Do I have to take a job that would require an hour-long commute?

Question:

I live in the Northern Bay Area. I used to work in the city where I live, and my commute was a ten-minute or 15-minute drive, depending on traffic. I was laid off a few months ago, and I haven't had any luck finding work nearby. I got a call-back interview for a company in San Francisco. It's a good job, and it would pay almost as much as my last one did. But the commute would be a bear: at least an hour each way and sometimes quite a bit longer. I know that I was lucky to work so close to home, but I don't want to spend my whole life sitting in traffic. Will I lose my unemployment benefits if I don't pursue this offer? Am I going to have to look for work that would require a long commute?

Answer:

To collect unemployment, you must be able, available, and actively looking for work. You may also not turn down suitable employment if it's offered to you. Otherwise, you risk forfeiting your right to collect unemployment benefits.

What qualifies as "suitable" employment, however, depends on state law and regulations. In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD), the state agency that administers the unemployment program, will decide whether a job is "suitable," in part, by considering how far a claimant would have to travel. This includes not only the physical distance, but also the time spent commuting and whether public transportation is available.

The EDD will also look at what the typical commute is in your area. For example, if you live in a bedroom community and most people commute to and from San Francisco for work, the EDD will probably expect you to join your neighbors on the freeway.

Other factors might also come into play. For example, if you have to drive 30 minutes in the wrong direction to take your kids to school before turning around and heading to work, that might make your commute long enough to render the job unsuitable. The EDD has also found that the longer you're looking for work, the more it will expect you to accept work with a longer commute. In your case, you've already been out of work for a few months, which means you may have to adjust your commuting standards.

As you can see, there are no hard-and-fast rules in this area. The EDD will weigh a number of factors to reach a conclusion as to whether a job offered to you was suitable. However, it sounds like your commute probably isn't long enough to justify turning down this interview. An hour-long commute each way is not uncommon in the Bay Area. When you consider that you've been out of work for a while and that the risk of guessing wrong is losing your benefits altogether, the safest move is to pursue this opportunity.

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