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Unemployment is usually reserved for people who lose their job through no fault of their own. However, there are exceptions for employees who had good cause to leave their jobs voluntarily. Since states handle unemployment benefits, eligibility will vary across the country.
This article will cover the situations when you may be able to receive unemployment after quitting your job, provide advice for maximizing your chances of eligibility, and touch on the appeal process if things don’t go right the first time.
How to Get Unemployment if You Quit Your Job
Unemployment benefits are set up to help people maintain an income while they’re between jobs. States typically only extend these benefits to those who were terminated through no fault of their own. For example, when a company lays off employees as part of a downsizing program or fires you for any reason that didn’t involve misconduct.
States have a set time frame to receive unemployment benefits, typically 26 weeks (half a year). If you are still unable to find work after this period, the benefits end. During this time, you are expected to be ready, willing, and able to work and be actively looking for a job.
In most instances, people who voluntarily quit their jobs are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits. However, there is an exception for workers who leave their jobs with good cause.
What Is Good Cause for Quitting Your Job?
Good cause for quitting your job is determined on a state-by-state basis. However, there are a few common situations where an employee can establish a valid reason. In general, a legal perspective of good cause requires that an employee show unfixable issues at their workplace, which could not be rectified without quitting.
Here are some examples of what could be considered good cause for quitting your job:
Constructive discharge. If your work situation would force a reasonable individual to quit, this might be considered a constructive discharge.
A few examples of constructive discharge include:
Harassment. Being harassed, sexually or otherwise, is considered good cause to quit your job.
Discrimination. If your workplace feels hostile due to employer or coworker discrimination.
Unsafe work conditions. If you (reasonably) fear for your health and safety at work, that’s certainly good cause to quit.
Illegal activities. An employer cannot ask you to perform criminal acts, such as falsifying documents or willfully breaking federal regulations.
Lack of pay. If your employer fails to pay you or is irregular in their payments, any reasonable person would see this as justifiable cause to leave your job.
Change in job duties. If you were hired to be a software developer and your employer has you stocking the warehouse, that’s 100% not okay.
Change in hours. If your full-time job becomes a part-time one, providing insufficient income, it’s reasonable to quit.
Medical reasons. If you have to quit your job because of a disability, illness, or injury, many states will extend unemployment benefits. Others may be more stringent, requiring the medical reason to relate to the job somehow (like throwing out your back working in a warehouse).
You may be eligible for unemployment benefits in some states if you quit to assist a family member with their medical issues.
Family reasons. If your spouse is transferred to a new location for their job, many states will consider this a good reason for you to quit. This is especially straightforward for those who are married to a member of the military since they have no say in where they are stationed. However, if your spouse voluntarily quit to move locations or volunteered to be transferred, you will not be eligible.
Additionally, if you cannot find adequate childcare and need to look after your children, some states will consider this good cause to quit.
Transportation reasons. Typically, this reason only applies if your employer moves locations, and the move creates an unreasonable commute for you. If it’s too expensive or too time-demanding to get to work, some states may agree that you had good cause to quit.
Domestic violence. If you need to relocate (and therefore quit your job) due to domestic violence, most states will extend unemployment benefits to you.
To reiterate, every state is different. Generally speaking, the reasons for quitting that fall within the “constructive discharge” category are acceptable as good cause in every state. That’s because they each relate directly to your workplace experience.
Other states may be more generous in extending unemployment benefits to people who quit for personal reasons that don’t directly relate to the job. Before you make an irreversible decision to quit, consult your state’s unemployment agency to see if your reason for quitting constitutes “good cause.”
Filing Your Claim: How to Maximize Your Chances of Success
Knowing what your state counts as good cause for quitting is your first step in applying for unemployment, but it’s not the last. You need to do a few things before and after you quit to maximize your claim’s chances of success.
Try to resolve the issue. Depending on your reason for quitting, attempting to resolve the issue beforehand can help get your claim approved. For instance, if you’re resigning due to unsafe working conditions, you should address those conditions with your boss and give them a chance to make things right.
However, if you’re quitting because of harassment or discrimination, you don’t need to attempt to resolve the issue. You should, however, still make a formal report to a relevant department or agency before quitting, so that your complaint is on file somewhere. Basically, you need to prove that quitting was your last option.
Ask for a leave of absence. If you’re quitting due to personal reasons, such as a medical problem or issues with childcare, you should ask for a leave of absence before quitting. Even if you know your employer will reject your request, you should still ask because it proves that you tried everything before quitting.
Document everything. Ensure that all attempts to resolve the issue and your request for a leave of absence are documented. Save all emails and texts related to your requests. If working conditions are unsafe, take pictures of the specific hazards.
Save your copy of any complaint you file with OSHA. Hold onto any emails that highlight discriminatory or illegal activity. Document how your duties have shifted far from the original job description you signed up for.
If you’re quitting for medical reasons, get and save letters from your doctor. Ensure that they include your health problem, why you can’t work because of it, how the job adversely affects your health, and what type of work you can perform with your health condition.
If you’re quitting because of domestic violence, try to get a restraining or protective order as evidence.
