Colorado Unemployment Benefits, Amount, Services, Filing & FAQs

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In Colorado, workers who are currently out of a job through no fault of their own can apply for state unemployment benefits. The state's unemployment insurance (UI) program is managed by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). It is this agency that accepts workers' claims and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Unemployed persons in Colorado may be eligible for state unemployment benefits, as well as federal pandemic unemployment benefits. Anyone working in Colorado should get a clear overview of how these laws work.

Colorado State UI Benefits

Colorado offers unemployment benefits to those workers temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. To be eligible, employees must also meet other qualifications, including earning sufficient wages in their base period.

The base period in Colorado is a 12-month period determined by identifying the oldest four of the most recent five calendar quarters completed before the individual filed their unemployment claim. A calendar quarter is a three-month time period, like January through March, or April through June.

In Colorado, the state pays unemployment benefits on a weekly basis. It sets a minimum weekly benefit of $25 and a maximum of $618. The normal duration of benefits in Colorado is 26 weeks. A qualified worker will get a weekly benefit of between 50 and 60 percent of the average weekly amount they made during their base period. This may be based on one of two formulas, one based on the earnings in the worker's two highest consecutive quarters in their base period, the other based on the total wages earned during the base period.

Federal Benefits Program

In most situations, regular unemployment benefits are regulated entirely by the states. In unusual circumstances, the federal government may supplement the state program, offering additional benefits or extending benefits. When many businesses were forced to close due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were suddenly out of jobs, causing a financial crisis in the country.

In response, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help workers who lost their jobs or lost income as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This bill expanded eligibility in a variety of ways and supplemented state unemployment benefits with additional payments.

The CARES Act, passed in March 2020, provided a supplemental $600 payment per week for unemployed workers as Federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. It also added 13 weeks to the maximum duration of every state UI program. In addition, the bill extended UI eligibility to allow self-employed and gig workers to collect UI benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

Extensions to Federal UI Programs

The federal UI supplemental benefits program that provided $600 per week to unemployed workers ended on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, workers received only state UI benefits. However, in December, 2020, the program was amended by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a supplemental payment of $300 per week benefit in addition to state-provided benefits. This was in effect from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. These 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 CARES Act provision that extended the benefit duration period by 13 weeks was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but was extended by the CAA to March 14, 2021, and increased to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 further increased the total number of benefits weeks available to Colorado residents to 70 weeks.

The CARES Act provision extending UI benefits to self-employed and gig workers was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended these benefits until March 14, 2021, and benefits were further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.

Colorado Unemployment Laws

Anyone who finds themselves temporarily out of work in Colorado can apply for unemployment insurance benefits through the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). The CDLE is charged with evaluating each claimant's eligibility based on legal requirements. The agency determines eligibility for state benefits based on state law and eligibility for federal pandemic benefits based on federal law.

The first step in getting state unemployment benefits and/or federal pandemic benefits is to file an unemployment claim. The worker must answer questions relating to their eligibility for unemployment benefits under the applicable law.

Eligibility under Colorado law requires that the worker:

  • Be unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
  • Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
  • Earned wages of at least $2,500 during their base period.

Fault Under Colorado UI Law

Not every worker who loses their job in Colorado will qualify for UI benefits. In this state, like every other state, a worker is eligible for UI benefits only if they are not to blame for their job loss. That is, if an employee is let go or fired because of gross misconduct on their part, they cannot get unemployment. For example, an employee who is fired because they showed up at work under the influence of drugs on a regular basis will not get Colorado UI benefits.

However, just being fired doesn't disqualify a worker for UI. If the worker was fired because they lacked the skills required to perform the job or they simply were not a good fit, they cannot be said to have committed a misdeed and may be eligible for benefits in Colorado. And a Colorado worker who quits a job may remain eligible if they had good cause for quitting.

It is considered good cause if a worker quits for a work-related reason that would make an individual who wants to remain employed leave employment. An example might be not getting paid the amount promised, or a worker facing a personal medical issue might also have good cause for leaving.

Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules

The CARES Act and subsequent federal legislation amending pandemic UI benefits added a number of "good cause" reasons a worker might have for not working or looking for a new job. These are all coronavirus-related reasons and include circumstances like a worker being ill with COVID-19, exposed to the coronavirus or told by a doctor to stay home so that they will not be exposed to the virus or won't expose others.

It is also good cause under federal law if an employer shut down or cut back work due to the coronavirus, if the worker must care for a family member who has the virus, or has a minor child whose school is cancelled due to coronavirus.

Minimum Income Requirements

Under Colorado law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earn a certain minimum amount of money during a base period. The Colorado base period is a 12-month period, four consecutive three-month calendar quarters. To determine the base year, the CDLE looks at the date when the worker filed for UI benefits, then counts backward from there to identify the last five complete calendars quarters before the claim. The base year is the four earliest of these quarters.

A Colorado employee cannot get state unemployment benefits unless they earned at least $2,500 during their base period. Note that a Colorado worker is not eligible for federal pandemic unemployment benefits unless they first qualify for state benefits. That means that someone who did not earn at least $2,500 during their base period will not get state or federal UI benefits.

Actively Seeking Work

A Colorado worker must be available to work and actively seeking work on an ongoing basis in order to keep getting UI benefits. An out-of-work employee who is not ready to work or not actively looking for a job will not get UI benefits. The state does not set a minimum of work contacts per week, but a claimant is supposed to conduct a thorough and diligent job search and keep records of the companies they contact.

However, these requirements have been modified by the federal pandemic unemployment legislation. 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 a government order, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.

FAQs and Answers

​​​Q:​ How do I apply for UI benefits in Colorado?​

​A:​ A worker can apply for UI benefits in Colorado by phone, fax or online. The CSLE makes it easy to apply online with the MyUI+ application. Before sitting down to fill in the claim, the worker should gather their recent work information, including:

  • Names and addresses of recent employers.
  • First and last dates (month, day and year) of employment.
  • Number of hours worked and pay rate.
  • Wages earned.
  • Reason for leaving the jobs.

​Q:​ How much money will I get in weekly UI benefit payments in Colorado?

​A:​ Colorado UI benefits are generally 50 to 60 percent of the average weekly earnings of the worker during their base period. The state applies two alternative formulas to determine the exact weekly benefit amount, paying the higher amount.

The first formula looks at wages earned during the highest two consecutive quarters in the claimant's base period. The CDLE divides that number by 26, and multiplies the resulting number by 0.6. That yields the weekly benefit amount although it is capped at $561 per week. The second formula adds up all wages earned in the base period. This is divided by 52, and the resulting number is divided by 2. This yields the claimant's weekly benefit amount which is capped at $618.

The federal pandemic legislation offers a worker approved for state UI benefits an additional $300 a week in supplemental pandemic UI benefits.

Q: Is there some easy way to get an estimate of what benefit I might be entitled to?

A:​ Yes. Go to the Colorado Internet Unemployment Claims Benefit Estimator and plug in your numbers.

​​Q: ​ For how many weeks can I get benefits?

​​A:​ ​​ Under Colorado 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 Colorado?

​​​A:​ ​​ ​ Under state law, only employees are entitled to UI benefits in Colorado. However, the federal government expanded eligibility to self-employed persons and gig workers under the CARES Act. The law has been extended and is set to expire on September 6, 2021.

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