Filing an Unemployment Claim

Claims for unemployment insurance benefits are accepted and paid by the states through thousands of offices throughout the country. Tales of difficult dealings with the unemployment office are legion—long waits, overworked employees, piles of paperwork—all coming your way at what is likely to be an emotionally shaky time for you. Keep in mind that you are merely pursuing your legal right. And prepare to be patient. 

The upside to the recent downturn in the economy is that many beleaguered unemployment offices stepped up to streamline the application process. In many locales, you can apply for benefits over the telephone, online, or by mailing or faxing a form; you need not apply in person. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but the recession generally caused unemployment offices to become kinder, gentler places. Most now offer beefed-up job search services, such as employment fairs and websites, in addition to seminars on topics ranging from improving resumes and interviewing skills to career planning and skill training.

In most states, there is a waiting period of one week between the time you file for unemployment benefits and the time you can collect them. But it is a good idea to contact the nearest unemployment office as soon after you lose your job as possible. You can then supply all required information, complete the necessary paperwork, and convince agency representatives to begin investigating your claim—all the initial steps needed to get the bureaucratic ball rolling.

Required Documentation

Your claim will get processed more quickly if you bring the proper documentation when you visit the local office or have it handy if you are apply by phone or online. You will need:

  • recent pay stubs and other wage records, such as the W-2 form on which your employer reports your income to the Internal Revenue Service
  • your Social Security card, or another document that shows your Social Security number, and
  • any documentation you have that proves you are unemployed, such as a layoff or dismissal notice from your employer, and your employer’s unemployment insurance account number, if you know it. 

Typically, the unemployment insurance claims office will require some type of orientation, ranging from reading simple explanatory pamphlets to attending sophisticated video productions or live group seminars. Compliance is mandatory.

What to Say, and What Not to Say

When completing your unemployment forms, one of the first questions you see will be something like: Explain in your own words why you left your last job. The form won't leave much room for long-winded explanations. Take the clue and keep your responses simple and noncommittal.

Unless you were clearly dismissed from your job because of something you did wrong, avoid using the word “fired” in filling out any forms or answering any interview questions at the unemployment insurance office. There are many unspecified words thrown around concerning the end of employment, but fired is the one most often taken to mean that you did something wrong and were dismissed because of it.

If you lost your job because business was slow, note that you were laid off. “Laid off” is an equally vague term, but it is less likely to raise questions about the validity of your claim.

If you were discharged by your employer, take pains to note: “Discharged without any misconduct” or “Quit for good cause personal reason.” Leave out any qualifying details, such as: “My supervisor never liked me from the first day I walked in, so naturally I was the first to be laid off.”

The Investigation

Once you have handed in your completed forms, the rituals that follow vary somewhat from state to state. You may be interviewed the same day, told to come back for an interview, or simply sent a check in the mail. If a second visit is required, be sure to take your documents with you.

Whatever the procedure is in your locale, the goal is to determine whether you are entitled to benefits and, if so, how much. The interviewer will likely concentrate on why you left your last job. Keep your explanations helpful but as brief and objective as possible.

In some states, you may be approved to receive benefits immediately. If your employer later challenges the award, you should continue to get those benefits during the time the appeal is processed.

But, in many states, the clerks at the unemployment insurance office will use your first interview to launch an investigation of your claim by sending inquiries to your former employer. The employer then must respond, either verifying or disputing your version of the circumstances surrounding your unemployment, the wages you received, and other relevant information. The process usually takes at least a few weeks, and sometimes more.

While waiting for your claim to go through this verification process, you will probably be required to visit the unemployment insurance office once each week or two or sign a statement that will be mailed to you affirming that you still meet all the legal requirements of the program—and that you are looking for a new job. It is important to comply with this reporting requirement even before receiving unemployment insurance checks. If you have not yet received a cent in unemployment benefits, once your claim is verified, you will usually be paid after the fact for all the weeks for which you did qualify.

If your claim is approved, you will typically receive your unemployment benefit check in the mail every two weeks after your claim is verified and your benefit level is determined.


