In every state in the United States, employees who are out of work through no fault of their own can apply for unemployment benefits. But that doesn't mean that the details of each state's laws are the same. Rather, they vary from state to state. Oregon's unemployment insurance program is managed by the Oregon Employment Department. Anyone working in Oregon needs an overview of how the law works, as well as an understanding of the federal pandemic unemployment assistance plan.
Summary of Unemployment Insurance Benefits in Oregon
State Benefits Program
Oregon law defines eligibility in the usual terms: employees who are out of work due to no personal fault, have minimum income earned in the base period, and who are able, available and aggressively looking for work. Oregonians who qualify will receive a weekly benefit amount of 1.25 percent of the total wages in the base period (the first four of the past five calendar quarters), with a weekly minimum of $151 and a weekly maximum of $648. The regular duration of Oregon state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.
Federal Benefits Program
The federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist workers who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic. This expands and supplements Oregon unemployment benefits. The initial CARES Act was passed in March, 2020, and provided:
- $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefit in addition to any state-provided unemployment benefits.
- Up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in addition to the 26 weeks Oregon provides under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC).
- Unemployment benefit eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
The FPUC program of supplemental payments ran through July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, these benefits disappeared. However, the FPUC was amended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a $300 per week FPUC benefit in addition to state-provided benefits starting on December 26, 2020, and extending through March 14, 2021.
Benefits under the PEUC program (extending the duration of benefits by 13 weeks) expired on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended the program to March 14, 2021, and upped the duration from 13 supplemental weeks to 24 additional weeks.
Benefits under the PUA programs (unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig employees) were set to expire on December 31, 2020. Under the CAA, this was extended until March 14, 2021.
Oregon Unemployment Laws
Unemployment insurance provides benefits to workers who find themselves out of a job temporarily as long as certain conditions are met. The Oregon Employment Department reviews the applications and makes a determination of eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
A worker initiates a claim by filing a written claim. They have to show evidence that they are eligible for unemployment under regular Oregon unemployment laws or under the federal pandemic unemployment rules. In order to be eligible for state benefits, the worker must show that:
- They are unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- They have worked 500 hours or earned certain minimum income ($1,000) during the base period established by Oregon law.
- They are able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
Fault Under Oregon Unemployment Law
Oregon, like most states, does not offer unemployment benefits to employees who were fired due to misconduct. Rather, they must be out of work due to no fault of their own. While this is generally the law across the country, Oregon defines this eligibility requirement for state residents in its statutes.
For example, if a worker is fired for unlawfully taking money from the company, paying them for unemployment is not considered to be in the public interest. The same is true even if the worker is fired for not showing up regularly or for going out on strike. If the worker is let go because they were a poor fit for a job or the worker did not have the necessary skills going forward, they may be eligible, and anyone let go because of downsizing or similar company issues is eligible.
Quitting a job doesn't necessarily disqualify a worker from unemployment. It depends on the reason for quitting. In Oregon, if a person has good cause for quitting, they are still eligible. A court looks at whether an average worker believed that they had no choice but to quit, given the circumstance. For example, working conditions that pose a threat to health and safety qualify as good cause if the company refuses to take action to remedy it.
Special CARES Act Fault Rules
The CARES Act added quite a few pandemic-related reasons a worker might have to leave their job, including quitting when impacted by COVID-19. Essentially, a worker is permitted to receive pandemic-related unemployment benefits if that worker:
- Can’t work because they are ill with COVID-19.
- Can’t work because they
might have been exposed to coronavirus and are required to stay home. Can’t work because their doctor said they should stay home to prevent the risk of getting exposed to, or spreading, coronavirus. Can’t work because their employer shut down or cut back due to coronavirus, including a shut down due to the Governor’s Stay Home Save Lives order or on the advice of public health officials. Can’t work because they must care for a family member or other person they live with and provide care for who is sick with coronavirus or is required to stay home. Can’t work because they
have to stay home to care for a child due to the closure of schools, child care providers or similar facilities due to coronavirus. * Refuses to work although they have been asked to work because working would violate a doctor’s stay-home order or the Governor’s Stay Home Save Lives order.
