In New Jersey—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 New Jersey.
In New Jersey, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development 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 New Jersey:
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 New Jersey, 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 2021, the base period would be from June 1, 2020, through May 31, 2021.
During the base period, your earnings must meet one of the following requirements:
• You must have worked at least 20 weeks in the base period and earned at least $200 per week, or
• You must have earned at least $10,000 total during the base period.
You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits.
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.
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 your actions rise to the level of "misconduct," you will not be eligible for unemployment. New Jersey law distinguishes among three different types of misconduct:
For simple misconduct, an individual is barred from receiving unemployment for seven weeks from the date of termination. For severe and gross misconduct, individuals are disqualified from receiving benefits until they establish employment with another employer for a certain period of time and meet additional earnings requirements.
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 dangerous working conditions or sexual harassment that your employer refused to stop, you may be able to collect benefits. Two situations enable you to receive benefits when the reason for leaving was not job-related: If you left your job because of domestic violence, or because your military spouse was being relocated.
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 former employment, how much the position pays, 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 is different or that pays less than what you were receiving.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work. You should keep records of the employers you have contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) may ask you to provide contact information for employers you've contacted at any point during your claim. At minimum, you should contact at least three different employers each week.
If you are eligible to receive unemployment, your weekly benefit rate (WBR) will be 60% of your average weekly earnings during the base period, up to a maximum of $713. This number is then multiplied by the number of weeks that you worked during the base period, up to a maximum of 26 weeks. For example, someone with a weekly benefit rate of $300 who worked for 26 weeks will be entitled to a total of $7,800 ($300 x 26 weeks = $7,800).
You can file your initial application for unemployment benefits online or over the phone. Visit the Division of Unemployment Insurance website for detailed information.