Can I collect unemployment if I quit my job?

Questions and opinions around quitting your job and collecting unemployment (or not), are many, so let’s ask the question now: Can you really file for and collect unemployment benefits if you quit your job? And get as clear an answer as possible, starting with two further questions:

  1. Why did you quit your job?
  2. What state do you live in?

Here’s how it breaks down: When you leave your job voluntarily, it generally voids your eligibility for unemployment benefits. However, there are exceptions to the rule.

If you quit your job for a good reason, you might be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Also, unemployment benefits are administered by each state, so eligibility can vary based on the state in which you live.

A happy female packs her desk belongings into a cardboard box after quitting her job.
Making a mistake, or giving yourself a break?

Getting unemployment when you quit your job

If your goal is to count on unemployment benefits between jobs, you want to research the eligibility requirements before quitting your current position. If you leave and end up being denied unemployment benefits, you could find yourself in a financial bind until you land your next gig.

Unemployment benefits help you bridge the gap from a loss of income between jobs. It provides individuals with monetary benefits for a specified period, as determined by each state. The intention is for the payments to last until you find your next position, though, in some instances, your benefits might run out before acquiring gainful employment. As a result, it’s wise to budget accordingly.

Payments from unemployment are typically for workers who have been laid off or, under some circumstances, terminated. When you quit voluntarily, it is rare to qualify for unemployment benefits. However, if you quit for “good cause,” you might qualify.

What defines “good cause?”

There are many reasons you might choose to quit your job. Valid reasons include:

  • Lack of work hour flexibility
  • Lack of career advancement opportunities
  • Refusal of remote working arrangements
  • Disliking your workgroup or manager

However, none of these reasons qualify as “good cause” to file for unemployment benefits. Good cause relates to unsolvable issues you have brought to the employer’s attention, and they have done nothing to rectify them. Some typical “good cause” reasons for resigning are:

  • Constructive discharge. In cases where your work situation is so untenable that you’re truly forced to leave, most states will approve your unemployment claim. Issues like being subjected to dangerous working conditions, working without receiving payment, dealing with harassment, and being subjected to discrimination will likely qualify for good cause to quit. If a reasonable person in a similar situation would have found the environment intolerable, you will be eligible for unemployment in most states, even if you quit voluntarily.
  • Medical reasons and family emergencies. Some states make unemployment benefits available to those who quit due to an illness, injury, or disability. They might also grant benefits to those who quit to handle certain family emergencies, or to care for a family member’s medical condition.
  • Domestic violence. Most states approve benefits for employees who have to quit their job due to reasons related to domestic violence.
  • Other reasons. States with more generous good cause definitions allow benefits for individuals due to a change in job duties and responsibilities, your position being relocated, a spouse’s position being relocated, or a military spouse being relocated.

As noted, if you quit for one of these reasons, you might first need to follow the proper protocols within your organization to report issues, such as harassment and discrimination. This isn’t always necessary, though it can support your case in some instances.

Be sure to document your requests and communications to have a paper trail of proof if asked for it from the unemployment office. If the employee does not rectify the issues within a reasonable amount of time, or if the problem continues, it could be deemed unsolvable and a reason to quit your job for good cause.

An unhappy male office worker sits outside on steps and holds his head in his hands.
Head in hands or everything in hand? Follow a plan.

Filing for unemployment benefits

Each state’s unemployment office defines “good cause” for quitting your job. For example, some states might consider your spouse being relocated for work a good cause, while others might not. Contact your state unemployment office before you leave, so they can help you assess the likelihood of your eligibility based on your reason for quitting. You can locate your state’s unemployment office through the United States Department of Labor.

Once you’ve chosen to quit your job, have taken the steps to do so properly, and you’re officially terminated from the organization, you will file for unemployment through your state’s office, either online or in person. Take note of how much time you have to file after quitting to ensure you don’t miss the deadline.

If your employer contests your claim, you’ll need to build your case for eligibility. You will likely be entitled to a hearing or further investigation to make your case if your claim is denied.

Steps to appeal an unemployment claim denial

Even though unemployment benefits cost employers money, they have no reason to contest claims for employees they know would be found eligible to receive benefits, like those laid off or terminated without cause. However, in other cases, an employer is likely to deny a claim if they think they might win. This is especially true in constructive discharge claims, since no employer wants to acknowledge an employee was constructively discharged.

If your unemployment claim is contested or denied by the employer or state, you have the right to appeal. To do so:

  • Conduct research and contact your state department for guidance on appealing your denied claim.
  • Appeal within the required timeframe. You can have as little as ten days to file an appeal within some states.
  • Be ready to collect necessary supporting documentation and identify possible witnesses to support your claim.
  • Be prepared to validate why you didn’t voluntarily quit if the employer claims you did.
  • While filing for the appeal and waiting for a final decision, continue filing for unemployment per your state’s guidelines. If you stop filing, it could disqualify you, or you could miss out on backpay if your claim is approved.
  • Seek legal guidance from an employment lawyer to be sure to dot your i’s and cross your t’s.

At the end of the day, if you choose to quit for good cause, hopefully you won’t have any issues applying for and receiving unemployment benefits. But, if you do, you now have the know-how to support your case as robustly as possible.