Unemployment insurance benefits usually are offered only to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. In the state of Rhode Island, as in most states, that requirement means that those fired because of their own conduct are not eligible for these benefits.
Those who live and work in Rhode Island should get a clear understanding of the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefit payments. The program is run by the state Department of Labor and Training.
One key question is whether the unemployed worker was fired for cause. If so, they will not get benefits unless they present compelling evidence on appeal that they were fired for some other reason.
Rhode Island Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment insurance (UI) is an insurance program, and like other types of insurance, only those who pay for benefits are eligible to profit from them. But unlike many types of insurance, unemployment insurance is mandatory.
Both federal and state laws mandate that businesses sign up for unemployment protection for their qualifying employees. The insurance is financed by the payroll taxes paid by employer and employee contributions. In Rhode Island, the taxes are paid into Rhode Island ’s Unemployment Insurance Fund, which then pays benefits to eligible workers.
Return to Pre-pandemic Laws
During the COVID pandemic, procedures in many states were simplified in order to quickly get aid to affected employees. The federal program ended in 2021. At that time, Rhode Island returned to the eligibility requirement laws that were in effect pre-pandemic.
The intention of Rhode Island unemployment laws is to assist qualified workers who lose their jobs and therefore their paychecks.
Criteria for Unemployment Compensation
While it may seem as if every unemployed Rhode Island worker would be eligible for UI benefits, that is not the case.
An employee must meet the following state criteria in order to qualify for unemployment benefits under Rhode Island law:
- Be unemployed through no fault of their own.
- Have earned enough wages during a base period from an employer who paid the unemployment tax.
- Be available to work and physically be able to work.
- Be actively seeking work.
Unemployment Claims and Employee Fault
Employers in Rhode Island have broad rights to terminate workers. They are prohibited by civil rights laws from firing employees because of certain protected classifications, including race, skin color, sex and/or national origin. An employee in Rhode Island (and all other states) can never be legally fired for any of these factors.
But otherwise, employment in Rhode Island is considered "at-will," meaning that the employer can fire an employee for any reason except those expressly prohibited by law or by their employment contracts. This includes bad behavior on the job. When an employee is fired for their behavior, it is termed being fired for fault.
For example, being fired for doing a job poorly, stealing materials, being late frequently, or violating company polices are all reasons for being fired for cause. This disqualifies the employee in Rhode Island from receiving unemployment benefits.
When a Worker Quits
Sometimes, an employee simply decides voluntarily to leave their job. Generally, voluntarily leaving a job makes the worker ineligible for unemployment insurance programs .
However, if quitting was due to certain employer-related reasons, such as the employer violating laws or forcing the worker into dangerous conditions, quitting might not disqualify the worker from UI benefits.
Rhode Island Determines Reasons for Unemployment
When an individual files an application for Rhode Island unemployment benefits, they must advise the state Department of Labor and Training of the reason for their unemployment.
Most people know that if they were fired for fault, they will not be eligible for UI, so they might be tempted to lie. But Rhode Island doesn't accept the answer on faith. Rather, the Department of Labor and Training contacts the former employer to verify the reason the worker left.
If the employee was fired for fault, the employer will tell the state. It is not in the employer's interests to allow unqualified former employees to collect benefits. That's because the payroll tax rate depends in part on how many of its former employees have collected unemployment benefits.
Evidence to Support a Claim
The Department of Labor and Training asks for evidence substantiating the employer's claim. If the employer produces evidence that the employee was fired for job performance issues, the employee is given a chance to dispute it by:
- Submitting relevant documents.
- Submitting job performance records showing that they were good workers.
- Presenting supervisors or colleagues as witnesses.
If they determine that the employee was fired for fault, that employee is excluded from UI benefits in Rhode Island. The only way the worker can receive compensation is to prove that they were not fired for cause by presenting evidence to the DLT through the appeals process.
Meeting Threshold Earnings Requirements
Only workers who are out of a job through no fault of their own are eligible for Rhode Island UI benefits. This is a condition for unemployment eligibility in most states. However, Rhode Island claimants must have earned a specified minimum of wages during the claimant's base period.
