All states offer unemployment insurance benefits to workers out of a job temporarily through no fault of their own. In Louisiana, the unemployment program is run by the Louisiana Workforce Commission, a part of the state Department of Labor, the agency that determines claimant eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
Currently, a worker can apply for both regular state unemployment benefits and federal pandemic unemployment that was provided in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act and modified by the American Rescue Plan in March, 2021. Anyone working in Louisiana should get a clear overview of how these laws work.
State Benefits Program
Louisiana law is similar to the law in other states when it comes to defining eligibility for state unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. UI benefits are available to employees who are unemployed through no fault of their own if they meet other qualifications, including earning enough wages to qualify in the state's base period.
The base period in Louisiana is defined as the oldest four of the most recent five complete calendar quarters before the individual files the unemployment claim. A calendar quarter is three consecutive months: January - March, April - June, July - September, and October - December. To qualify for state benefits, the person must be prepared to work, be available to work and be aggressively looking for work.
Workers in Louisiana receive a weekly benefit based on a formula involving the average wages earned per quarter in the base period. The amount will be at least the weekly minimum of $10, but not more than the weekly maximum of $247. The regular duration of Louisiana state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.
Federal Benefits Program
Generally, unemployment benefits are determined and regulated solely by the states. However, in extraordinary circumstances, the federal government may step in. The COVID-19 pandemic was such a circumstance since many businesses were ordered closed, and nonessential workers were ordered to stay home and not go to work.
Congress 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 a supplemental $600 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation benefits; up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits; and unemployment benefit eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Extensions to Programs With the American Rescue Plan Act
Each of these programs had an initial ending date of July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, there were no supplemental federal 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 were extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The federal benefit extension of 13 weeks expired on December 31, 2020. However, the CAA extended the program to March 14, 2021, and upped the duration from 13 supplemental weeks to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 further increased the total number of benefits weeks available to Louisiana residents from 50 (24 plus 26) to 70.
The federal law allowing self-employed and gig employees to qualify for UI benefits was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended this until March 14, 2021, then it was further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.
Louisiana Unemployment Laws
Workers who find themselves out of a job in Louisiana can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from the state. The Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC), part of the state Department of Labor, reviews the applications and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis.
To apply for state unemployment benefits or federal pandemic benefits, an individual must file a written claim with the LWC. A separate application for federal benefits is not necessary. The worker has to show in their claim that they are eligible for unemployment benefits under state or federal law. Eligibility under Louisiana state law turns on a showing that the worker:
- Is unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- Earned at least $1,200 in wages during their base year.
- Had earnings in the base period that were at least 150 percent of their wages during the highest-paid calendar quarter of the base year.
- Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
Fault Under Louisiana UI Law
Part of eligibility for UI benefits depends on the reason a worker lost their job. If an employee was fired because they stole from the till, punched out a supervisor or showed up drunk to work, they will not be eligible. Louisiana – like all states – does not offer UI benefits to employees who were fired because of their own misconduct. The employee must be out of work due to no fault of their own.
Unemployment insurance is intended to assist workers who get laid off due to downsizing or a company financial downturn. It provides a financial bridge to allow the worker to pay for food and housing until they find another job.
Being fired is not, in and of itself, a disqualification for benefits. If a worker is fired, for example, because they lacked the necessary skills, they may still be eligible for UI in Louisiana. Even a worker who quits a job may remain eligible if they are found to have had good cause for quitting.
CARES Act Modifies Fault Rules
The CARES Act and subsequent federal pandemic legislation added a variety of valid, coronavirus-related reasons a worker might have for quitting or not looking for work. These include quitting or stopping work when impacted by COVID-19.
Essentially, a worker is permitted to receive unemployment insurance claim benefits if that worker is ill with COVID-19; might have been exposed to the virus; or has been told by a doctor to stay home so that they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others. This also applies if their employer shut down or cut back due to coronavirus; they can’t work because they must care for a family member or other person they live with who is sick with coronavirus; or they can’t work because they have to care for a child at home because the child's school or child-care center is closed due to coronavirus.
