To collect unemployment benefits, employees must be out of work through no fault of their own. Workers who lose their jobs in a layoff are clearly eligible for benefits, as are most employees who are fired for reasons other than serious misconduct. (See Nolo's article Unemployment Benefits: What If You're Fired? for more information on this requirement.)
Even employees who quit their jobs may be able to collect unemployment, but that depends on their reasons for leaving. In every state, an employee who voluntarily quits a job without good cause is not eligible for unemployment. But state laws vary as to how they define "good cause."
Even if you think you had a good reason to leave a job, that doesn't necessarily mean you had good cause in the eyes of the law. For example, it might make sense to leave a job that doesn't offer opportunities for advancement, but a worker who makes this choice won't be eligible for unemployment benefits. Similarly, some people quit their jobs because they find the work unfulfilling or they want to pursue an entirely different career path. These decisions may lead to a better qualify of life and higher job satisfaction -- but what they won't lead to is an unemployment check.
In some states, former employees are eligible for benefits if they leave a job for compelling personal reasons -- for example, to relocate when a spouse gets a distant job or because a family emergency requires the worker to be home. In other states, benefits are available only if the employee's reasons for quitting are related to the job
Here are some reasons for quitting that might entitle you to collect unemployment.
Your state may recognize additional covered reasons for leaving a job, such as moving to be with a spouse who has taken a distant job or been reposted by the military. In some cases, the employee may be subject to a disqualification period -- a stretch of time during which benefits are not available -- before becoming eligible for unemployment.
To find out more about your state's laws, contact your state unemployment insurance agency. You can find links and contact information for every state's unemployment agency at Career One Stop, a site sponsored by the federal Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration.