In Pennsylvania -- 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 Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, the Department of Labor & Industry 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 Pennsylvania:
• Your past earnings must meet certain minimum thresholds.
• You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Pennsylvania 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 Pennsylvania, 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 Pennsylvania, 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 qualify as misconduct.
Quitting. If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause for quitting. In general, the good cause requirement will be satisfied if you had a compelling reason for quitting, it left you no choice other than to quit, and you made every effort to keep your job. The following will qualify as good cause, among other things:
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, as time goes on, you will be expected to modify your standards and consider accepting work that requires less skill or that pays lower wages.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work, which includes applying to at least two jobs and conducting at least one other work search activity per 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 Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts.
Your weekly benefit amount will be about 50% of your average weekly wages, subject to a weekly maximum of $573. Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks.
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 the DLI’s website. Once you file, you must continue to file weekly claims with the DLI for each week for which you are claiming benefits.
Once it receives your application, the DLI will send you some documents, including a Notice of Financial Determination indicating your potential benefit amount and duration.
If your claim for unemployment is denied, you have 15 days to appeal the decision. Your appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine) and mailed or emailed to the DLI to the address listed in the notice of denial.
After receiving your appeal request, a hearing will be scheduled before an administrative official called a Referee. The Referee will receive evidence from both you and your employer and issue a written decision. If you disagree with the Referee’s decision, you may appeal to the Board of Review by the date stated in the Referee’s notice of decision. If you disagree with the Board’s decision, you have 30 days to appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania.
The DLI provides additional information on the unemployment process at its website (select "File an Initial Claim" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more).