California allows workers who choose to leave the state to collect unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. They must, however, meet the Employment Development Department's (EDD) criteria for eligibility and availability to continue receiving payments. Claimants who have lost a job through no fault of their own will usually receive UI, but when moving out of state or to a smaller job market, the EDD investigates their continued availability to find work and their reasons for moving before making a decision on whether to continue to offer benefits.
Since March 2020, claimants have not had to report their job search results to the California EDD due to the coronavirus pandemic. This rule is in place for the foreseeable future, as many businesses have yet to reopen. Despite this, the state still requires claimants who certify for unemployment benefits each week to state their availability to continue receiving payments.
Eligibility Requirements in California
A person filing for UI benefits in California can establish a claim if they earned enough wages during the state's four-quarter base period. During that time, the applicant must have earned a minimum of $1,300 in one calendar quarter or a minimum of $900 in their highest-paid quarter and 1.25 times their highest quarter earnings during the whole base period.
The claimant must also show eligibility by:
- Total or partial unemployment.
- Unemployment through no fault of their own, such as layoffs or lack of work.
- Having the physical ability to work.
- Having the availability to work.
- Having the willingness to accept work immediately.
Unemployment by Quitting or Firing
When a worker quits or gets fired from a job, they usually don't receive UI benefits. However, there are circumstances under which the California EDD will allow them to do so. If a person quits their job with good cause, such as sexual harassment or following a spouse to their next job, they will likely receive benefits. The EDD will conduct a phone interview with the claimant in order to make this decision.
The EDD also investigates firings. If an applicant lost their job because they weren't a good fit or they lacked the skills to perform their duties, they will likely receive benefits. However, if firing occurred due to misconduct, they won't. The state bases misconduct on these elements:
- Claimant owed "material" duties to their employer. These are elements that are properly part of the job, such as showing up on time and performing tasks applicable to the position.
- Claimant breached those duties more than once.
- The breach showed willful disregard by the claimant. This means the claimant disregarded their duties intentionally or showed recklessness for the consequences of their actions.
- The breach harmed their employer's business interests.
Certification Requirements in California
UI claimants must register on the CalJOBS website and create an account and a resume for viewing by potential employers within 21 days of receiving a Notice of Requirement to Register for Work (DE 8405) letter. A delay or loss of UI benefits may occur if the claimant fails to do this. The EDD also requires that applicants continue to meet its eligibility requirements when continuing to certify for benefits.
To receive regular payments, claimants must certify weekly online. They can also do this by mail or phone, but that could delay their benefits. The EDD will contact claimants who do not meet its requirements to further determine their eligibility. If the department decides to reduce or deny a claimant's weekly unemployment benefits, they may appeal that ruling.
COVID-19 Impact on Certification
Due to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the EDD has made these temporary exceptions for all claimants:
- There are no current eligibility requirements to look for work each week.
- After January 19, 2020, the state waived its seven-day waiting period for claims. Claimants who submit their first two-week certification now get paid for the first week of their claim.
All a claimant needs to do is show their availability for the week they are certifying. The fastest way to do this is through the EDD's online portal. They can certify for benefits while attending school or even working part time, providing they report their hours and wages.
Availability for Work Requirement
According to the EDD, claimants do not need to show availability to work in a particular place, but they must accept work somewhere where there are reasonable opportunities for it. The state does not require claimants to travel unreasonable distances for a job, but if there are no opportunities in their area and they refuse to commute or move to a place where there are jobs, the EDD can consider them to be unavailable, which can affect their unemployment insurance claim.
No formula exists for determining how far a job seeker should travel for work or how much is reasonable to spend on commuting. The state bases availability or lack of it on three elements:
- A move to another location.
- Traveling to find another job.
- The distance and cost of transportation or lack of it restricts the claimant's ability to find suitable work.
