New York, like other states, provides unemployment insurance benefits to employees who are currently out of work through no fault of their own. The state's unemployment insurance program is managed by the New York State Department of Labor. This is the agency that accepts unemployment insurance (UI) claims and evaluates and determines claimant eligibility. Out-of-work employees in New York may also qualify for federal pandemic unemployment benefits.
New York State UI Benefits
Only workers who are out of a job through no fault of their own are eligible for UI benefits in the state of New York. This is a precondition for UI benefit eligibility in most states. Claimants in New York must meet other qualifications, including having earned a specified minimum of wages during the claimant's base period.
The base period in New York is a 12-month period in the claimant's recent work history, comprised of four calendar quarters. The standard base period includes the oldest four of the most recent five calendar quarters completed before the person filed the unemployment claim. A calendar quarter is defined as three consecutive months, like January through March, or October through December.
New York pays eligible workers unemployment benefits on a weekly basis. A qualified worker will get a weekly benefit payment equal the wages the worker earned in the highest earning calendar quarter of their base year divided by 26. Other wage requirements also apply. The normal duration of New York state unemployment benefits is 26 weeks.
Federal Benefits Program
Generally, the unemployment insurance program of a state is left to the state itself to manage. States usually determine UI eligibility within their borders and set the UI amount, but in some circumstances, the federal government supplements the state program. It did this in 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic closed most businesses in the country and caused nonessential workers to be unemployed.
When the World Health Organization declared the pandemic, Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act intended to assist workers who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic. This law allowed for expanded eligibility and also provided expanded supplemental unemployment benefits.
The initial CARES Act was passed in March 2020, and carried a supplemental payment provision giving $600 per week to unemployed persons in federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) benefits. The CARES Act also added up to 13 weeks of supplemental unemployment benefits and extended UI eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Extensions to Federal UI Programs
The federal UI supplemental benefits of $600 per week ended on July 31, 2020. From then through December 26, 2020, there were no supplemental federal payments. Congress then passed the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a $300 per week supplemental benefit in addition to state-provided benefits. This extension pushed the termination of the program to March 14, 2021. The supplemental payments were further extended through September 6, 2021, by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021.
The CAA extended the benefit duration by 13 weeks. It was set to expire on December 31, 2020, but was amended to provide 24 additional weeks and extended through March 14, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 further increased the total number of benefits weeks available to New York residents to a total of 64 weeks.
The federal law that extended UI benefits to self-employed and gig workers was set to expire on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended these PUA benefits until March 14, 2021, and they have been further extended by the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to September 6, 2021.
New York Unemployment Laws
New Yorkers who find themselves out of a job can apply for unemployment assistance from the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL). This agency determines a claimant's eligibility for both state and federal benefits.
To get either state unemployment benefits or federal pandemic benefits, a worker starts by filing an unemployment insurance claim. In that claim, they must demonstrate that they are eligible for unemployment benefits under the applicable laws.
Eligibility under New York 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.
- Earned wages in at least two of the four calendar quarters in their base year.
- Meets other wage requirements during their base period.
Fault Under New York UI Law
In order to claim UI benefits in New York, a person must not have been fired for wrongful conduct on the job. They must be out of work through no fault of their own, and they must also be ready and willing to work.
In every state, including New York, eligibility for UI benefits depends to some extent on the reason that a worker lost their job. If a worker is fired for fault or misdeeds, they will not be considered out of work due to no fault of their own. That means they will be ineligible for UI benefits. But a worker in New York may still qualify for UI if they were fired because they lacked the skills to perform the work, which would not qualify as a misdeed in New York for UI purposes.
How about a worker who quits a job in New York? They may remain eligible if they had good cause for quitting, that is, a work-related reason that would make an individual who really wants to remain employed leave their job. Quitting for good cause might include:
- Unsafe working conditions.
- Significant changes in the hiring agreement.
