In North Carolina -- 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 North Carolina.
In North Carolina, the Division of Employment Security (DES) 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 North Carolina:
• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by North Carolina 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 North Carolina, 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, your earnings must meet both of the following requirements:
• You must have earned wages in at least two quarters of the base period.
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. As long as your actions don’t rise to the level of “misconduct,” you will still be eligible to receive unemployment. In North Carolina, misconduct means that the employee’s actions were serious or frequent enough so as to show an intentional or careless disregard for the employer’s interests. Under North Carolina law, the following examples will automatically qualify as misconduct, unless the employee can prove otherwise:
Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause for quitting. For example, if you left your job because you needed to escape domestic violence or because your military spouse was being relocated, you will be eligible for unemployment benefits. Other circumstances may also qualify as good cause, but the DES will decide on a case-by-case basis.
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 receiving benefits, any job that pays 120% of your weekly benefit is deemed suitable work.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work. At a minimum, you must make contact with two different employers on two separates days of the week. You should keep records of the employers you’ve contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The DES will ask you to provide a weekly certification verifying your efforts to find work. You will also be required to register for work by building a resume at www.ncworks.gov. And, for those receiving their first unemployment payments on or after March 1, 2014, an in-person interview is necessary in order to receive continued benefits.
The DES determines your weekly benefit amount by adding your wages earned in the last two quarters of the base period and dividing that number by 52, up to a maximum benefit of $350 per week. Benefits are available for up to 20 weeks. For an estimate of your potential weekly benefits, use the DES Estimate of Unemployment Insurance Benefits Calculator.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online, by phone, by fax, or by mail. You can find online filing information and contact information at www.desncc.com.
Once it receives your application, the DES will send you some documents, including a Wage Transcript and Monetary Determination indicating your potential weekly benefit amount and duration.
If your unemployment claim is denied, you have ten days to appeal the decision. This is called a “Higher Authority Review” and is conducted by the DES Assistant Secretary, the Board of the Review, or another designated administrative official.
Your request for appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine). After receiving your appeal request, the Higher Authority will review the record and make a decision. In rare cases, the Higher Authority may schedule another hearing to receive evidence. More often, a decision is made based on a review of the documents and testimony already in the record.
If you disagree with the Higher Authority decision, you may ask for reconsideration within the DES (within ten days), or you may file an appeal in the North Carolina Superior Court (within 30 days).
The DES provides additional information on the unemployment process at its website, www.desncc.com (select "Claimant Services" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more).