Collecting Unemployment Benefits in D.C.

Learn the rules for unemployment eligibility, benefit amounts, and more in D.C.

If you recently lost your job in the District of Columbia, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits: payments available to employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. Although the basic rules for unemployment are similar across the board, the benefit amounts, eligibility rules, and other details vary from state to state. This article explains how unemployment benefits work in the District of Columbia.

Eligibility for Unemployment in D.C.

The District of Columbia Department of Employment Services (DES) handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. You must meet three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment benefits in the District:

  • You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment.
  • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by D.C. law.
  • You must have earned at least a minimum amount in wages before you were unemployed.

Availability to Work

To collect unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to work, 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.

Whether a position is suitable depends on several factors, including the commute, pay, working conditions, the skill and training required, and how similar the job is to your former employment. However, as time goes on, you will be expected to modify your standards and consider accepting work that is different or that pays less than what you were receiving.

You must engage in a good faith search for work, which includes contacting at least two potential employers per week. The DES may ask you to provide contact information for employers you’ve contacted at any point during your claim.

Reasons for Unemployment

You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits in the District of Columbia.

Layoffs. If you were laid off, lost your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or got "downsized" for economic reasons, you will 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. If, however, you were fired for misconduct that violates your duties or obligations to your employer, you won’t be able to receive benefits for the first eight weeks after your termination. If you were fired for more serious types of misconduct (called “gross misconduct”), such as theft or intoxication, you will be disqualified from receiving benefits until you are reemployed for a certain amount of time and earn a certain amount in wages.

Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause. In general, good cause means that your reason for leaving the position was job-related and was so compelling that you had no other choice than to leave. For example, if you left your job because of sexual harassment that your employer refused to protect you from, you may be able to collect benefits. You will also likely be eligible if you were forced to work in unsafe conditions or your employer failed to pay you fully for your work.

You will also be eligible for benefits if you leave your job for certain compelling personal reasons, including domestic violence, relocation of your spouse or partner, or the need to provide care for a family member with a disability or serious illness.

Past Earnings

Like every state, the District of Columbia looks 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 the District of Columbia, 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 April of 2018, the base period would be from January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017.

To qualify for benefits in the District, you must all of the following four requirements:

  • You must have earned at least $1,300 in your highest paid quarter of the base period.
  • You must have earned at least $1,950 during the entire base period.
  • You must have earned wages in at least two quarters of the base period.
  • Your earnings during the entire base period must be at least 1.5 times your earnings in the highest paid quarter of the base period, or within $70 of that amount.

Amount and Duration of Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia

If you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit rate in D.C. will be 1/26 of your wages in the highest paid quarter of the base period. The maximum weekly benefit in D.C. is $425. (This amount may be adjusted every year by the D.C. Department of Employment Services.) You may receive benefits for 26 weeks.

How to File a Claim for Unemployment Benefits in the District of Columbia

You may file your claim for unemployment benefits in D.C. electronically. You can find online filing information at the website of the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

Once the DES receives your application, it will send you a Notice of Monetary Determination, which will include your monthly benefit amount. However, if the DES finds you ineligible to receive benefits for some reason, you will receive a Notice of Determination, providing the reasons why you were disqualified or found ineligible and informing you of the process and deadlines for filing an appeal.

How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in D.C.

If your unemployment claim is denied, you have 15 days to appeal the decision. After receiving your appeal request, the Office of Administrative Hearings will schedule a hearing at which you can present evidence and witnesses.

For more information on the unemployment process, including current eligibility requirements and benefits amounts, visit the website of the D.C. Department of Employment Services.

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