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A Guide To Unemployment Benefit Claims in California

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

Here's what you need to know about California Unemployment Insurance that you should familiarize yourself with in preparation for the impending economic recession.

Losing your job and, subsequently, your income can be difficult. In California, you might still be qualified for unemployment benefits. You are well within your right to fight back when these protocols are violated. You might also want to take a step back and think about whether you've been fired legally in the first place.

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How To File For California Unemployment Benefits?

You might be eligible for unemployment compensation if you were laid off in California owing to the coronavirus epidemic or for any other reason.

Employees temporarily out of work due to no fault of their own may be eligible for unemployment compensation in California, as in every other state. However, qualifying restrictions, past earnings requirements, benefit levels, and other criteria differ by state.

Requirements for Filing California Unemployment Claim

To receive unemployment benefits in California, you must complete three requirements:

  • You must meet minimum earnings requirements in the past.

  • According to California law, you must be unemployed for no fault.

  • You must be capable, available, and looking for a job.

Do You Have Enough Money to Meet the Minimum Wage Requirement? Almost all states look at your recent job history and wages over one year to calculate your unemployment eligibility. The base period in California, like in most jurisdictions, usually is within the first four of the five complete calendar quarters from when you filed your benefits claim. For example, the base period for a lawsuit filed in July 2020 would be April 1, 2019, through March 31, 2020.

You must have earned at least during the base period:

  • In your highest-paid quarter, you earn $1,300.

  • $900 in your highest-paid quarter and at least 1.25 times your high-quarter earnings for the whole base period.

Are you unemployed due to no fault of your own? To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must be unemployed due to no fault. It indicates that you must have left your previous position due to a lack of employment opportunities in the area.

Getting Unemployment Benefits After a Lay-off. You will meet this particular condition if you are laid off, lose your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or are "downsized" for economic reasons.

Receiving Unemployment Benefits After Being Fired

You should be able to claim benefits if you were fired because you lacked the skills to execute the job or weren't a suitable fit. You might not be eligible for unemployment benefits if you are fired for misconduct. Only if all four of the following facts are true would you be ineligible for unemployment benefits in California:

The employer owes you a "material" responsibility.

  • You breached that responsibility significantly (in other words, you failed to accomplish it).

  • A minor or one-time infraction will not prohibit you from obtaining assistance.

  • Your failure to perform the task demonstrated a purposeful or wanton contempt for it.

    • Put another way; you weren't just careless or thoughtless; you deliberately broke the duty or showed a reckless disregard for the repercussions of your breach. Inefficiency, inability to execute the work, or honest mistakes in judgment do not meet these criteria and will not disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits in California.

  • Failure to comply with the duty must be detrimental to the employer's business interests.

Will I Be Able To Collect Unemployment Benefits After Quitting A Job?

If you willingly quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you have a valid reason for doing so, which means that a reasonable individual who genuinely desired a job would have left under similar conditions. You would be qualified for unemployment benefits if you had good cause connected to your job (such as illegal discrimination, harassment, hazardous working conditions, or employer fraud). In this case, you must have taken reasonable steps to rectify the matter before resigning, which means you must have discussed the issue with your employer and given the employer a reasonable length of time to correct the problem before resigning.

Suppose you quit your job for compelling family or health reasons; for example, you are facing domestic violence, you need to relocate to be with your spouse, or you need to care for a seriously ill family member. In that case, you will almost certainly be found to have reasonable cause to quit and will be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Are You Available And Looking For Work?

To keep your unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, willing to take a job, and actively looking for work. You must take an appropriate position if it is offered to you.

Usually, you must perform a reasonable job search and demonstrate that you did so (on your benefits claim). During the COVID-19 epidemic, the EDD temporarily suspended this active-search requirement. You should maintain track of the employers you've contacted, the dates you got them, and the results at all times. The EDD may request this information.

How Do I Register and Apply for A California Unemployment Insurance?

The states handle and pay unemployment insurance claims through tens of thousands of locations across the country. Long lines, overburdened personnel, heaps of paperwork—all are heading your way at an emotionally trying moment. Keep in mind that all you're doing is exercising your legal right. And be prepared to wait.

