Anyone who has recently lost their job in Alabama would benefit from learning about the state's unemployment benefits. In 2021, an unemployed worker from Alabama may qualify for both regular state unemployment and also federal pandemic unemployment assistance, a program enacted as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The worker first must meet the financial eligibility requirements for the state programs in order to qualify for the federal program benefits. The eligibility is different, and the federal program expanded eligibility, benefits and duration of benefits for UI recipients.
Alabama State UI Benefits
Alabama's unemployment insurance (UI) benefits are managed by the state Department of Labor (DOL). The UI benefits are financed through a tax on employers in the state. Under Alabama law, only out-of-work employees who were employed by companies that paid the UI tax can get UI benefits. And only those employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own are eligible, not those fired for misdeeds.
Applicants must also meet specified financial qualifications to have their claims accepted, including earning wages in at least two of the quarters in the base period.
Alabama's base period for a worker, like that of most states, requires calculation of the five complete calendar quarters before the employee filed the claim. (A calendar quarter is a three-month segment, like April through June or July through September.) The base period is a 12-month period consisting of the earliest four of the five calendar quarters. For example, if the worker filed a claim on April 1, 2021, the five prior complete calendar quarters are January through March, 2021, and the four calendar quarters of 2020. The base period will be the four calendar quarters of 2020.
Certification and Weekly Benefit Amounts
Alabama pays weekly unemployment benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, but claimants must affirm their continued eligibility every two weeks.
Eligible Alabamians receive a weekly benefit of between the state minimum of $45 and the state maximum of $275. The formula for setting the amount is 1/26 of the worker's average quarterly earnings in their two highest paid quarters of the base period.
Federal Benefits Programs
While unemployment benefit management is generally a matter of state law, in exceptional circumstances the federal government steps in to supplement the state programs. The 2020 nationwide shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic was considered to be this type of unusual circumstance. Congress passed a financial assistance bill called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist those who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The CARES Act expanded UI eligibility in several ways. It authorized a $600 supplemental weekly pandemic unemployment benefit to every worker receiving state unemployment. This program was called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits.
The CARES Act also increased state benefit duration by 13 weeks and extended UI eligibility to self-employed and gig workers, who are not generally covered under state UI programs. This was implemented under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.
Extensions to Federal UI Programs
The federal UI supplemental benefits program (that paid a supplemental $600 a week to UI claimants) ended on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, Alabama claimants received only the state UI benefit amount. The federal program was amended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to extend the program.
However, instead of providing a supplement of $600 a week, it authorized a supplement of $300 per week in addition to state-provided benefits, running from December 26, 2020, to March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, a bill signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The CAA (extending the benefit duration by 13 weeks) was supposed to expire on December 31, 2020, but was extended to March 14, 2021. In addition, the extension was increased to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 additionally increased the number of benefit weeks available to Alabama residents to a total of 70 weeks.
The federal law that extended UI benefits to self-employed and gig employees was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA legislation extended this program until March 14, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan of 2021 further extended it to September 6, 2021.
Alabama Unemployment Laws
An employee who is out of work in Alabama can apply for unemployment insurance benefits from Alabama's Department of Labor (ADOL). The agency manages the program, reviewing a claimant's eligibility based on legal requirements. The state DOL determines eligibility for state benefits based on state law and for federal pandemic benefits based on federal law.
In order to apply for either state unemployment benefits or federal pandemic benefits, a worker files an unemployment claim with the DOL. The worker must provide the information requested on the application. It is designed to elicit information that the DOL needs to determine whether a claimant is eligible for UI benefits under the applicable law.
Eligibility under Alabama state law requires that the worker:
- Is unemployed through no fault or misdeeds of their own.
- Is able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.
- Meets certain financial requirements, including having earned wages during two of the four calendar quarters that make up the base period.
Fault Under Alabama UI Law
The UI program enacted in Alabama is intended to provide financial assistance to workers in the state who are temporarily out of work and looking for a job. Those workers merely enjoying a break or taking a vacation are not eligible.
