People who are out of work through no fault of their own may be entitled to unemployment benefits in Georgia. Generally, unemployment insurance is financed by amounts withheld from employee salaries, and eligibility depends on having paid enough into the fund. That is why Georgia, like most states, conditions unemployment eligibility on a person's earnings during a one-year base period.
Additionally, regular Georgia state unemployment benefits are supplemented by federal aid under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act for pandemic related unemployment claims. The law also expands eligibility and duration of benefits. Workers in Georgia will want to obtain an overview of the benefits offered in their state.
State of Georgia Unemployment Law
Georgians who find themselves out of work may be eligible for state unemployment benefits. The program is administered by the Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL). Claims are initiated by workers filing claims that are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Generally, a claimant is eligible to collect benefits in Georgia if they meet these criteria:
- The worker must be unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- The worker must have earned certain minimum income during the base period established by Georgia law.
- The worker must be able to work and be actively seeking employment.
"Fault" in Georgia Unemployment Law
Georgia, like other states, makes workers eligible for unemployment only if they are out of work due to no fault of their own. It is the law across the country, but each state defines this eligibility requirement slightly differently. Generally, someone who has been fired for misconduct is considered to be unemployed due to their own fault, making them ineligible for benefits. For example, a worker fired for being frequently late, missing work without good cause, or showing up drunk will not be eligible for unemployment benefits
However, a worker who was fired for some reason other than misconduct may be eligible for benefits. For example, if a newly hired employee turns out to be a poor fit for the job, they are not barred from applying for unemployment benefits, and someone who is laid off because of downsizing or company financial issues can apply for regular unemployment benefits in Georgia.
What if an Employee Quits?
How about someone who quits their job? That depends on the reason. If a worker quits for a valid, work-related reason, they may still be able to get unemployment benefits. This might include new and onerous work conditions or not getting paid for work performed.
Generally, quitting for a personal reason is not considered being unemployed through no fault of the worker, even if the justification is sincere and compelling. For example, someone who quits a job to care for their minor children is not eligible for benefits.
Minimum Work and Income Requirements for UI Benefits
Unemployment benefits are financed by unemployment insurance payments made by employers on behalf of workers in Georgia. Employers pay for unemployment insurance for their employees based on their payroll, and this money goes into funds on a state and federal level. Unlike Social Security benefits, the money is not withheld from a worker's paycheck.
Despite this, under state insurance rules, an employee is covered only if they have worked for a certain amount of time and earn a base amount of income. A laid-off worker who was just starting their first job will not be eligible for unemployment benefits in Georgia. Benefits are generally only available if the worker has earned a minimum amount during a one-year base period.
Determining Base Period for Eligibility
In Georgia, the base period for eligibility is based on calendar quarters, or three-month segments. The GDOL looks at the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters just prior to a benefits claim. For example, if the worker's layoff occurred in February 2021, the five prior complete calendar quarters run from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020. The GDOL looks at the first four of those – the final quarter of 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020 as the base period.
During this base period, the worker must have earned wages of at least $1,134 in two or more of these four quarters and earned wages in the total base period of at least 150 percent of the wages earned in the highest quarter.
Mandatory Job Search
Unemployment insurance is intended to help workers who find themselves unemployed and are actively seeking a new job. Neither Georgia, nor any other state, intends these benefits to finance someone's vacation or downtime. That's why all states require that to be eligible for unemployment benefits, a worker must be able to work, be available to work, and be actively looking for employment.
An unemployed Georgia worker must continue their work search in order to keep getting benefits. In Georgia, this means making three or more job contacts a week. These must be recorded and reported to the GDOL which can check up with the contacts to make sure a worker is telling the truth. A worker who is offered a suitable job must accept it.
Suitability in Georgia initially depends on: the level of skill and training required for the position; whether the offered position is similar to a worker's previous employment; whether the salary is comparable to the former position; and whether the commute time between the work location and the worker's home is similar to a previous position. After 10 weeks of unemployment benefits, the worker must take a job as long as it pays two-thirds of the hourly wage earned in the worker's prior job.