The recent economic slump has resulted in a relaxation of unemployment eligibility rules and an increase in unemployment compensation. In addition to cash benefits, most unemployment offices also provide job search services such as job fairs and websites, as well as seminars on topics ranging from resume writing and interviewing techniques to career planning and skill training.

Another advantage over previous years is that you can apply for unemployment benefits over the phone, via the internet, or by mailing or faxing a form; you are not required to apply in person.

In most states, there will be a one-week waiting period between filing for unemployment benefits and being able to collect them. However, it is still advisable that you contact your local unemployment office as soon as possible once you lose your work. You can then provide all relevant information, submit the relevant documentation, and persuade agency staff to investigate your claim—all of the preliminary steps required to start the bureaucratic process.

Documentation Required to File an Unemployment Claim

If you bring the required documents to the local office or have them accessible when applying by phone or online, your unemployment claim will be processed faster. The following are the documents you'll need to file for an unemployment claim:

  • Your company uses recent pay stubs and other salary documents, such as the W-2 form, to report your earnings to the IRS.

  • Copy of your Social Security ID or another document with your Social Security number

  • Any proof of unemployment you have, such as a lay-off or dismissal notification from your company, and, if you know it, your company's unemployment insurance account number

An unemployment insurance claims office typically requires some form of orientation, ranging from simple explanation brochures to complex video presentations or live group lectures. Compliance is required.

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Watch Your Wording

One of the first things you will have to put down on your unemployment paperwork is some iteration of "Explain in your own words why you left your previous work". Long explanations will be difficult to fit within the form. Take the hint and respond in an elusive and straightforward manner.

  • Avoid using the term "fired" in filling out documents or answering any questions at the unemployment insurance office unless you were fired because of something you did wrong. Several undefined terms are used to describe the termination of work, but being "fired" is most commonly understood to suggest that you made a mistake and were fired as a result.

  • If your employer laid you off because business was slow, note it. "Laid off" is a similarly ambiguous expression, but it is less likely to create doubts about your claim's authenticity.

  • If you were fired from your job, write "Discharged without any misbehavior" or "Quit for a good cause" on your termination letter. Remove all qualifiers, such as "My boss has disliked me since the first day I stepped in. Thus I was the first to be laid off."

Review of Unemployment Claims

After submitting your completed forms, the rituals differ slightly from state to state. You could be interviewed the same day, told to return for an interview, or just sent a check. If you need to go back, make sure you have your documents with you.

Whatever method is used in your area, the purpose is to determine whether you can be qualified for benefits and, if so, how much you are entitled to. The interviewer will most likely focus on why you left your previous position. Keep your explanations as brief and impartial as possible while yet being helpful.

In some states, you might be qualified for benefits right away. If your employer challenges the award later, you should continue receiving those benefits while your appeal is resolved.

While your claim is being verified, you will most likely be required to visit the unemployment insurance office once every week or two or sign a statement that will be mailed to you certifying that you still fit all of the program's legal requirements—and that you are seeking new employment. Even before obtaining unemployment benefits, it is critical to comply with this reporting requirement. If you have not yet received any unemployment benefits, you will normally be paid after the fact for all the previous weeks for which you did qualify, provided your claim is verified.

After your claim is confirmed and your benefit level is decided, you will normally get your unemployment check in the mail every two weeks if your claim is granted.

Unemployment Benefits and Their Tax Consequences

Unlike workers' compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits are taxed as income. Many states, however, will not deduct any taxes from your unemployment benefit check because the benefit amounts paid are frequently below the taxable yearly earning limit. On the other hand, the state will record the number of unemployment benefits you received to the IRS and your state taxing authorities.

If you receive unemployment benefits when you start a new job, you may want to increase the amount of taxes withheld from your paycheck by your employer. Otherwise, you may be disappointed at tax time when you discover that you owe more tax or receive a smaller refund than expected.

Getting Your Unemployment Benefits Continued

Once you've been approved for unemployment benefits, you can't just sit back and wait for the checks to arrive each week. To keep them flowing, you must continue to follow the state program's rules and rituals.