Unlike workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits are taxed as income. Because the benefit amounts paid are often below the taxable annual earning level, however, many states will not take the automatic step of deducting any taxes from your unemployment benefit check.

However, the state will report the unemployment benefit amount you were paid to the Internal Revenue Service and to your state taxing authority.

If you receive unemployment benefits during a year in which you get a new job, you may want to increase the amount your employer withholds in taxes from your paycheck. Otherwise, you may be unpleasantly surprised at tax time when you either owe more tax or receive less of a refund than anticipated.

Continuing Your Benefits

Once you have qualified for unemployment insurance benefits, you are not free to simply sit back and welcome the checks each week. You must continue to comply with the state program’s rules and rituals to keep them coming.

You must visit the unemployment insurance office or complete specific paperwork as frequently as your state requires it. Periodically, you must verify that you remain unemployed but available for work, that you remain physically able to work, and that you are actively looking for work. The documents you sign will typically ask you to certify that you continue to meet these requirements, and it is usually a criminal offense to lie about any of your answers.

In some states, you are also required to list a minimum number of potential employers to whom you have applied for work since the last time you signed for benefits. This requirement may vary according to economic conditions.

The unemployment insurance program cannot require you to take a job that varies much from your normal field of work and your normal wage level. But these ranges are subject to interpretation, so exercise care in deciding where to apply for a new job. Some unemployment insurance offices maintain and post listings of jobs that are available locally. Apply only for jobs that are similar to your normal type of work and wage levels so that you will not run the risk of having your unemployment insurance claim discontinued because you refused to accept substitute employment.

Where to File for Benefits

You should file your claim for unemployment benefits in the state where you live and worked. (Find contact information for your state in the chart below). 

If you become unemployed in one state and then move to another, you can file your claim in your new state. However, your benefits will be determined by the rules of your former state. Although your new state administers your claim, the cost of your benefits is charged back to the state in which you became unemployed. A move will also add time to processing your claim, usually increasing the delay by several weeks.

Keep in mind that, even when you relocate, you still must meet all the requirements of the unemployment insurance program to qualify for benefits. Your new location must be one to which you were required to move by family circumstances or in which it is logical for you to expect to find a new job. For example, you cannot decide to move to a small seacoast town with virtually no business activity because you like the countryside there, quit your old job for no other reason, then expect to be eligible for unemployment insurance when you get to your new home and cannot find work.