Your goals with documentation are twofold: to prove that your reason for quitting is justifiable and to prove that you made every attempt to resolve those issues with your employer.
Seek legal counsel. We’re giving general guidelines here, but we’re not attornies. Only a lawyer well-versed in your state’s employment laws will have all the answers for your particular situation. Even if it’s just an hour-long consultation (still steep with regards to legal fees, we know), you’ll walk out of the meeting with a better idea of how to proceed.
Apply for unemployment. You should apply for unemployment immediately after quitting, even if you’re unsure if your claim will be accepted. Your initial claim acts as the starting point for when you start receiving unemployment benefits.
In other words, if you are initially denied unemployment benefits but later granted them, you’ll be paid from the time of your first claim (i.e., a lot more money).
Attend a hearing. Some states will automatically schedule a hearing for your unemployment claim but, in others, you may have to request one yourself. Some states offer hearings via phone call.
Bring evidence. Remember all that evidence we discussed? Now is the time to use it. Any relevant documentation you have will boost your chances of a successful appeal. If your hearing is over the phone, you will probably have to fax or mail your documentation – just make sure always to keep copies in your possession.
Write out your reasons for quitting. You may become flustered at your hearing, but having a prepared statement that illustrates why you quit your job will help you stay on track.
File your appeal. If your first attempt at receiving unemployment benefits is unsuccessful, you’ll need to file an appeal. The appeals process varies by state but be warned that the strictest states allow as little as ten days to file your appeal. Call your state’s unemployment agency to find out critical deadlines.
Attend your appeal hearing. Yep, another hearing. If you can’t gather any further evidence or lawyer up, your chances at an appeal hearing aren’t great. You might be able to bring additional appeals after the first is denied, depending on your state.
How to Quit Your Job Professionally
We skimmed over the part where you actually quit in the process laid out above, but it’s essential that you resign on the best possible terms with your soon-to-be-former employer. Follow these steps to quit your job professionally:
Talk to your boss. We recommend speaking directly to your boss before sending any official resignation documents and certainly before telling anyone else at work. Whether you want to bring your letter of resignation to this meeting or send it after is up to you, but it’s good to have a frank discussion off the bat.
You don’t have to discuss your reasons in too much detail, and you definitely don’t have to mention you’ll be applying for unemployment. But if you’re attempting to quit with “good cause” and you’ve been building your case as we recommended, your boss might have some idea of what’s going on.
Don’t worry about that — worry about getting the official reasons down in writing and other forms of documentation.
Give two weeks’ notice. Unless you need to quit immediately because of unsafe or illegal work conditions, it’s best to try to leave gracefully by allowing your boss time to replace you. If you can extend a genuine offer to help with the transition, do.
It will go a long way in making you look good and help your chances of getting a recommendation letter or good reference some time down the road.
Send a resignation letter. Your resignation letter should state your position, intent to resign, and final workday in the very first line. From there, you should express gratitude for the job opportunity and any offers to help with the transition.
Normally, we’d advise you not to mention your reasons for quitting in a resignation letter, but in the case of applying for unemployment, it’s actually worth your while to at least allude to the most significant reason for your departure.
It’s a fine line — you don’t want this official employment document to make you look like a dangerous hire who might turn on their own company, but you do want to maximize your chances of receiving unemployment. Of course, if your reason has nothing to do with the conduct of the company, then briefly mentioning your reason for quitting is perfectly harmless.
Prepare to leave. If things have been tense surrounding your reasons for quitting, don’t be surprised if you are asked to leave immediately after breaking the news to your boss. That means having your desk, computer, and any other employer-owned hardware relatively clean and ready to turn in.
If you’re not asked to leave right away, then be prepared to show up as an excellent employee for your final two weeks. You don’t need to go too crazy helping to find and train your replacement, but any little extra thing you do during these moments will be crucial for leaving a lasting impression.
Avoid mistakes. Big mistakes to avoid include talking negatively about people and telling your coworkers about your plans to quit before your boss. While the situation may be negative, it’s best to avoid insulting individual people; rather, keep your focus on the behavior or circumstance as your reason for quitting.
In normal circumstances, telling anyone at work about your plans to quit before your boss will result in a very awkward situation and you’ll end up looking pretty unprofessional.
However, when trying to receive unemployment after quitting, it may be to your advantage to at least discuss the possibility of quitting if certain issues aren’t resolved, as a means of creating documentation. Still, the person you discuss this with should be an HR professional, not just your work buddy.
Deciding to quit your job is never easy. However, having unemployment benefits ready while looking for a new job can make the decision a bit less scary. Regardless of whether you receive unemployment benefits, you should still follow the proper protocol when quitting.
You should also provide two weeks’ notice to avoid burning bridges and ruining your chances of a good reference letter down the line. Writing a formal resignation letter will help dispel any confusion and maintain your professionalism.
Additionally, your reasons for quitting can be inserted in the resignation letter, thus helping your chances of a successful unemployment claim.
Whatever you do, try your best to end your relationship with your employer on a positive note. Even if your unemployment claim involves making your employer look bad, maintain professionalism throughout the experience. It will never hurt and can only help.