Wisconsin is like other states in that it offers unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to workers who have lost work through no fault of their own. However, in some instances, the Wisconsin Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DWD) will also allow workers to collect UI if they quit or get fired, depending on the specific circumstances of their case.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
People who quit a job usually cannot get unemployment benefits if they left of their own accord, but those with good cause for quitting may be eligible.
Collecting Unemployment Compensation After Quitting
The DWD will conduct an investigation of separation from the claimant's last employer if it occurred for any reason other than a reduction in force, layoffs or lack of work. The agency will schedule a fact-finding interview with the applicant and their former employer by phone or through an online questionnaire. The DWD won't pay UI benefits to the claimant until it decides their eligibility when it determines all the circumstances surrounding the termination.
People who quit a job usually cannot get unemployment benefits if they left of their own accord, but those with good cause for quitting may be eligible. Some reasons for good cause are:
- An employer asked them to do something illegal.
- An employer jeopardized the worker's health, leaving them no alternative but to quit.
- An employer jeopardized the health of a worker's immediate family, leaving them no alternative but to quit.
- The worker quit within the first 30 days of employment because the job did not meet labor standards regarding earnings, hours or additional considerations.
- The worker quit due to receiving an honorable military discharge from active duty.
- The worker quit due to domestic abuse or harassment of themselves or other family members.
- The worker quit to follow a spouse who is on active military duty, and location is too far to commute.
Direct and Indirect Sexual Harassment
Direct and indirect sexual harassment in the workplace are both good-cause reasons for quitting a job. The DWD defines direct workplace sexual harassment as unwelcome advances or contact, or verbal or physical sexual conduct such as the display of graphic materials or inappropriate gestures or comments.
Indirect sexual harassment occurs when an employer knows of occurrences of sexual harassment but does nothing about it. If the employer does not respond to complaints regarding harassment or allows someone to intimidate or show hostility to another worker, that worker may be eligible for UI benefits.
Voluntary Reduction of Hours and UI
If a worker wishes to reduce their hours, the DWD may see it as quitting. The DWD suggests using the following verbiage in a notice to employees who wish to reduce their hours: "Because you have requested a voluntary reduction in the number of hours you are working, you are notified that for Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance purposes, your reduction in hours may be considered a quit. Any wages that you earn while you are working the reduced hours may not be used to satisfy the quit requalification provision."
If, after the employee receives this notice, they do not reduce their hours, the DWD will not consider it quitting, even if the employer does not allow them to work their original hours.
Quitting Work Without Good Cause
If the claimant quits for reasons not stated above or within any of the DWD's exemptions, they are not eligible for UI benefits until their earnings in covered employment are equal to, or are a minimum of, six times the weekly benefit payment they would have gotten had they not quit. When they requalify, they can receive benefits based on the work they did before they left. Contributing employers who pay quarterly UI taxes do not need to pay for benefits based on work performed before the claimant quit, but if they are reimbursable employers, such as billed every month instead of paying quarterly taxes, they must pay their portion of benefits after the claimant requalifies.
In the event the claimant has already met the requalification requirement before they quit, their employer will receive a notice from the DWD stating that it is aware the claimant terminated the relationship and has satisfied the requalification requirement. It will let the employer know if they are liable for charges. This notice is form UCB-29, Notice of Benefit Charging. Employers who are not liable will still receive this notice if the claimant's benefit payments are the result of the work they did for an employer.
Amount of UI and How to File
The DWD calculates a claimant's weekly UI benefit amount as well as the number of weeks they can receive benefits. The weekly benefit amount in Wisconsin is about 40 percent of an applicant's average weekly wage, up to $370 a weekly; the minimum weekly benefits are $54. In times of low unemployment, payments are available for up to 26 weeks, but in times of high unemployment, this can increase. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, the federal government has extended benefits to states through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in 2020, and the American Rescue Plan Act, which ends September 6, 2021.
Applicants can file claims with the DWD online, or by phone, fax or mail. After filing, the applicant must continue to certify with DWD each week they claim benefits and register with the Job Center of Wisconsin to keep receiving payments. Once the DWD receives the claimant's application, it will send information about their claim, including a Form UCB-700 with their potential weekly payment amount and duration.
Appealing a Denial of an Unemployment Claim
Anyone who receives a denial of UI benefits from the DWD can appeal the decision. Their request must be in writing either online or via letter by the deadline stated on the rejection letter. After the agency receives the appeal request, it will schedule a hearing with evidence from the claimant and their employer. Hearings usually take place in person at a local unemployment hearing office. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will preside over the hearing and issue a written decision.
If the ALJ's decision isn't to the claimant's liking, they can file another appeal with the Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) within 21 days of receiving the decision. If the LIRC's decision is also not in their favor, they can appeal the decision in a Wisconsin Circuit Court. An applicant with questions or in need of further information on the unemployment and appeals process should contact the DWD.
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Serving Job Seekers, Businesses, and Employees
- Job Center of Wisconsin: Homepage
- NOLO: Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Form UCB-29, Notice of Benefit Charging
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Quit Section 108.04(7)
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.