Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Montana

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

Did you recently lose your job in Montana? If so, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits: payments intended to partially replace the wages of 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 eligibility rules, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state. Below you’ll find information on collecting unemployment in Montana.

Eligibility for Unemployment in Montana

The Unemployment Insurance Division of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) 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 Montana:

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

Past Earnings

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 Montana, 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 December of 2016, the base period would be from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016.

To qualify for benefits in Montana, you must meet one of the following two requirements:

  • your wages in the entire base period must be at least 1.5 times your wages in the highest paid quarter of the base period, and at least 7% of the state’s average annual wage, or
  • your wages in the entire base period must be at least 50% of the state’s average annual wage.

Reasons for Unemployment

In Montana, as in other states, 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 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 were fired for misconduct relating to your job, you will be disqualified from receiving benefits. Under Montana law, misconduct includes:

  • theft
  • illegal conduct
  • dishonesty
  • attendance problems
  • destruction of company property
  • insubordination
  • carelessness or negligence, or
  • violation of a known company rule or policy.

Quitting. If you quit your job, you will be disqualified from receiving 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 dangerous working conditions that your employer refused to remedy, you may be able to collect benefits. You may also be eligible for benefits if you quit for certain compelling personal reasons, including to serve in the military, to relocate with a military spouse, or due to your own illness or injury (but only if you reported back to work after recovering and your employer had no comparable position available for you).

Availability to Work

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 incarcerated, on vacation, or in school, or you don’t have adequate transportation to get to work, you likely won’t be considered able and available to work.

In Montana, you must actively search for work each week, keeping a log of your job contacts and other job search activities. You must make at least one job contact per week. Your log may be audited at any time. You must also register with the Montana Job Service. (You may do this online if you live in Montana, or at a local Job Service office if you live outside of Montana.)

If you’re offered a suitable position, you must accept it. A job is suitable if you are able and qualified to do it. After 13 weeks of unemployment, you must be willing to accept work that pays only 75% of what you used to earn (as long as that amount remains above the minimum wage).

Amount and Duration of Unemployment Benefits in Montana

If you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit rate will be 1% of your total wages during the base period or 1.9% of your wages in the two quarters of the base period in which you earned the most. The maximum weekly benefit amount is currently $510; the minimum amount is currently $151.

You may receive benefits for a maximum of 28 weeks. (In times of very high unemployment, additional weeks of benefits may be available.)

How to File a Claim for Unemployment Benefits in Montana

You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online or by phone. You can find online filing information and telephone contact information at the website of the Unemployment Insurance Division of the Montana DLI.

After you file, you will receive a monetary determination from the DLI, stating the wages reported by your employers during your base period and how much you can expect to receive in benefits.

How to Appeal a Denial of Unemployment Benefits in Montana

If your unemployment claim is denied, you may file an appeal. You have ten days to request a redetermination from the DLI. If the DLI denies your benefits again, you may appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings. You will have an evidentiary hearing, which will be presided over by a hearing officer. The hearing officer will take statements under oath and review other evidence and mail a decision to the parties. To learn more, see our article on how to appeal an unemployment denial in Montana.

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