UI eligibility in Alabama turns partly on the reason that a worker lost their job. A worker fired for misconduct or bad behavior in Alabama will not be eligible for UI benefits. The rule is that the employee must be out of work due to no fault of their own. The state interprets misconduct rather strictly to include acts like tardiness and failing to follow instructions.
Good Cause for Quitting
However, the fact that an employee is fired doesn't necessarily mean they are disqualified from Alabama UI benefits. If they were fired because they lacked the skills to perform the work, for example, they may be still be eligible for UI. And quitting a job in Alabama might not disqualify a worker from UI benefits if they had a good, work-related cause for quitting. The reason must be so compelling that the worker had no other choice than to leave. For example, pervasive on-the-job sexual harassment or dangerous working conditions might be sufficient reasons to quit.
While some states permit an employee to receive UI if they quit for compelling personal reasons like caring for a dying spouse, Alabama does not.
Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules
The state rules regarding fault were modified by the federal legislation creating pandemic UI benefits. The federal legislation added coronavirus-related reasons that a worker might leave their job yet still not be disqualified for Alabama UI. These include being ill with the COVID-19 virus, being exposed to the virus, or being advised by medical personnel to stay home so they are not exposed to the virus or won't expose others.
Alabama workers also remain eligible for UI benefits if they quit work to care for someone they live with who is sick with coronavirus or if they need to care for a child at home because the child's school or child care center is closed due to coronavirus.
Minimum Income Requirements
Alabama imposes several financial requirements for state UI benefits. First, a worker is eligible for unemployment coverage in Alabama only if the average earning of their two highest calendar quarters is at least $1,157.01. In addition, they must earn during the base period at least 150 percent of their earnings in the highest paid quarter of the period.
In order to be eligible for federal pandemic unemployment benefits, an Alabama worker has to meet these financial qualifications for state benefits. That means that a worker who doesn't meet these financial mandates will not qualify for federal benefits either.
Job Seeker Requirements
Alabama UI benefits are meant to help employees who are between jobs, not to finance workers who are on vacation or want some time off. Therefore, an Alabama worker will not be eligible for state unemployment benefits unless they want to work and are making efforts to get a job.
The worker must be available to work and actively seeking work. Their good faith in this effort is proved by engaging in a regular search for work. They must contact potential employers every week and report back to the Department of Labor as to who was contacted, the date of the contact and the details of the contact.
Pandemic Unemployment Modifications
When the pandemic hit the country and nonessential businesses were shut down, the federal government modified Alabama's available-to-work requirement, as well as those of all other states. The modifications make exceptions for specified, COVID-related situations.
Under the terms of the CARES Act, a worker doesn't have to actively seek work to get UI benefits if they have COVID-19, care for someone who has COVID-19, or take care of their kids at home because schools are closed as a result of COVID-19. Likewise, if a worker has been ordered by their doctor not to leave home, they can also continue to collect UI without looking for a job.
Applying for Alabama UI Benefits
While it is possible to apply for Alabama UI benefits by phone, it may be faster to use the online claims system. The Alabama UI portal is available to claimants all day, every day, where they can fill out an application. There are directions that walk the applicant through the process.
Essentially, a worker must navigate to the DOL initial claims website and click on new claim. It is necessary to set up an account with a Social Security number and a password in order to file the claim. The worker must put in personal information and work-related information, like name, mailing address, location and phone number of the worker's last employer; the first and last days worked; and information about earnings from work and other income received like vacation, severance or bonus pay. The claim is effective on Sunday of the week in which it is filed.
Calculating Alabama Benefit Amounts
The Alabama Department of Labor calculates a worker's weekly UI benefit using the base period. The more a worker earns in their highest paid calendar quarters of the base period, the larger their weekly benefit. Those eligible for UI will receive a weekly benefit of 1/26 of their average quarterly earnings in their two highest paid quarters of the base period. For example, if the worker earned $2,600 per quarter, their weekly benefit would be $200.
The minimum amount an eligible employee can receive is $45; the maximum amount is $275. The more a worker earns in the base period, the higher their weekly state benefit. Add to this the federal pandemic supplement of $300 a week through September 6, 2021.
In Alabama, 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 also effective through 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.