As often as your state demands, you must go to the unemployment insurance office or fill out the required paperwork. You must confirm that you are still unemployed but available for work, that you are physically capable of working, and that you are actively looking for a job regularly. (Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some states have postponed these requirements.) The paperwork you sign will typically ask you to attest that you continue to meet these standards, and lying about your answers is usually a criminal violation.

Unemployment insurance cannot compel you to work in a field or earn a wage significantly different from your previous employment. However, because these ranges are open to interpretation, use caution when determining where to apply for a new job. Local job ads are maintained and posted by several unemployment insurance offices. To avoid having your unemployment insurance claim terminated because you refused to take substitute employment, only apply for positions similar to your typical work and pay levels.

What Is the Best Place to File for Unemployment Benefits?

You must file your unemployment benefits claim in the state where you lived and worked. You can claim your new state if you become unemployed in one state and then relocate to another. On the other hand, your benefits will be governed by the laws of your former state. Although your new state manages your claim, the cost of your benefits is billed to the state where you lost your job. A move can also lengthen the time it takes to complete your claim, usually by several weeks.

Remember that you must still complete all the unemployment insurance plan conditions to be eligible for benefits, even if you relocate. Your new location must be where you were forced to relocate due to family circumstances or where you may reasonably anticipate obtaining new employment.

For example, you decided to move to a small seacoast town with virtually no economic activity because you like the scenery there. You suddenly quit your previous job for no other reason. In this case, you can't expect to be eligible for unemployment benefits when you arrive at your new home and can't find work.

Employees In California Are Protected From Being Laid Off

Employees in California and the United States have the right to be notified of a layoff under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act.

Employees in California have specific rights if their firm downsizes, conducts a mass lay-off, closes a facility, or otherwise eliminates a significant number of employees. Employees do not have a legal right to keep their jobs, nor do they have a legal right to be employed in other roles within the firm or to be considered for rehire. When things go rough, employers are not banned from laying off employees.

Employees do, however, have a right to advance notice before a plant closes or a large-scale lay-off. Employees are entitled to damages if their employer fails to provide adequate notice.

Employees have these rights under the federal Worker Adjustment, and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act. California is one of nearly half of the states with similar laws. California legislation expands the employers and employees who are entitled to early notice of a lay-off, albeit it does not go as far as some states, which require businesses to give a nominal severance or continue health coverage following a lay-off.

Below is a section that discusses the important points of lay-off protections in California. Contact an Employment Lawyer in Los Angeles immediately if you think your employer violated these.

Employers who are covered. California's WARN and mini-WARN compel some bigger businesses to notify employees in advance of mass lay-offs or plant closures that will result in a specified number or percentage of employees losing their employment.

Lay-offs that are covered. A mass lay-off would be a decrease in force that results in the loss of 500 or more full-time employees at a single location of employment or 50 to 499 full-time employees if the number of employees laid off accounts for at least 33% of the employer's active workforce.

  • Federal and state laws do not cover every lay-off or plant closure.

  • WARN Act of the United States

  • WARN covers only plant closures and mass lay-offs.

A plant closing occurs when a single place of business, or at least one facility or an operating unit within a single place of business, closes, resulting in the loss of 50 or more full-time employees throughout 30 days. A single site of employment is a physical location where an employer conducts business, such as a building, an office suite, or a group of buildings that make up a campus or industrial park. Even physically independent workspaces that are somewhat close together, used for the same purpose, and share the same people and equipment might be considered a single employment site.

Plant closures or mass lay-offs that take place in phases over 90 days are likewise covered by WARN. This rule prohibits companies from circumventing WARN's notice requirements by laying off workers in modest increments over time.

If things still aren't clear, you can also schedule a meeting with a California Employment Attorney who knows their way around this case.

The Mini-WARN Act in California

California's mini-WARN act covers the following conditions:

  • A mass layoff occurs when at least 50 employees lose their jobs in 30 days.

  • The closure of a manufacturing or commercial operation employing at least 75 people.

  • A move of at least 75 people from an industrial or commercial enterprise to a location at least 100 miles distant.

Notice Is Required

Employees who lose their jobs are entitled to 60 days notice if a lay-off or plant closure is covered under WARN or California's mini-WARN. (Union members do not need to be individually notified; instead, the employer must contact their negotiating representatives, who are then obligated to inform the affected employees.)

