orders shutting down nonessential businesses to shelter-in-place restrictions, school closures, and more. It also includes millions of gig workers, contractors, and self-employed people who are collecting unemployment benefits through the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. 

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in the District of Columbia to learn more about these programs. 

How Unemployment Programs Are Adapting to COVID-19

Federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly.

Federal CARES Act Expands Benefits to Workers in the District of Columbia

Congress has passed a $2 trillion stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program. Employees eligible for unemployment in the District of Columbia were receiving an additional $600 per week of federally-funded benefits, on top of what the District of Columbia already pays. However, these additional benefits expired at the end of July 2020, and Congress is still arguing about whether and how to extend the program. (In August, President Trump signed an executive memorandum to redirect disaster relief money from FEMA to pay for an additional $300 or $400 per week in benefits; learn more about this lost wages assistance program.) And, unemployed individuals who run out of state-funded benefits will receive an additional 13 weeks of benefits, available through December 31, 2020.

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How Do I Apply for Unemployment Benefits in District of Columbia?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, some states are imposing restrictions on people gathering in public locations. This may affect your ability to access physical offices of the the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services in person. Check the District of Columbia's unemployment insurance agency website for more information. And, read on to find out how you can file for unemployment insurance benefits in the District of Columbia online or by phone.

If You Are Still Employed: You may be eligible for emergency paid sick leave or paid family leave under a new federal law, the Families First Coronavirus Act. Some states also provide paid time off that may be available to you. See Am I Entitled to Paid Sick Leave, Family Leave, or Vacation Time in the District of Columbia to learn more about these programs. And, if you are out of work or your hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, you may be entitled to enhanced unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).

District of Columbia's unemployment insurance agency website gives you the information you need to apply for unemployment insurance in the District of Columbia. The District of Columbia Department of Employment Services’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
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Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

You qualify for unemployment benefits in the District of Columbia 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 the District of Columbia?)

Coronavirus Update: In response to the COVID-19 public health emergency, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES" Act, which we cover here), which greatly expands eligibility for unemployment. (Learn about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which provides benefits to gig workers, freelancers, and others who aren't eligible for traditional unemployment benefits.) A number of states are also easing their eligibility rules to ensure that more people who are out of work due to COVID-19 qualify for unemployment benefits.

The District of Columbia has passed an act that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to those who are unemployed or partially unemployed because their employer has ceased or reduced operations, because they are quarantined or isolated by a government official, or because they are self-quarantined or self-isolated in a manner consistent with the guidance or recommendations of a government agency or medical professional. The District of Columbia's Department of Employment Services has issued guidance on the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment insurance. The Department has also released a chart detailing the various protections that may apply to workers affected by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits, as well as an FAQ for workers on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 and an FAQ on the CARES Act. You can find a list of resources on unemployment and coronavirus at the District's UI Benefits for Claimants page

 

Eligibility Requirement 1: Minimum Earnings

In every state, unemployment benefits are available only to those who are temporarily out of work. If you apply after being out of the workforce for years, for example, you won’t qualify for benefits. You must have been employed relatively recently, and earned at least a minimum amount, to be eligible.

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How the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Affects District of Columbia Unemployment Benefits

On March 27, 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package that pumps money into many areas of our economy that have been impacted by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits. Read on to learn how the CARES Act affects those who are out of work in the District of Columbia.

More District of Columbia Workers Are Eligible for Benefits

In every state, employees qualify for benefits if they are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. However, prior to the CARES Act, some categories of workers could not get benefits, including independent contractors (freelancers, gig workers, and the self-employed). The CARES Act authorizes the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which makes these workers eligible for unemployment for the first time during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Part-time workers would also be eligible for benefits under this new program, even if state law does not ordinarily allow them to collect benefits. And, workers who do not have a sufficient work history to qualify for benefits under the District of Columbia's usual eligibility rules might still qualify.

District of Columbia Workers Who Are Out of Work Due to COVID-19 Likely Qualify for Benefits

The CARES Act also relaxes eligibility rules about the reasons workers are unemployed to allow more workers to collect benefits. For example, you will be eligible for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program if you are out of work for any of these reasons:

  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis.
  • A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You are caring for a family or household member who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • You cannot work because your child or other household member for whom you are the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that has closed due to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You are unable to go to work because of a quarantine or because you have been advised to self-quarantine by a health-care provider.
  • You were scheduled to begin a job that no longer exists or that you can’t get to for reasons relating to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
  • You have become the breadwinner or major support for your household because the head of household died as a result of COVID-19.
  • You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • Your workplace is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Some states have expanded their traditional unemployment programs to cover coronavirus-related job losses.

