In Connecticut -- as in every other state -- employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own may qualify for unemployment benefits. The eligibility rules, prior earnings requirements, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state. Here are the basic rules for collecting unemployment compensation in Connecticut.
In Connecticut, the Department of Labor (DOL) handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements in order to collect unemployment benefits in Connecticut:
• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Connecticut law.
• You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment.
Virtually all states look at your recent work history and earnings during a one-year "base period" to determine your eligibility for unemployment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period). In Connecticut, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your benefits claim. For example, if you filed your claim in October of 2013, the base period would be from June 1, 2012, through May 31, 2013.
During the base period, you must have earned at least 40 times the weekly benefit rate (as defined below) in order to be eligible for unemployment.
You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits.
Layoffs. If you were laid off, lost your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or got "downsized" for economic reasons, you will still meet this requirement.
Firing. If you were fired because you lacked the skills to perform the job or simply weren't a good fit, you won’t necessarily be barred from receiving benefits. However, if you engaged in “willful misconduct,” you will not be eligible to receive unemployment. In Connecticut, willful misconduct means an intentional act by the employee that goes against the employer’s interests or that violates a reasonable company policy. For example, showing up to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs would typically qualify as willful misconduct. Being repeatedly late or absent to work can also qualify as willful misconduct, but only if there were three unexcused absences in the last 12 months. In addition to willful misconduct, the following are circumstances that will bar an employee from receiving unemployment:
Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause for quitting. In general, the good cause requirement will be satisfied if your employer made a substantial change to your working conditions or your health and safety were adversely affected by the job. But, in most cases, you have to notify your employer and give it an opportunity to fix the problem before quitting. There are a handful of non-work related reasons that are considered good cause as well (which do not require advance notice to the employer), including: quitting to care for a sick immediate family member, your spouse’s relocation, or to escape domestic violence.
To maintain your eligibility for unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to accept a job, and looking for employment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Collecting Unemployment: Are You Able, Available, and Actively Seeking Work?) If you’re offered a suitable position, you must accept it. For the initial unemployment period, whether a position is suitable depends on several factors, including the level of skill and training required, the similarity between the work and your previous employment, how much the position pays, whether it poses a health and safety risk, and the distance between the job site and your residence. However, as time goes on, you will be expected to modify your standards and consider accepting work that requires less skill or that pays lower wages.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work. You should keep a record of your job search efforts, including the employers you have contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The DOL may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts.
The DOL determines your weekly benefit amount by averaging your wages from the two highest quarters in your base period and dividing that number by 26, up to a maximum of $594 (as of October 5, 2014). For example, if you earned an average of $17,000 in the two highest quarters, your weekly benefit amount would be $594 ($17,000 ÷ 26 = $653.85, subject to the maximum cap of $594). Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online, by phone, by fax, or by mail. You can find online filing information and contact information at http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/. Once you file, you must continue to file weekly claims with the DOL for each week for which you are claiming benefits.
Once it receives your application, the DOL will send you some documents, including a Monetary Determination Letter indicating your potential benefit amount and duration.
If your claim for unemployment is denied, you have 21 days to appeal the decision with the Appeals Division. Your request for appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine, or you can file online at http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/appeals/apfrmnt.htm).
After receiving your appeal request, a hearing will be scheduled to receive evidence from both you and your employer. A Referee will preside over the hearing and send you written notice of his or her decision. If you disagree with the Referee’s decision, you can appeal to the Board of Review within 21 days. And, if you disagree with the Board’s decision, you can appeal to the Connecticut Superior Court within 21 days.
The DOL provides additional information on the unemployment process at its website, http://www.ctdol.state.ct.us/UI-OnLine/index.htm (select "Job Seekers" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more).