Rhode Island Unemployment Guide

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Coronavirus Update! -- What Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island, apply for unemployment benefits at the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. Learn about how unemployment claims relating to COVID-19 will be handled in Rhode Island.

A record-shattering 10 million claims for unemployment benefits were filed in the last two full weeks of March 2020, and experts predict claims could rise even higher 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.

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 Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island

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 Rhode Island will receive an additional $600 per week of federally-funded benefits, on top of what Rhode Island already pays. These additional benefits will be available through July 31, 2020. 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 Rhode Island?

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 Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training in person. Check Rhode Island's unemployment insurance agency website for more information. And, read on to find out how you can file for unemployment insurance benefits in Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island 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).

Rhode Island's unemployment insurance agency website gives you the information you need to apply for unemployment insurance in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training’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 Rhode Island?

You qualify for unemployment benefits in Rhode Island 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 Rhode Island?)

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. 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.

At our last check, Rhode Island announced changes to its unemployment rules to address the increasing numbers of claims relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. You may be eligible to apply for unemployment insurance benefits if:

  • you are under quarantine due to COVID-19, you will not be required to submit medical certification and will instead be allowed to temporarily qualify for benefits via self-attestation that you were under quarantine, or
  • your employer closes or directs you to remain at home, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you are applying for unemployment insurance benefits as a result of COVID-19, be sure to indicate that in your claim.

And, employees will not have to wait the usual one-week waiting period before receiving benefits.

You can find the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training's FAQ on coronavirus and unemployment insurance benefits here.

 

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 Much Will I Collect in Unemployment Benefits in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, you can earn up to $586 per week in unemployment benefits under state law. Under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the "CARES Act"), Congress has authorized an additional $600 in benefits per week, on top of your state benefit amount. These additional benefits, called federal pandemic unemployment compensation, expire on July 31, 2020.

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.

In Rhode Island, your weekly benefit amount will be 3.85% of your average quarterly wages in the two highest paid quarters of the base period. 

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How Long Will My Unemployment Benefits Last in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, you can receive unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks under state law. 

Once your Rhode Island benefit entitlement runs out, you will be entitled to an additional 13 weeks of benefits under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program; see below. 

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).

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What Do I Have to Do to Keep Receiving Unemployment Benefits in Rhode Island?

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.

Because this situation is changing daily, check the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training for the latest developments.

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Can I Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in Rhode Island?

If the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training denies you unemployment insurance benefits, you can appeal. After you file your initial claim for unemployment benefits, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training 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 Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training 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 Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training finds you eligible to receive benefits, your ex-employer can appeal that decision.

If you want to appeal the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training decision, check the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training 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 Rhode Island?

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

Check the website of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training before you see a lawyer to get information about applying for unemployment benefits and your rights and obligations under the unemployment laws of Rhode Island. The website and the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training claimant handbook, Guide to Filing an Unemployment Insurance Claim, have answers to your questions about the filing process. To find a lawyer in Rhode Island, check the Rhode Island Bar Association lawyer referral services and the lawyer directory of Nolo.com.

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Five Ways an Unemployment Lawyer Can Help You in Rhode Island

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 Rhode Island 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 misconduct. In Rhode Island, misconduct is defined as deliberate conduct in willful disregard of the interests of your employer, or knowingly violating a reasonable and consistently enforced workplace policy or rule or policy (as long as this violation isn't the result of your incompetence).

 If your employer fights your claim for unemployment on the grounds that you were fired for misconduct, you should consider talking to a lawyer.

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Paying an Unemployment Lawyer in Rhode Island

If you are out of work and you may be – or already have been – denied unemployment benefits in Rhode Island, you may be wondering whether you can afford to hire a lawyer to help with your unemployment case. 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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