In Wisconsin—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 Wisconsin.
In Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development (DWD) 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 Wisconsin:
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 Wisconsin, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your claim for benefits. For example, if you filed your claim in October of 2019, the base period would be from June 1, 2018, through May 31, 2019.
To be eligible, you must have earned wages in at least two quarters in the base period. You must also meet minimum threshold earnings in your highest quarter, your three lowest quarters, and your total base period (the exact amounts can be found in Benefit Rate Chart from the DWD).
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’ll still likely be eligible to receive benefits. For example, if you were fired for being inefficient or making honest mistakes at work (despite putting in reasonable effort), then you will still be eligible for unemployment.
However, if your actions rise to the level of “misconduct,” you will not be eligible to receive unemployment. In Wisconsin, misconduct is behavior that shows a “willful and substantial” disregard for the employer’s interests, or is otherwise not in line with the standards that an employer can reasonably expect from an employee. Serious violations of company policy, such as showing up to work under the influence of drugs or committing an act of workplace violence, will qualify as misconduct. Minor offenses can also qualify as misconduct if the employee failed to correct the behavior after being notified that his or her job was at risk.
Employees can also be barred from receiving unemployment if they are found to be at “substantial fault” for their terminations. This is a relatively new standard (as of 2014) that makes it easier for employees to be disqualified from receiving benefits. Substantial fault includes acts or omissions that violate reasonable company policies, but does not include unintentional errors, minor violations of rules that went uncorrected by the employer, or the failure of an employee to meet the skills required by the position.
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 quit because your employer asked you to do something illegal or because your employer failed to protect you from sexual harassment (after you put your employer on notice). Wisconsin law also sets forth a number of other acceptable reasons, including the relocation of a military spouse, domestic violence, or certain caretaking responsibilities.
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. A position is suitable if it is reasonably related to your qualifications and if the hours, pay, distance, and other working conditions are typical of your occupation. However, the longer you are unemployed, the more willing you’ll have to be to accept a position that requires less skill or that pays lower wages.
You must conduct a reasonable search for work, which means completing at least four work search activities each week. (The governor has temporarily suspended this requirement as a result of COVID-19.) You should keep a record of your job search efforts, including the employers you’ve contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The DWD may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts.
The DWD determines your weekly benefit amount. Your weekly benefit amount will be 40% of your average weekly wage, up to a maximum of $370 per week. The minimum weekly benefit is $54.
Benefits are ordinarily available for up to 26 weeks, although the federal CARES Act (see above) extends this by an additional 13 weeks. To get an idea of how much your weekly benefit might be, plug your information into the DWD’s Weekly Benefit Rate Calculator.
You may file your claim for unemployment benefits online, by phone, by fax, or by mail. Once you file, you must continue to file weekly claims with the DWD for each week for which you are claiming benefits. You must also register with the Job Center of Wisconsin in order to receive benefits.
Once it receives your application, the DWD will send you some documents, including a Form UCB-700 indicating your potential weekly benefit amount and duration.
If your unemployment claim is denied, you may request an appeal. Your request for appeal must be in writing (letter format is fine, or you can file online), and it must be received by the deadline stated in the DWD’s initial determination notice. After receiving your appeal request, a hearing will be scheduled to receive evidence from both you and your employer. Hearings are typically held in person at an unemployment hearing office. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will conduct the hearing and will issue a written decision.
If you disagree with the ALJ’s decision, you can file an appeal for review with the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) within 21 days. If you are not satisfied with the result, you may appeal to a Wisconsin Circuit Court.
The DWD provides additional information on the unemployment process at its website, including current eligibility requirements, benefit amounts, and how to appeal.