UI Claims and Moving to Another State
If a Californian wishes to move to a new state while collecting unemployment insurance benefits, they can do so as California does not require a person to stay in the state while either applying for or collecting UI benefit payments. Those who already receive payments need to notify the EDD of their move, provide their new address and continue to certify their claim as they normally would. The time the claimant takes to make the move can also affect their benefits. For example, if the unemployed person moves during two days of a claim week and shows availability for work on the other three days of the same week, they show continued eligibility to receive benefits.
Claimants who quit a job solely for the sake of making a move cannot, however, collect benefits unless they have good cause for doing so. Good cause varies from state to state, so what applies in one place will not always apply in another. Some examples of good cause are:
- Getting married and relocating to accompany a spouse who lives elsewhere or who is moving.
- Changing location to take care of an ailing relative with no other means of care.
- Moving for health reasons by either the claimant or a member of their family.
Moving to a Different State With No Set Date
If the claimant doesn't know when their move will take place, the state bases their availability to work on their willingness to look for work; their chances of finding and securing temporary work; how much time they spend preparing to move; and how it affects their efforts. This means that if the move is not imminent, they would be able take a temporary job if one exists in the meantime.
If they move to accept work at some point in the future, take less than four hours during a workweek day to move, or move on a day that wasn't a normal workday for their occupation, they can show availability and could continue to receive benefits. If the EDD cannot establish good cause for the move, or the claimant's availability to work was substantially reduced during the move, the state can rule that they are ineligible for UI benefits.
Market Conditions and Moving
If a claimant moves from a place where there is a demand for their services to one where there isn't much work in their field, the EDD may examine their attachment to that labor market. The claimant must show flexibility to work in their new community. They may receive lower wages and face other challenges, including a change in hours, working conditions and commute time.
The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board has often ruled that claimants can receive benefits after moving from a larger labor market to a smaller one, particularly if there was a compelling reason for doing so, and they remained available for employment.
Court Cases and Claimant Eligibility
Each claimant's circumstances are different, and the appeals board weighs the circumstances when hearing a case. For example, a woman moved to Oregon to follow her husband, an aircraft worker, to a new job. She had worked in aircraft assembly, but her occupation did not exist in her new location. She took lower-paying jobs that were not in her area of expertise. Because she had good cause to move to follow her husband to his new job and lowered her expectations about the types of work she could find, the board deemed her available for work, and she continued to receive benefits.
In another case, a claimant moved to Honolulu to get married. She had been a telephone operator in California and hoped to have the same occupation in her new home. However, Honolulu's public utilities hired people only on an as-needed basis and very often hired only islanders. The board ruled that these factors did not affect her availability to work since she willingly sought employment, and her profession existed in the area.
UI Compensation in California
State UI weekly benefit amounts range from $40 to $450. This has changed, however, due to the addition of federal subsidies during the coronavirus pandemic. After filing a claim, the EDD verifies the claimant's eligibility and wage information to determine how much they will receive and for how long. Claimants can also use the EDD's online calculator to get a general idea of how much they'll receive in benefits.
These calculations depend on the earnings a claimant made during a specific three-month period before filing their first claim. In California, UI benefits typically last up to 26 weeks. However, in times of high unemployment, they can last longer. Due to extensive job losses during COVID-19, claimants have been receiving a benefits extension.
Federal Subsidies to UI Benefits
In mid-March 2020, the pandemic caused millions to lose work overnight. California, like all states, shuttered everything but essential businesses. With such high unemployment, the federal government stepped in to help subsidize overloaded state agencies and created the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which gave those ordinarily ineligible for benefits the opportunity to collect them. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fund made benefits available to independent contractors who are not eligible to receive them under regular UI. PUA claimants receive benefits until March 13, 2021. However, Congress hopes to extend these benefits after that date with its American Rescue Plan Act.
Claimants may also receive Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), which added an extra 13 weeks of benefits for those whose UI would have otherwise ended. This program also ends on March 13, 2021, but Congress hopes to extend it as well. The CARES Act initially provided an extra $600 a week to all UI applicants until July 25, 2020; the American Rescue Plan Act will continue this line of funding with an additional $300 a week to UI, PUA, and PEUC beneficiaries, as many people wait to go back to work.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.