Minimum Work and Income Requirements
Under Oregon state law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage after working a certain amount of time. It doesn't matter if they worked for one employer the entire time as long as they were employees during that period. This is to prevent a worker who gets a job one day and is laid off the following month from getting 13 weeks of unemployment benefits.
Regular unemployment benefits are available in Oregon if the worker earned a minimum amount during a specifically defined base period. The base period in Oregon, like in most states, is the first four of the past five calendar quarters, counting back from the date the initial claim is filed. The worker must have worked at least 500 hours or have received pay of at least $1,000 from an employer during this base period to be covered.
How does this work? Let's say that a worker loses their job in January, 2021. The five prior complete calendar quarters run from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020. The Oregon Employment Division looks at the first four of those (here the final quarter of 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020) as the base period. It is during those quarters that the employee must have earned wages of $1,000 or more, or worked at least 500 hours to be eligible for unemployment benefits in Oregon.
Actively Seeking Work
Oregon state unemployment insurance is meant to assist workers between jobs, that is, workers who find themselves unemployed and who are actively seeking employment. In order to eliminate those who are simply taking a downtime period or a vacation from work, Oregon imposes a requirement that the workers be physically and mentally able to work, be available to work and be actively seeking employment.
To show that they meet these requirements, unemployed Oregon workers must look for work every week in order to get benefits. The worker should make several contacts for employment each week and keep track of them. If a worker is offered a suitable job with similar hours and salary to the prior position, they must accept it. The Oregon Employment Division (OED) can investigate by contacting the potential employers to make sure that the worker did in fact seek work with them.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
Federal pandemic unemployment, under the CARES Act and subsequent legislation, eliminates the requirement that the employee must be available to work and seek work to continue to get benefits in several circumstances. For example, if the employee is ill from COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19 or taking care of minor children because schools are closed, they are eligible for continued benefits without seeking other employment.
Filing a Claim in Oregon
Anyone considering filing for unemployment in Oregon should start by reading the Unemployment Insurance Claimant Handbook published by the Employment Division of the state. It walks a reader through the steps, helps them determine whether they are eligible and what forms to fill out.
The easiest way to proceed in Oregon is to use the online claims system. This is true for both regular unemployment claims and pandemic-based unemployment claims. However, it is also possible to file by phone. Given the vast number of people trying to reach the office, however, this may be more difficult.
Information Needed to File a Claim
Whether a worker applies by phone or on the website, they will need their work history and this information:
- Name, address and date of birth.
- Social Security number.
- Affidavit describing citizenship and permanent residence status.
- Copy of a photo ID such as a passport or driver’s license.
- List of all employers within the past two years, including wages and reason for separation.
- Verification of income.
A claimant will have to verify their income. Employees will have their base payment determined by their net income for the prior year, so tax returns or W2s are required. For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, an individual can self-certify for a $205 weekly benefit amount.
To receive a higher weekly benefit, the claimant must provide income documentation. Once a determination is made, the individual is told whether they are eligible and the amount and duration of unemployment the worker may be eligible for. After that, a claimant must file weekly claim statements under penalty of perjury certifying their situation in order to continue to receive payments.
Oregon Unemployment Amount and Duration
Unemployment benefit amounts in Oregon depend on a person's net income in the base period. There is a range of possible benefit amounts for regular unemployment benefits starting at $151 a week and going up to $658 a week. The more a person earned in their work in the recent past, the higher their unemployment benefit will be.
The formula is fairly simple: a weekly benefit will be 1.25 percent of the total wages in the worker's base period, with a weekly minimum of $151 and a weekly maximum of $648. In Oregon, benefits are generally available for up to 26 weeks, however the CARES Act has extended this by an additional 13 weeks.
- Oregon.gov: Claimant Handbook
- Oregon Department of Employment: COVID-Unemployment
- Oregon Employment Department: File a Claim
- Eligibility: Oregon Unemployment Benefits and Eligibility
- Nolo: Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Oregon
- Investopedia: Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act
- DOL: FAQs Unemployment Benefits
- Oregon.gov: Unemployment
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.