Minimum Income Requirements
Under Louisiana state law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earn a certain minimum amount of money during a base period. The base period in Louisiana, like that in most other states, is four consecutive three-month calendar quarters. To determine those quarters, the LWC looks back from the date an individual files a claim. They identify the last five complete quarters before the claim, then use the four earliest of these as the base year.
Take the example of an employee who lost their job on March 1, 2021. This date occurs during the first calendar quarter of 2021. The five complete calendar quarters before the worker filed the claim run from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020. The LWC uses the earliest four of those five calendar quarters as the base year.
An employee cannot get state unemployment benefits in Louisiana unless they earned at least $1,200 in wages during their base period. In addition, the total amount of wages the individual earned during the base period must be at least 150 percent of the amount they earned in the highest-earning quarter. Note that the Louisiana worker cannot get federal pandemic unemployment benefits unless they qualify for state benefits, so a failure to earn $1,200 during the base period disqualifies the worker from both state and federal benefits.
Actively Seeking Work
A worker cannot get state unemployment benefits in Louisiana unless they are actively seeking new work. This is a requirement for unemployment benefits in most states. The benefits are intended to help workers between jobs, not to finance a temporary break from work. So any laid-off employee who is not ready to work and not seeking a job will not get UI benefits.
In Louisiana, an employee is considered ready to work if they have no barriers to taking a job right away if one is offered. Neither lack of childcare nor lack of transportation is a good excuse. The worker must make at least three job contacts every week and keep track of them.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
The available-to-work requirement of Louisiana state UI law has been modified for certain situations due to federal pandemic unemployment. Under the CARES Act, a worker need not seek work if they are ill from COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19 or taking care of minor children because schools are closed. If they have been ordered not to leave the house by their doctor or by government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.
Calculating Louisiana Benefit Amount
Unemployment benefit amounts in Louisiana are calculated from a worker's average wages per calendar quarter of the worker's base year. To figure out the average, add the wages for all four quarters together, then divide by 4. The weekly employment benefit will be 4 percent of the average quarterly wage times 1.2075. The more a worker earns in the base period, the higher their hourly wage. Louisiana gives workers a minimum of $10 a week and a maximum of $247 a week.
The federal pandemic legislation offers a worker approved for state UI benefits an additional $300 a week in supplemental pandemic UI benefits. This program lasts through September 6, 2021. A person doesn't need to file a separate application to receive federal pandemic UI benefits.
In Louisiana, UI benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. However, the CARES Act and other federal laws have extended the duration of benefits to 70 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.
FAQs and Answers
Q. How do I apply for UI benefits in Louisiana?
A. To apply for UI benefits in Louisiana, go to the UI page of the Louisiana Workforce Commission. Find the online claim form by tapping the File a Claim link under Unemployment Benefits, then fill out the form online. The form asks for personal information like name, address and SSN, and also employment information such as the name and address of last employer, wages earned and reason for discharge. The worker will have to upload tax or other wage information.
Q: Does a worker have to file every week?
A: Yes. In Louisiana, a worker must claim their benefits every week. The week ends at 12 midnight every Saturday. The worker can either go online or use an automated phone system to claim the week after Saturday. They will have to answer nine questions about other income or money they received during the week in question.
Q: How much money will I get every week in UI benefits in Louisiana?
A: A worker who qualifies for UI benefits in Louisiana will get a weekly benefits check. The amount of the check is determined by a formula: 4 percent of the average calendar wages from the base period, multiplying 4 percent times 1.2075. It may be reduced or eliminated if the worker receives other income, a pension or severance pay that week.
The minimum weekly benefit is $10 in Louisiana and the maximum weekly benefit is $247. Add to this the $300 weekly benefit from the federal pandemic legislation. This supplemental benefit amount lasts through September 6, 2021.
Q: For how many weeks can I get benefits?
A: Under Louisiana state law, an unemployed person who qualified for UI benefits can get their weekly benefit amount for 26 weeks. However, this time period has been extended by federal pandemic unemployment legislation to a maximum of 70 weeks.
Q.:Can a self-employed worker or a gig worker get unemployment benefits in Louisiana?
A: Under state law, only an employee whose employer pays into the UI program can get UI benefits in Louisiana, but eligibility was expanded to include self-employed persons and gig workers under the federal CARES Act. The law currently is set to expire on September 6, 2021.
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.