State Unemployment Insurance Agencies


Department of Industrial Relations

649 Monroe Street

Montgomery, AL 36131



Employment Security Division

P.O. Box 115509

Juneau, AK 99811


FAX: 907-465-5573


Department of Workforce Services

#2 Capitol Mall

Little Rock, AR 72201


Employment Development Department

P.O. Box 826880


Sacramento, CA 94280


TTY: 800-815-9387


Department of Labor & Employment

633 17th Street, Suite 201

Denver, CO 80202



Department of Labor

200 Folly Brook Boulevard

Wethersfield, CT 06109



Division of Unemployment Insurance

4425 N. Market Street

Wilmington, DE 19802



District of Columbia

Department of Employment Services

64 New York Avenue, NE, Suite 3000

Washington, DC 20002



Agency for Workforce Innovation’s Unemployment Compensation

107 E. Madison Street

Caldwell Building

Tallahassee, FL 32399




Department of Labor

Atlanta, GA



Department of Labor & Industrial Relations

830 Punchbowl Street

Honolulu, HI 96813




Department of Labor

317 W. Main Street

Boise, ID 83735


FAX: 208-334-6430


Department of Employment Security

33 South State Street

Chicago, IL 60603




Department of Workforce Development

Indiana Government Center South

10 N. Senate Avenue

Indianapolis, IN 46204



Workforce Development

1000 E. Grand Avenue

Des Moines, IA 50319




Department of Labor

401 SW

Topeka Boulevard

Topeka, KS 66603




Office of Employment and Training

275 E. Main Street, 2nd Floor

Frankfort, KY 40601




Workforce Commission

1001 N. 23rd Street

Baton Rouge, LA 70802



Department of Labor

54 State House Station

Augusta, ME 04333


TTY: 888-457-8884


Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation

500 N. Calvert Street, #401

Baltimore, MD 21202



Division of Unemployment Assistance

Charles F. Hurley Building

19 Staniford Street

Boston, MA 02114




Unemployment Insurance Agency

P.O. Box 169

Grand Rapids, MI 49501


FAX: 517-636-0427


Unemployment Insurance Program

P.O. Box 75576

St. Paul, MN 55175


TTY: 866-814-1252

FAX: 651-205-4007


Department of Employment Security

Office of the Governor

1235 Echelon Parkway

P.O. Box 1699

Jackson, MS 39215



Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

421 East Dunklin Street

P.O. Box 504

Jefferson City, MO 65102


FAX: 573-751-4135


Unemployment Insurance Division

Department of Labor and Industry

P.O. Box 8020

Helena, MT 59604



TDD: 406-444-0532

FAX: 406-444-2699


Department of Labor

550 S. 16th Street

Lincoln, NE 68508



Nevada Department of Employment, Training & Rehabilitation

2800 E. St. Louis Avenue

Las Vegas, NV 89104

Northern Nevada: 775-684-0350

Southern Nevada: 702-486-0350

Rural Nevada and out of state: 888-890-8211

TTY: 775-687-5353

FAX: 775-684-3850

New Hampshire

New Hampshire Employment Security

32 S. Main Street

Concord, NH 03301



New Jersey

Department of Labor and Workforce Development

1 John Fitch Plaza

P.O. Box 110

Trenton, NJ 08625

Cumberland: 856-507-2340

Freehold: 732-761-2020

Union City: 201-601-4100

New Mexico

Department of Workforce Solutions

401 Broadway NE

Albuquerque, NM 87102


New York

Department of Labor

P.O. Box 15130

Albany, NY 12212


North Carolina

Employment Security Commission

700 Wade Avenue

Raleigh, NC 27605


North Dakota

Job Service Unemployment Insurance

P.O. Box 5507

Bismarck, ND 58506


TTY: 800-366-6888

FAX: 701-328-2728


Department of Job and Family Services

30 E. Broad Street, 32nd Floor

Columbus, OH 43215



Employment Security Commission

P.O. Box 52006

Oklahoma City, OK 73152




Employment Department

875 Union Street NE

Salem, OR 97311

Consult the website below for telephone numbers of the regional unemployment insurance centers.


Department of Labor and Industry

Office of Unemployment Compensation

Harrisburg, PA


Rhode Island

Department of Labor and Training Unemployment Insurance

1511 Pontiac Avenue

Cranston, RI 02920


TDD: 401-243-9149

South Carolina

Department of Employment and Workforce

Consult the website below for contact information for your local Workforce Center.

South Dakota

Unemployment Insurance Division

Department of Labor

P.O. Box 4730

Aberdeen, SD 57402


FAX: 605-626-3172


Department of Labor and Workforce Development

220 French Landing Drive

Nashville, TN 37243




Workforce Center

Consult the website below for local Workforce Centers and Offices.


Department of Workforce Services

P.O. Box 45249

Salt Lake City, UT 84145


FAX: 801-526-9211


Department of Labor

Montpelier, VT


Consult the website below for online filing services.


Employment Commission

703 E. Main Street

Richmond, VA 23219



TTY: 804-371-8050 or



Employment Security Department


TTY: 800-365-8969

Consult the website below for online filing services.

 West Virginia



TTY: 800-365-8969

Consult the website below for contact information for local Workforce offices.


Department of Workforce Development

201 E. Washington Avenue Madison WI 53703

Appleton: 920-832-2764

Eau Claire: 715-836-6567

Madison: 608-242-4819

Milwaukee: 414-227-4731


Department of Employment

100 W. Midwest

P.O. Box 2760

Casper, WY 82602


FAX: 307-235-3278


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