Under federal and California law, the required notice is the same. It must offer specific details regarding the proposed lay-offs, such as whether they will be temporary or permanent, the projected start date for the lay-offs when the employee would receive a termination notice, and whether the employee will be entitled to bumping privileges.

Ask California Employment Lawyers if you have any grounds in case your employer violates them.

WARN Requirements Exceptions

Sometimes, an employer is not required to provide notice at all or can provide notice that is less than 60 days.

When there is no need to give notice, California's WARN and mini-WARN do not apply to temporary or seasonal employees or finished temporary projects as long as the employees know the job's transient nature when employed.

If the employment losses were caused by a natural disaster or an act of war, an employer is not required to give notification under California law. Under state law, an employer is also exempt from giving notice if the firm actively sought financing when the notice was required to avoid or postpone job losses. Only plant closures and relocations are exempt from this rule.

According to federal law, WARN does not apply if a plant closes or a mass lay-off occurs due to a union strike or an employee lockout.

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Allowing for a shorter notice period. The only exceptions recognized under California's mini-WARN law are those mentioned above. Employers can comply with WARN by giving as much notice as possible (even if it's less than 60 days) under a certain scenario under the federal WARN Act.

Suppose an employer uses one of these exceptions. In that case, it must provide as much notice as feasible and explain why it could not provide the 60 days that would otherwise be needed (as part of the written notice requirement).

Unpredictable business conditions. A shorter notice period is permissible if the business circumstances that led to the plant closing or lay-off were not reasonably anticipated at the time the employer should have given 60 days' notice.

Unreliable company. If a company is having financial difficulties at the time, it should have provided 60 days' notice; it can grant a shorter notice period. The company must show that it was actively seeking business or money that would have allowed it to postpone or avoid closing the plant. In good faith, giving 60 days' notice would have prevented it from obtaining the necessary business or money. This exemption only applies to plant closures and not to mass lay-offs.

Natural calamities. The employer can offer less than 60 days' notice if a natural disaster causes a lay-off or plant closure.

Damages for California's WARN and Mini-WARN Violations

An employer who violates either the federal or state WARN laws may be forced to compensate all impacted workers for all wages and benefits lost during the violation period, up to the full 60 days required under WARN. This sum is lowered by any salaries or severance payments made voluntarily by the employer during that time. Employees would be entitled to 20 days of pay and benefits if an employer should have given them 60 days' notice but only gave them 40 days' notice, provided the firm paid them severance for the extra period.

Employers may also be held liable for the attorney fees and court costs incurred by affected employees who successfully litigate. Employers who fail to provide sufficient notice may be fined, but the money goes to the state rather than the employees.

If you suspect your WARN rights were infringed, you should seek legal advice from a qualified Los Angeles Employment Attorney. WARN contains a right to attorney fees if you win, incentivizing a Los Angeles Employment Lawyer to take on difficult claims. However, the damages that can be awarded to a single employee are modest. As a result, an employment lawyer may advise either attempting to reach a settlement or filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all impacted employees.

California's Unemployment Rate Increased During the COVID-19 Pandemic

President Biden signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue bill known as the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11, 2021. (ARP).

The federal unemployment supplement of $300 per week (on top of whatever your state contributes) is extended until September 6, 2021, under ARP.

The bill also extends the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) programs, which the CARES Act established in March 2020.

Self-employed workers, who are typically denied unemployment benefits, are eligible for unemployment payments under the PUA program if they meet certain criteria. PUA benefits will be available until Labor Day 2021, and the maximum duration of these benefits will be increased from 50 to 79 weeks.

When state unemployment benefits expire, the PEUC program provides a federally financed extension of benefits. With an expiration date of September 4, 2021, ARP extends the maximum duration of PEUC benefits from 24 to 53 weeks.

You're not alone if you've lost your work or had your hours shortened due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Fortunately, you may be eligible for full or partial unemployment benefits to help you make up for missed wages. Some states have temporarily eased their unemployment benefit eligibility standards, allowing those who have voluntarily left work to care for children whose schools have closed to receive benefits.

Do I Have a Case in California for Wrongful Termination?