The base period in Rhode Island is usually the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before the claim is filed. A quarter is a three-month period, either January through March, April through June, July through September, or October through December.
Base Period Amounts
In order to qualify for the minimum weekly unemployment benefit in the state, the claimant must have been paid at least $14,700 in their base period. If they did not earn this amount in the base period, they may still be eligible if they were paid the following:
- At least $2,450 in one of the base period quarters.
- Total base period taxable wages of at least one and one-half times their highest single quarter earnings.
- Total base period taxable wages of at least $4,900.
In addition, when an applicant had a previous claim, they must have worked again since filing that claim and earned taxable wages of at least 80 times the Rhode Island minimum hourly wage of $12.25, or $980.
Weekly Benefit Amounts
The more wages the claimant earned while they were working, the more money they will be eligible to receive in weekly UI benefits. The benefit amount will be equal to 3.85 percent of the average of the total wages they earned in the two highest paid quarters of the base period.
However, Rhode Island sets a minimum weekly benefit amount of $62 and a maximum weekly benefit amount of $680.
The duration of a UI claim depends on a calculation of 33 percent of their total base period wages divided by their basic weekly benefit rate. The maximum benefit amount (not including dependent's allowance) is an amount equal to 26 full weeks.
Actively Seeking Work Requirements
Finally, an out-of-work employee is not permitted to sit back and take it easy while collecting unemployment benefits in Rhode Island. That is why the state imposes a requirement that even if the worker is out of work through no fault of their own, they cannot get state unemployment benefits unless they are actively seeking new employment.
They must be available to work and actively seeking work. Any unemployed worker who is not available to accept new work or is not seeking a job will not get UI benefits.
Federal UI Benefits Program
Unemployment insurance is largely a creature of state law, and the program is left to each state to organize. States have the right to describe UI eligibility for workers within their jurisdiction and to set the benefit amounts.
However, the federal government can step up to supplement the state program in times of crisis. Most recently, this occurred in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nation. As a result, many businesses closed, leaving their workers without jobs.
Pandemic UI Program Changes
When the World Health Organization declared COVID to be a pandemic, the United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The idea was to help workers who had lost their employment because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The law included supplemental unemployment benefit, offering additional funds to unemployed workers a supplemental payment provision. This gave $600 per week to unemployed persons in federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits.
In addition, this federal legislation changed state UI eligibility laws. That is, it added to the reasons a worker could quit work without being ineligible for UI, with many coronavirus-related reasons. These ranged from a worker having to stay home because they have the virus to having to stay at home to care for kids when schools were closed due to COVID-19.
The CARES Act added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These programs ended in September 2021, and the state programs, including the program in Rhode Island, reverted to their prior configurations.
Unemployment Applications in Rhode Island
The state provides an online system for claimants to apply for UI benefits in Rhode Island. It is easy to follow the online process. Applicants without access to a computer can call the office to apply at 401-415-6772.
Applying online starts at the state RIDLT website. The first step is to create an individual account. To do that, the applicant should:
- Click on "Create an Online Account" on the DES homepage.
- Enter a Social Security number, then enter it again.
- Create a user name to be used every sign-in.
- Enter, then reenter, an email address.
- Create a PIN number.
- Enter a contact phone number.
- Create a password.
- Select "Create Account."
- Find the email sent to the email address provided during account creation.
- Activate the account by selecting the activation link in that email.
Creating a New Claim Online
To create a claim, the individual must sign onto the Rhode Island UI website. To complete their application, they must supply the details of their personal information, including:
- Telephone number.
- Email address.
- Mailing address.
- Home address (if different from mailing address)
- Date of birth.
- Social Security number (SSN).
- State most recently worked in.
- Driver’s license number or state-issued identification number.
- Alien verification number if not U.S. citizen.
They must select the "File a New Unemployment Insurance Claim" link on the Customer Menu and respond to all questions about their employment history. At the "Apply for Benefits" area, the claimant should enter information about their latest employer.
When the information is complete, the application is ready to submit. The claimant must complete the Acknowledgement section, then select "Submit."
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.