California's system of unemployment benefits provides a cash cushion for employees who have been laid off. The amount of unemployment benefits is a factor of how much the claimant earned in wages during a base period. To calculate the benefit, determine the base period, calculate wages in the highest-earning quarter and determine the corresponding weekly benefit amount.
Not everyone who leaves a job can collect unemployment benefits. Whether you qualify for unemployment benefits depends on the way you left your previous job. To claim benefits, you must have been laid off rather than fired for cause or have quit voluntarily. The maximum weekly benefit available in California is $450, and California offers unemployment benefits for six months. Unless Congress approves a federal extension of unemployment benefits, the checks will stop coming after you exhaust your six-month fund.
Determine Your Standard Base Period
The standard base period is the earning time frame the state considers when evaluating your claim. Your standard base period is the first four of the last five calendar quarters before you submitted your unemployment claim. For example, say you submitted an unemployment claim on Jan. 1, 2015. Your standard base period would be October 2013 through September 2014. You must have earned enough in this time period, approximately $1,300 or more, to establish a claim.
Identify Your Highest-Earning Quarter
Your claim dollar amount is derived from the base period quarter in which you had the highest earnings. To figure your claim amount, sum your wages from each quarter of the base period. The state counts only W-2 earnings from a job in this figure, so don't include earnings from self-employment or passive income. The quarter with the highest number will be used to determine your weekly benefit amount. For example, if your highest wage amount was $9,000 in quarter 3, $9,000 will be used to determine your claim amount.
Determine Corresponding Weekly Benefit Amount
Match your highest quarter wages with the corresponding weekly benefit amount in the benefit table of the California Unemployment Insurance Handbook (see Resources). The lowest wages that can earn you a benefit would be $900, which gives a weekly benefit of $40. The highest weekly benefit you can obtain would be $450, assuming you earned at least $11,674 in one quarter. Earnings of $9,000 would equate to a weekly benefit payment of $347. If you remain unemployed for 26 weeks, you can collect a total of $9,022 in unemployment benefits.