In Georgia-- 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 Georgia.
In Georgia, the Department of Labor 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 Georgia:
• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Georgia 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 Georgia, 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 meet all of the following requirements 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 “misconduct,” you will not be eligible to receive unemployment. In Georgia, among other things, misconduct means an intentional violation of the employer’s rules, the failure to conform to standards which an employer can reasonably expect from an employee, or careless behavior that is so frequent or severe that it shows a disregard for the employer’s interests. For example, showing up to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs or having several unexcused absences after written warning would typically qualify as misconduct.
Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had a good work-related reason for quitting. In general, you will have a good work-related reason if there was a material change to your working conditions, a material change to your work agreement with your employer, or your employer failed to pay you for your work. A personal reason for quitting, no matter how compelling, will not satisfy this requirement.
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, and the distance between the job site and your residence. However, after ten weeks of collecting unemployment, you will be expected to accept a position that pays at least 66% of the average hourly wage you earned during the highest quarter of your base period (provided that it is at least minimum wage).
You must conduct a reasonable search for work, which includes contacting at least three new job contacts each week. 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 Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts.
Your weekly benefit amount is calculated by combining your wages from the two highest quarters in your base period, and dividing that number by 42. Your weekly benefit amount is subject to a weekly minimum of $44 and a maximum of $330. Benefits are available for up to 20 weeks.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits in-person at a GDOL Career Center or online. You can find online filing information and contact information at http://www.dol.state.ga.us/js/. Once you file, you must continue to file weekly claims with the GDOL for each week for which you are claiming benefits.
Once it receives your application, the GDOL will send you some documents, including a Benefit Determination, stating your potential benefit amount and duration. You’ll also receive a Claims Examiner’s Determination, which lets you know whether the reason for leaving your job meets state eligibility requirements.
If your claim for unemployment is denied, you have 15 days to appeal the decision with the Appeals Tribunal. Your request for appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine) and mailed or faxed to a GDOL Career Center.
After receiving your appeal request, the GDOL will schedule a hearing before the Appeals Tribunal. At your hearing, the Appeals Tribunal will receive evidence from both you and your employer. The Appeals Tribunal will then issue a written decision and send you a copy by mail.
If you disagree with the decision, you may file an appeal with the Board of Review by the date stated in the Appeals Tribunal’s decision. The Board of Review will review the entire record, but will not hold another hearing. If you disagree with the Board of Review’s decision, you may appeal to the Georgia Superior Court in the county in which you worked.
The GDOL provides additional information on the unemployment process at its website, http://www.dol.state.ga.us/js/ (select "File an Unemployment Insurance Claim" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more).