The District of Columbia has passed an act that expands eligibility for unemployment benefits to those who are unemployed or partially unemployed because their employer has ceased or reduced operations, because they are quarantined or isolated by a government official, or because they are self-quarantined or self-isolated in a manner consistent with the guidance or recommendations of a government agency or medical professional. The District of Columbia's Department of Employment Services has issued guidance on the coronavirus pandemic and unemployment insurance. The Department has also released a chart detailing the various protections that may apply to workers affected by COVID-19, including unemployment benefits, as well as an FAQ for workers on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 and an FAQ on the CARES Act. You can find a list of resources on unemployment and coronavirus at the District's UI Benefits for Claimants page

If you have lost work due to COVID-19 but don't qualify under your state's rules, you will likely qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

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How Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

In the District of Columbia, you can earn up to $444 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Until the end of July 2020, unemployment claimants were eligible for an additional $600 in benefits per week, on top of their state benefit amount, under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"). Congress has authorized . However, these additional benefits, called federal pandemic unemployment compensation, expired at the end of July, 2020. Although unemployment remains at record-breaking highs, Congress has not yet acted to extend this program. President Trump signed an executive memorandum in August 2020 to increase benefit checks by $300 or $400 for at least some unemployment recipients; learn more about the lost wages assistance program.)

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.

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What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

In response to the coronavirus outbreak, federal and state governments are rapidly making changes to their unemployment programs, to ensure that more people who are out of work receive benefits more quickly. These changes may affect waiting periods, job search requirements, and availability of benefits to those who are still working part time. These changes include the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security ("CARES") Act, which greatly expands the nation's unemployment compensation program, including continuation of benefits. Keep in mind that you are entitled to an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits under the federal CARES Act after your state benefits are exhausted if you are unemployed due to COVID-19.

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Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits If I Was Wrongfully Terminated?

In order to collect unemployment, you must meet two basic requirements. First, you must have earned at least a minimum amount, set by state law, in the time before you lost your job. Second, you must be out of work through no fault of your own. For more information about these requirements, see Who is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

If you lose your job in a layoff, reduction-in-force (RIF), or downsizing, you will be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. But, these are not the only ways that employees lose their jobs. Your eligibility for benefits depends upon the reason you become unemployed. 

If You Were Fired for Misconduct

Generally-speaking, if you are terminated, you can collect unemployment insurance benefits in the District of Columbia. But, there is an exception to that general rule in the District of Columbia:

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Can I Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

If the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services 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 District of Columbia Department of Employment Services 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 District of Columbia Department of Employment Services finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.

If you want to appeal the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services decision, check the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services website and handbook for:

  • Any forms and instructions for filing your appeal
  • The deadline for filing your appeal
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Do I Need a Lawyer to Get Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia?

Having your own lawyer to represent you in the unemployment insurance benefits process in the District of Columbia 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 the District of Columbia 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 the District of Columbia
  • Tell you if your employer’s stated reason for terminating you is valid and will bar benefits
  • Guide you through the District of Columbia’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 District of Columbia Department of Employment Services

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Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You in the District of Columbia

If you have a straightforward unemployment claim, you will likely be able to file for unemployment benefits on your own, without any help from a lawyer. Your claim is relatively simple if you can easily meet the District of Columbia earnings requirements to qualify for benefits, and you and your employer agree that you lost your job through no fault of your own (for example, because you were laid off or had to quit when your military spouse was transferred to another state).

But if your case is more complicated, it might make sense to consult with or hire an unemployment lawyer to represent you. An unemployment lawyer can help you if you are facing any of the situations described below.

1. Your Employer Claims You Were Fired for Misconduct

You will be disqualified from receiving benefits if you were fired for gross misconduct, such as theft, arson, intoxication, dishonesty, or repeated absences after being warned. You will be disqualified for a shorter period if you are fired for misconduct that breaches your employment contract or your duties or obligations to the employer, or that adversely affects your employer's interests. This includes violations of work rules, but only if you knew of the rule, it was reasonable, and the employer consistently enforced the rule. 

 

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Paying an Unemployment Lawyer in the District of Columbia

If you may be (or already have been) denied unemployment benefits in the District of Columbia, you may be wondering whether you need a lawyer -- and whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. (If you're wondering what a lawyer can do for you, check out Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You.) It all depends on your financial situation and how (and how much) the attorney charges. In some situations, an unemployment attorney may be willing to offer you a contingency fee arrangement. This means the lawyer gets paid only if you win, out of the money you receive as a settlement or award. 

Below, we explain some typical attorney fee arrangements in unemployment cases. 

Initial Consultation

Your first step in choosing an attorney – and deciding whether it makes sense to fight your employer in an unemployment claim, appeal, or lawsuit – is an initial consultation. The initial consultation provides you and the attorney an opportunity to decide whether and how you will work together. 

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