Workers who've been fired for infringement of a contract of employment, for discriminatory reasons, or for asserting certain legal rights may be able to file a claim for wrongful termination. Most employees in California (and other states) work at will, which means they can be fired at any time, with or without cause. California, on the other hand, has created several illegal reasons for termination that employers are prohibited from using.

Claims under a Contract. Your employer must keep its half of the bargain if you have a contract that guarantees you ongoing employment for a set time or restricts your employer's authority to fire you (for example, only for "good cause" or other particular grounds). You may have a solid claim against your employer if they fire you in breach of the provisions of your contract.

A written or oral agreement might form the basis of an employment contract. Specific actions or statements by your employer, such as a declaration in an employee handbook that indicates employees would be fired solely for cause, may also be construed as an employment contract. You can use for salary, benefits, and anything else you should have if your employer breaks a contract. You can also use the contract as a negotiating chip with your employer to negotiate a severance package.

Claims of Discrimination. Based on protected traits, employers are prohibited from making employment choices, including whether or not to fire an employee. You might have a solid wrongful termination case if you were fired because you belong to a protected class. If you win a discrimination claim, your employer could be obliged to pay your lost income and benefits, your legal fees and court costs, emotional distress damages, and perhaps punitive penalties.

Allegations of retaliation. An employee cannot be fired for exercising or attempting to assert their job rights. For example, you are submitting a discrimination or harassment complaint, requesting or taking family and medical leave, serving on a jury, making a workers' compensation claim, or complaining about improper wage and hour practices. California has the most robust employee safeguards, which means numerous potential grounds for retaliation claims. You might have a claim against your employer if you were fired for filing a complaint or exercising a legal right.

The damages available for retaliation claims are determined by the statute under which you exercised your right. A successful employee, on the other hand, can typically recover not just lost earnings and benefits but also attorneys' expenses, damages for emotional distress, and, in some cases, punitive penalties.

Public Policy Violation. Employees cannot be fired for exercising a lawful right, refusing to commit an illegal act, or complaining about illegal behavior in the workplace. Retaliation claims are comparable to public policy claims, but they differ slightly. A retaliation case is based on a specific legal provision in an employment law that bans employers from dismissing employees for exercising that right or submitting a complaint about that right being denied.

Meanwhile, a public policy claim does not have to be founded on a specific statute or employment legislation. Some instances are as follows:

  • An employee works for a nonprofit that opposes mandated childhood immunizations and advocates for legislation letting parents choose whether or not to vaccinate their children. Even though she conducts this work totally on her own time, she is fired.

  • After resisting his manager's suggestion to mislead an IRS auditor about the company's recent equipment acquisitions, an employee is fired.

  • An employee of an airplane parts manufacturer was fired after filing a federal complaint alleging that the company was illegally employing after-market parts in its operations.

Even while no legislation clearly indicates that an employer may not fire an employee for doing this particular activity, the employee would have a wrongful termination claim in any of these scenarios. The underlying condition is that no one should be fired for expressing their legal rights, protesting, or refusing to engage in illegal or immoral action.

Wrongful termination as a retaliatory method in violation of public policy is a type of personal injury (tort) claim, which means that a successful employee can recover lost not only wages and benefits but also payable damages for emotional distress and punitive damages (in cases where an employer's actions are particularly egregious).

Other Types of Personal Injury Claims

Other personal injury claims may arise from an employee's job-related. For example, a worker who was fired because of being sexually harassed by a manager might be able to file a claim for assault or violence (in addition to a harassment and retaliation claim. Alternatively, an employee wrongly accused of stealing may have a defamation action if the employer spreads false information, hurting the individual's chances of finding another job. You might have a fraud claim if your employer made significant promises to entice you to take the job without intending to keep them. In any personal injury lawsuit, you can ask the court to grant lost wages and benefits, emotional suffering damages, and punitive damages.

Find The Top-Rated California Employment Lawyer For Your Unemployment Benefit Cases

Get legal representation from someone with experience handling cases involving California unemployment benefits. is a California Bar Association Certified Lawyer Referral Service that can refer you to the best California Employment Attorney that is fit to handle the specifics of your case. Contact us through our 24/7 Live Chat (or complete our submission form) for a FREE INITIAL CASE REVIEW.


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