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Am I Eligible For Unemployment Benefits

Updated on
January 29, 2021
Article written by
Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article we will explain Who is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits and How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits including:

  • Who Manages Unemployment Benefits?
  • Are All Employees Covered by Unemployment Insurance?
  • Does an Employee Need to Pay Towards Unemployment to Qualify?
  • Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?
  • What is Considered Voluntary Unemployment?
  • How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits?
  • What happens if benefits are denied or contested?
  • How Much Man I Receive While on Unemployment?
  • What is the Certification Process?
  • How Long Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?
  • How has Covid-19 Impacted the Unemployment Process?

Illinois provides a program known as unemployment insurance for workers that have suffered an involuntary loss of employment. This program is designed to assist unemployed individuals and their families during a difficult transition period. The State of Illinois has a vested interest in ensuring that people that lose their jobs are able to continue to afford basic necessities and housing. The State has a process for utilizing these benefits which must be followed to ensure timely and continued benefits.

Who Manages Unemployment Benefits?

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) administers and manages the Unemployment Insurance program for the State of Illinois. This is the department that will make and accept all communications as it relates to unemployment benefits. This is also the department that is responsible for determining who is and is not eligible for benefits.

Does an Employee Need to Pay Towards Unemployment to Qualify?

No. Unemployment benefits are derived from the payroll taxes paid by employers. Employees do not see any wage reduction as payment towards future unemployment benefits. Each employer pays into the benefit fund which finances this program.

Who Qualifies for Unemployment Benefits?

There are a few factors to determine who qualifies for unemployment benefits.

First, your former employer must be subject to the State’s unemployment insurance law. This law specifically exempts certain industries and employers including agricultural, domestic, railroad work, government work, commission-based employment, and certain employment for one’s family. If you were working in these industries, you may not be eligible for benefits, but a more specific analysis of your previous employment is required. Please consult with an attorney if you work in one of these areas and are pursuing unemployment benefits.

Second, you must have earned at least $1,600.00 during the last 12-month period, also known as a base period, and you must have earned at least $440.00 outside of the base period quarter in which your earnings were highest. Basically, you need to have been employed over 90 days at your most recent job to qualify or you need to have made at least $1,600.00 during the last year with $440.00 not being earned in the most recent three months.

Third, your unemployment must be Involuntary. If you are voluntarily unemployed, you will be denied benefits.

Fourth, you must be entirely out of work or reduced to less than full-time because full time work is not available. This work reduction must also result in a loss of income.

Fifth, you must be able and available to work. You are not able to travel, take a vacation, or be otherwise unable to accept work while receiving unemployment benefits.

Finally, you must be actively seeking employment and willing to accept a suitable job offer. You will be required to keep a job diary in connection with this job search. IDES may ask for a copy of this diary, so it is important to keep clear records.

What is Considered Voluntary Unemployment?

IDES has defined voluntary unemployment to be a situation where the employee has elected to be unemployed or their actions caused unemployment. The main reasons that a loss of work is considered voluntary are as follows:

1.       Employee quit their job without good cause attributable to your employer;

2.       Employee was charged with misconduct in connection with their employment;

3.       Employee was terminated in connection with a felony or theft in connection with your work; or

4.       Employee is not working due to a labor dispute.

If you are out of work for any of the above reasons, it is likely that you will be denied benefits.

How to apply for Unemployment Benefits?

Generally, IDES allows for applications to take place either through an online application or by in-person application. IDES has closed their offices to visitors during the Covid-19 restrictions so until further notice from IDES all applications must be completed online. Whether applying online or in person, it is strongly recommended that you apply for benefits within the first week of unemployment. This will help to prevent any delay in receiving benefits during an eligible period. When filing out the benefit application, the following information is needed:

1.       A Social Security Number and Legal name as it appears on the Social Security Card;

2.       Your Driver’s License/State Id;

3.       Legal Names, Birthdates, and Social Security Numbers of all dependents being claimed including your spouse if they are to be claimed;

4.       Name, mailing address, phone number, employment dates, and separation reason for all employers within the last 18 months;

5.       Any gross wages earned the week of application;

6.       Record of any pension payments that you are receiving;

7.       Alien Registration Number, if any;

8.       If you are a recently separated veteran, the Member 4 Copy of the DD form 214/215;

9.       If you were a civilian employee of the federal government, copies of Standard Form 8 and Personnel Action Form 50.

Additionally, all benefit applicants must register with This is the website which is run by Illinois Unemployment Services, a State sponsored employment search. This website will allow you to create or load a resume to assist in finding new employment. Prior to any benefits being paid, every person is required to register with this website.

What Happens If Benefits Are Denied or Contested?

After your application is submitted and reviewed by the IDES, there is a chance that the application will be denied outright by IDES or contested by your most recent employer. In the event of a denial or contest, IDES provides for an appeal and hearing on the issue of benefits. The appeal process will be covered in a subsequent article coming to our website soon. If this is an issue that you are dealing with, please look for our next article on the subject or, if you need immediate assistance, call our office to speak with one of our qualified attorneys on the subject.

How Much Can I Receive While on Unemployment?

The maximum weekly benefit amount is $484.00 for an individual. IDES provides additional amounts if there in a nonworking spouse which can increase the maximum benefit to $577.00. There is also a dependent child allowance which can raise the maximum benefit to $669.00 per week. These maximum amounts are reached when the applicant was earning over $1,028 per week or over $26,715 in base period wages in the Highest Quarters. IDES provides a calculation table which can help determine the potential benefit you may be eligible for which can be located on their website.

What is the Certification Process?

In order to receive unemployment benefits on a continuing basis, the recipient is required to certify their unemployment claim every two weeks. What this means is that every two weeks in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits, an applicant needs to inform IDES and affirmatively state that they are still entitled to receive unemployment. Failure to do so will result in benefits being stopped. Certification can be done online or in-person.

How Long Am I Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?

If approved for Unemployment Benefits a person may receive benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks in a one-year period. If you exhaust the benefit eligibility period, you may apply for extended benefits, which may be awarded based on the State’s unemployment statistics at that time. If the State is in a high unemployment period, benefits may be extended for an additional period determined by IDES.

How has Covid-19 Impacted the Unemployment Process?

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on multiple facets of society and has cause increased unemployment since March of 2020. In an effort to combat this issue, the State has enacted an automatic extension of benefits for an additional 13 weeks. With this extension, the eligibility period is currently 39 weeks before having to apply for extended benefits.

The federal government had also extended funds for additional weekly benefit amounts for each unemployment recipient. As of the writing of this article, the additional weekly benefit funds have been exhausted but are subject to reinstatement in any additional federal legislation that may be passed.

This article is intended to address what protections an employee may seek after the employment relationship is severed. For a more in-depth analysis on Covid-19 employee and employer relations and navigating your legal rights during the Covid-19 pandemic please see our article addressing that topic: Illinois Employee and Employers’ Rights During Covid-19

Am I Eligible For Unemployment Benefits

Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty

Kevin O’Flaherty is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has experience in litigation, estate planning, bankruptcy, real estate, and comprehensive business representation.

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