Filing an Unemployment Insurance Claim
It is easier to file for unemployment insurance benefits these days thanks to the internet. While it is still possible to visit a GDOL office to file a benefit claim in person, a worker with internet access can file their claim online. Go to the GDOL website for online forms and instructions about how to proceed.
Whether a worker applies in person or on the GDOL website, they will need this information:
- Name, address and date of birth.
- Social Security number.
- Signed affidavit about citizenship and permanent residence status.
- Photo ID such as a passport, driver’s license or DHS Employment Authorization.
- List of all employment within the past two years including employers, wages and reason for separation.
The arrival of an initial Georgia unemployment application triggers a review of the worker's claim. The GDOL sends a Claims Examiner's Determination to let the worker know if they quality for Georgia unemployment. They will also get a Benefit Determination that lays out the amount and duration of unemployment the worker may be eligible for. After that, the worker has to file weekly statements under penalty of perjury certifying their current situation in order to continue to receive payments.
Weekly Benefit Amount and Duration
Not every worker is entitled to the same amount of basic unemployment benefits in Georgia. There is a range of possible payments for regular unemployment benefits starting at $55 a week and going up to $365 a week. The more a worker has made in their work in the recent past, the higher their unemployment benefit will be.
The formula is somewhat complicated. The GDOL adds up the wages a worker earned during the two highest quarters in their base period, then divides this number by 42. For example, if a worker made $4,200 each month during the base work period, the wages from the two highest quarters total $8,200, divided by 42 equal $200 a week. The maximum period for which a worker can get regular benefits under Georgia unemployment law is 20 weeks.
This has been extended temporarily during the COVID-19 pandemic under the federal CARES Act, and eligibility has been expanded as well.
Supplemental Pandemic Coverage
As the country was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, businesses were shut down and workers laid off at unprecedented rates. In order to limit the individual financial fallout, the federal government enacted the CARES Act. This law expanded employment eligibility for those who lost their work due to COVID-19, provided supplemental payments to them and extended the duration of those payments.
The initial law, enacted on March 27, 2020, provided supplemental unemployment payments given to unemployed workers on top of any and all state unemployment benefits as part of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). It provided an additional $600 per week of unemployment benefits for anyone who lost their job or had their hours reduced due to COVID-19, or who was unable to work because they had COVID-19, were caring for a family member with COVID-19 or were looking after a child whose school was closed because of COVID-19. The program ran through July 31, 2020.
Additional Pandemic Benefits Under the CARES Act
The CARES Act also added 13 additional weeks of unemployment benefits to the 20 maximum that Georgia provides. This was known as the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. These weeks were available to any Georgia worker who had exhausted their 20 weeks of benefits.
Finally, the CARES Act also created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) law. This extended all unemployment benefits to self-employed individuals, freelancers, gig workers and independent contractors.
Modifications to FPUC
Between July 31, 2020 and the week beginning on December 26, 2020, Georgians out of work could collect only the amounts available from the GDOL, that is, between $55 and $365 a week. But in December, 2020, Congress changed and extended the FPUC as part of the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) that was included in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
The amended FPUC offered a supplemental weekly amount of unemployment insurance on top of the state limits. But instead of the prior $600 per week, the amount was limited to $300 per week in unemployment benefits. Payments under the CAA were issued by the GDOL starting in the week ending January 2, 2021. They are set to continue through March 14, 2021.
The CAA also included provisions extending the PUA program, which makes the self-employed and gig workers eligible for benefits created by the CARES Act. These provisions set the maximum duration of PUA benefits at 50 weeks, up from 39 weeks. The PUA program also expires on March 14, 2021. It is possible that Congress will increase unemployment benefits and perhaps further extend the length of time a worker can collect these benefits.
- Georgia DOL: Unemployment Benefits
- Georgia DOL: COVID-19 Information 2021
- Nolo: Collecting Unemployment Benefits Georgia
- Georgia DOL: COVID-19 Individual FAQs
- Savings to Invest: Georgia Department of Labor – Enhanced Unemployment Programs
- Investopedia: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. 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 MA and an MFA in English/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.