If you are out of work, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits. Unemployment compensation is available to those who are temporarily out of work, without fault on their parts. The basic structure of the unemployment system is the same from state to state. However, each state sets its own rules for eligibility, benefit amounts, filing procedures, and more. This article explains how unemployment benefits work in Massachusetts.
The Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) handles unemployment compensation and decides whether claimants are eligible for benefits. You must meet the following three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment benefits in Massachusetts:
You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts.
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.
You won't be eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit your job voluntarily, without good cause. In general, good cause means that you had a compelling reason that left you no other choice than to quit. For example, if you left your job because of dangerous working conditions or discrimination that your employer refused to stop, you may be able to collect benefits. If you quit your job because of domestic violence, or for other personal reasons that are urgent and compelling and made it necessary to quit, you will remain eligible for benefits.
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 you were fired for deliberate misconduct relating to the job, however, you may be disqualified from receiving benefits. You will also be disqualified if you are convicted of a felony or misdemeanor or if you knowingly violate a reasonable and consistently enforced workplace rule, except where your violation of the rule is merely a result of incompetence.
Like every state, Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts, 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 file your claim in April of 2020, the base period would be from January 1, 2019, through December 31, 2019.
To qualify for benefits in Massachusetts, you must meet both of the following criteria:
To keep collecting 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 how similar the job is to your previous employment, how much you will be paid, the working conditions, and the skills, experience, and training required for the position. The longer you remain unemployed, the more likely you will have to take work that is outside your field, pays less than your previous position, or requires a longer commute.
You must conduct an active search for work, engaging in at least three work search activities on three separate days of each week. You must keep detailed records of your work search activities, which you may have to provide to the DUA.
If you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit in Massachusetts will be half of your average weekly wage during the two highest paid quarters of the base period (or the highest paid quarter only, if you worked during only two quarters of the base period). The most you can receive per week is currently $823. You can also receive an allowance of $25 per week for each dependent, up to a maximum of one-half of your weekly benefit amount. You generally may receive benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, although the federal CARES Act has temporarily extended this to 39 weeks through the end of 2020.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits in Massachusetts by phone or online. You can find contact information and online filing information at the website of the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance.
Once the DUA receives your application, it will send you a packet of documents, including a Benefit Determination Notice that provides your potential weekly benefit amount.
If your unemployment claim is denied, you have ten days to file appeal the decision to the Department of Unemployment Assistance. The Hearings Department will assign your case to a Review Examiner, who will hold a hearing and issue a decision. At the hearing, which may be held in person or by phone, you may testify, present witnesses, and offer other evidence.
If you don’t agree with the Review Examiner’s decision, you may appeal it to the Board of Review. And, if you don’t agree with the Board’s decision, you may file a lawsuit in state court.
For more information on the unemployment process, including current eligibility requirements and benefits amounts, visit the website of the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance.