In the state of Hawaii, as in every state in the United States, employees who are out of work through no fault of their own are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Hawaii's unemployment program is run by the UI Division of the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR). They determine eligibility of claimants by applying state laws as well as federal pandemic unemployment assistance laws. Anyone working in Hawaii should get a clear overview of how these laws work.
Unemployment Insurance Benefits in Hawaii
Hawaii law defines eligibility for state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in the same way as most states. The UI benefits are offered to employees who are out of work through no fault of their own if they earned the requisite income in the specified base period. The base period is defined as the oldest four of the most recent five calendar quarters before a claim is filed. Unemployed workers must also be able to work, be available to work and be aggressively looking for work in order to qualify for state benefits.
Hawaiians who qualify receive a weekly benefit amount – the amount earned in the highest-paying base year quarter divided by 21 with a weekly minimum of $5 and a weekly maximum of $648. The regular duration of Hawaii 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 expanded eligibility and supplemented state 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 under the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC) added onto the 26 weeks Hawaii provides.
- Unemployment benefit eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Each of these programs had an initial ending date. The FPUC supplemental $600 payments ran through July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, there were no supplemental payments. 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.
This ran from December 26, 2020, through March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments have again been extended – this time through September 6, 2021 – by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This bill was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
Extension of the PEUC Benefits Program
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, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 increased the total number of weeks available in Hawaii from 50 (24 plus 26) to 79.
Extension of the PUA Programs
Benefits under the PUA programs (unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig employees) were initially set to expire on December 31, 2020. Under the CAA, this was extended until March 14, 2021, then further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.
Hawaii Unemployment Laws
Hawaii state law provides unemployment insurance benefits to workers who find themselves temporarily out of a job. The Unemployment Insurance Division of the Hawaii State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reviews the applications and makes a determination of eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
A worker must file a written claim for UI benefits providing evidence that they are eligible for unemployment benefits either under regular Hawaii unemployment laws or under the federal pandemic unemployment rules. In order to be eligible for Hawaii state benefits, the worker must show that:
- They are unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- They have worked during at least two of the four calendar quarters that make up their base year.
- During the entire base period of four calendar quarters, the worker must have earned at least 26 times their benefit amount.
- They are able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
Fault Under Hawaii Unemployment Law
No state, including Hawaii, offers UI benefits to employees who were fired because of their own misdeeds or misconduct. The employee must be out of work due to no fault of their own. The concept behind the unemployment insurance system is a recognition that even good workers get laid off due to downsizing or a financial downturn and may need help to bridge the period without wages until they find another job.
On the other hand, if a worker is fired for punching out a supervisor, a state has no interest in giving them unemployment benefits, and it would not be in the public interest. And violence is not the only type of misbehavior that prevents UI eligibility in Hawaii. A worker is not eligible for benefits if they are fired for calling in sick when they were actually on vacation or for going out on strike, but a worker who loses their job because they lacked the necessary skills may still be eligible.
In Hawaii, a worker who quits a job is usually disqualified for UI, but that depends on the reason for quitting. If an employee is found to have had good cause for quitting, they are still eligible. This might include being asked to labor in dangerous work conditions, for example, or being subjected to sexual harassment that the employer won't address.
Special CARES Act Fault Rules
The CARES Act and subsequent federal legislation added a variety of pandemic-related reasons a worker might have to leave their job. These include quitting or stopping work 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.
- They might have been exposed to coronavirus and are required to stay home.
- Their doctor said they should stay home to prevent the risk of getting exposed to, or spreading, coronavirus.
- Their employer shut down or cut back due to coronavirus, including a shut down due to an order of the governor or on advice of public health officials or the worker's personal doctor.
- 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.
- 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.
Minimum Work and Income Requirements
Under Hawaii state law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage after working a certain amount of time and earning a certain amount of money. The period of time is called the base year. To figure out the base year in Hawaii, divide the past few years into three-month segments, such as January through March or April through June, for example. Identify the last five quarters before the worker filed their claim, then use the four earliest of these as the base year.
An employee cannot get regular state unemployment benefits in Hawaii unless they earned wages during at least two quarters during the base year. These wages do not have to come from the same employer. Also, the worker must have earned at least 26 times their weekly UI benefit amount during the base year.
Calculation of UI Income Eligibility Requirements
Take the example of an employee who lost their job on March 1, 2021. The five prior calendar quarters before the worker filed the unemployment claim run from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020. The Hawaii UI Division considers the earliest four of those five as the base year. In this case, the last quarter of 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020. The worker must have earned wages in two of them, and the total wages for the base year must be at least 26 times the employee's weekly UI benefit.
For example, if the benefit amount is $100 a week, the worker must have earned at least $2,600 during the base year.
Actively Seeking Work
All states require that workers must be actively seeking a new job in order to qualify for state unemployment insurance. That's because the benefit is intended to help workers who are between jobs, not those merely taking a break or a vacation. So any laid-off employee who is not ready to work and seeking work will not get UI benefits.
Hawaii takes this requirement more seriously than some other states. It mandates that workers register with HireNet Hawaii within a week of filing their initial UI claim. This is the state's job placement program run by the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Development. It is also Hawaii’s most comprehensive job search engine. It helps employees assess their job skills and create and send CVs to employers.
A worker is required to make contact with at least three employers every week and document those efforts to keep getting benefits.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
Federal pandemic unemployment, under the CARES Act and subsequent legislation, modifies the available-to-work requirement in certain circumstances. For example, if the worker is ill from COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19, or taking care of minor children because schools are closed, they do not need to be looking for a job in order to get continued benefits.
Filing a Claim in Hawaii
Anyone considering filing for unemployment in Hawaii can begin the process by going to the unemployment website for Hawaii where they will find an instruction video on the site about how to determine eligibility. It also walks a worker through the steps to open a personal UI account and to apply for UI benefits.
The easiest way to file a UI claim in Hawaii is to use the online claims system. A worker can file a new claim Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Hawaii standard time. It is also possible to file a claim on weekends and holidays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Once the claim is filed, the worker receives an Unemployment Determination of Insured Status form that lists the worker's wages during the base period, their expected weekly benefit, and the total amount of benefits they can receive during the benefit year, calculated as 26 times the weekly benefit amount.
Information Needed to File and Certify a Claim
A worker will need information about themselves and their work history to file a UI claim, including name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and a copy of a photo ID. They are also required to submit a list of all employers within the past two years, their wages and the reason they no longer work there. They should have tax information available to verify their income.
Once the individual is declared eligible and given the amount and duration of unemployment eligibility, their work is not done. They must file weekly claim statements under penalty of perjury certifying their situation in order to continue to receive payments.
Hawaii Unemployment Amount and Duration
Unemployment benefit amounts in Hawaii are calculated from a worker's net income during the base period. The UI Division takes the total wages received in the highest-paid quarter of the base period and divides this figure by 21 The more a worker earned in the recent past, the higher their unemployment benefit amount will be.
The formula works like this: Assume that a worker earned $6,000 in two quarters in the base period, $7,750 in another quarter and $8,400 in the last quarter. The agency looks at the highest quarter – here $8,400 – and divides that amount by 21. The person's weekly benefit will be $8,400/21 or $400 a week, which is higher than the minimum of $5 a week and lower than the maximum of $648, so the worker will be awarded $400 a week.
In Hawaii, benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. However the CARES Act and other federal laws has extended this to 70 weeks.
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.