- Not getting paid or difficulty getting agreed-upon pay.
Federal Law Modifies Fault Rules
The federal legislation that created pandemic UI benefits modified state laws in terms of the reasons a worker can leave their job without becoming ineligible for UI. It added many coronavirus-related reasons to the list, from having to stay home because they have the virus to staying at home to care for kids when schools are closed due to COVID-19.
New York Base Period
Under New York law, an employee is eligible for unemployment coverage only if they earn a certain minimum amount of money during a standard base period. New York 's standard base period is defined as four calendar quarters. Possible calendar quarters are January through March, April through June, July through September, and October through December.
New York calculates the five last calendar quarters completed before the worker filed a claim. The standard base period is the earliest four of these five quarters. New York offers two other alternative base periods to an employee who does not meet the wage requirements based on the standard base period. The first is to use the four most recently completed calendar quarters as the base period.
If the worker still doesn't qualify, the UIA may allow them to qualify for benefits using the Alternate Earnings Qualifier (AEQ), meaning that their total wages for the base period must equal at least 20 times the state average weekly wage. For 2020, the AEQ was $20,742.
Minimum Income Requirements
A New York worker must have earned wages in at least two of the calendar quarters of their base period. They also must have earned at least $2,700 in the highest paid quarter of the base period and earned during the four-quarter base period at least 150 percent of the amount earned in the highest paid quarter. Wages earned in other states during the base period should also be reported.
A New York worker is not eligible for federal pandemic unemployment benefits unless they meet the financial qualifications for state benefits. That means that a failure to meet any of these earnings-based state requirements will disqualify the worker from both state and federal benefits.
Work Search Requirements
An out-of-work employee cannot get state unemployment benefits in New York unless they are available to work and actively seeking work. Anyone who is not ready to take a job or is not seeking a job will not get UI benefits.
Federal pandemic legislation has modified the New York requirement that an unemployed worker be available to work for UI benefits. Under the CARES Act, a worker is not required to 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 New York Benefit Rates
A worker's UI benefit in New York is calculated by using the wages in the calendar quarter of their base year in which they earned the most money. The New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) determines a claimant's weekly unemployment benefit amount by dividing their wages for the highest paid quarter of their base period by 26. The maximum possible weekly amount in New York is $504 per week. Note that a different formula is used for employees who earned less than $3,575 in their highest paid quarter. In this situation, the earnings are divided by 25 to determine the weekly benefit amount.
In New York, UI benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. Under the CARES Act and other federal laws, the duration of benefits is currently extended to 70 weeks. That provision is effective through September 6, 2021.
FAQs and Answers
Q: How do I file a claim for UI benefits in New York ?
A: A claimant can apply for UI benefits in New York either by calling the telephone claims center or online. Instructions about how to apply are located on the Unemployment Insurance Assistance website of the NYSDOL. Anyone applying will need to have personal information and work information.
Q: How much money will I get every week in UI benefits in New York?
A: A worker who qualifies for UI benefits in New York will get a weekly benefits payment by direct deposit or debit card. The amount of the payment is determined by a formula: the wages in the highest-earning calendar quarter in their base year divided by 26, or by 25 if they have very low income. The maximum benefit is $504. Add to this the $300 weekly benefit from the federal pandemic legislation, which lasts through September 6, 2021.
Q: For how many weeks can I get benefits?
A: Under New York state law, an unemployed person who qualifies for UI benefits can get weekly benefits for up to 26 weeks. This time period has been extended by federal pandemic unemployment legislation to a maximum of 70 weeks of benefits.
Q: Can a self-employed worker or a gig worker get unemployment benefits in New York ?
A: Under state law, only employees are entitled to UI benefits in New York. The program is funded by an unemployment insurance tax on employers, and only employees of participating employers are eligible. However, eligibility was expanded to include self-employed persons, independent contractors and gig workers under the federal CARES Act, which is set to expire on September 6, 2021.
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.