Like all states in the U.S., Wisconsin offers unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to those who have become unemployed through no fault of their own. During the COVID-19 pandemic, UI payments and their duration have increased with help from the federal government through programs in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and American Rescue Plan Act.
Eligibility for Unemployment Insurance Benefits
The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) is the agency responsible for investigating UI claims and for sending weekly payments to those who have lost their jobs. Applicants are eligible if they meet three basic requirements:
- They must have earned a certain amount in past earnings.
- Termination must have occurred through no fault their own, usually due to layoffs, a lack of work or a reduction in force.
- They show a willingness and availability to work and actively seek employment while receiving benefits.
Wisconsin looks at a claimant's recent employment history and wages earned during a one-year base period, the first four or five complete calendar quarters before they filed a claim, in order to calculate the duration and amount of benefits they will receive.
Claimants must have earnings from at least two quarters in the base period and meet a specific wage threshold in their highest quarter, their three lowest quarters and the overall base period. Those who did not make enough in the standard base period may still be eligible through an alternate base period, the four most recent, complete calendar quarters before their claim.
Collecting Benefits After Quitting
When a claimant quits or is fired, the DWD conducts an investigation of their work separation. Usually, a person does not receive benefits when a job ends under either of these circumstances, but there are exceptions to this rule. The DWD schedules a fact-finding interview and makes its decision on a case-by-case basis. It won't give benefits to a claimant until it knows all the details surrounding their termination.
Those who leave a job of their own accord do not receive benefits unless they do so for good cause. Reasons for quitting include:
- Being asked to do something illegal by an employer.
- An employer jeopardizes a worker's heath or the health of their immediate family.
- The job does not meet basic labor standards in wages, hours or other considerations, and the worker quits within the first 30 days.
- Quitting as the result of receiving an honorable active duty military discharge.
- Quitting to avoid a domestic abuse or harassment threat to themselves or members of their immediate family.
- Following a relocated spouse in active military duty to another location that is too far from their job.
- Direct or indirect verbal or physical sexual harassment. Indirect harassment can be from an employer who knows of direct sexual harassment but does nothing to stop it.
Collecting UI After a Firing
Workers terminated by firing can receive benefits under certain circumstances. If a worker does not have the skills to perform a job or the job wasn't a good fit, they will likely qualify for UI payments. However, workers who commit misconduct on the job are not eligible. Wisconsin defines misconduct as behavior that shows intentional disregard for an employer's interests or actions that do not align with the employer's reasonable expectations. Some instances of this include showing up at work under the influence of illegal substances, chronic lateness or committing violence while at work.
Employees may not receive benefits if they are at substantial fault for their firing. This can include an intentional violation of reasonable company policy, but it does not cover unintentional errors or minor violations with no correction from the employer.
Voluntary Reduction of Hours and Quitting
When a worker quits, and their reason for doing so is not covered under "good cause" exceptions, they must earn six times their weekly benefit rate to requalify for UI benefits. The DWD may see a request for a reduction in hours as a quit — in this instance, a worker cannot use their earnings to satisfy the state's requalification provision if their employer notifies them of the consequences of reducing their hours before granting their request. If the employee receives this notice and does not reduce their hours, the agency will not consider the request a quit, even if the employer refuses to let them work their original hours.
The notice that an employer sends to an employee regarding a reduction in hours should read: "Because you have requested a voluntary reduction in the number of hours you are working, you are notified that for Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance purposes, your reduction in hours may be considered a quit. Any wages that you earn while you are working the reduced hours may not be used to satisfy the quit requalification provision."
Amount and Duration of UI Benefits
When filing for UI, the DWD calculates the benefit payment amount and the weeks of issuance through the information it receives from the claimant. Wisconsin's weekly benefit amount is 40 percent of a worker's average weekly wage. The benefit payment range in the state is from $54 to $370 a week. In times of low unemployment, UI is available for a maximum of 26 weeks, but this can increase in times of high unemployment.
Applicants file claims using the DWD's online portal. They can also file by phone, fax or mail. After the first week, they must continue to certify for benefits weekly and must register with the Job Center of Wisconsin to keep receiving money. Once the DWD receives a worker's initial claim, it will send them information regarding how much they will receive and for how long they will receive it.
Continued Certification of Unemployment Claims
After receiving approval for the first claim, applicants must continue certifying for benefits by filing a claim certification for each week they want to receive an unemployment benefit payment. The DWD's benefit calendar week ends on Saturday, so claimants should wait until after Saturday to file for a new week.
In some instances, the DWD may need additional information from the claimant. If so, they will make contact. Claimants should promptly respond, as waiting can hold up their benefit payments. Should a claimant wish to stop their claim, all they need to do is stop certifying their weekly claims.
Availability and Benefit Eligibility
A claimant's eligibility for benefits relies on their availability to work. While they currently do not have to perform a work search due to COVID-19, they must show their availability for work when certifying each week.
If a suitable position comes along, they must accept it. The agency deems a position suitable if it relates to a worker's qualifications and the hours, pay and distance are equivalent to an occupation the worker would hold. The longer a worker's unemployment lasts, the more willingness they must show to accept a position, even if it pays less and requires less skill.
In times of low unemployment, workers must conduct a reasonable search for work and complete a minimum of four work search activities each week. When reinstatement of the job search requirement occurs, claimants will have to keep a record of their search efforts each week, including the potential employer's contact information, the dates they made contact and the outcome. The agency may contact the worker or employer to verify the effort made.
Direct Deposit or Debit Card Payments
If a claimant chooses to receive payments via direct deposit, they can request it when filing their claim online or fill out a Direct Deposit Authorization form and mail it to the DWD. When mailing it, they must provide a voided check with their routing and account numbers. Applicants need to submit direct deposit information only once, not each time they certify.
Claimants can also receive payments via a prepaid debit card, which arrives within seven business days after filing their initial claim if they are approval for benefits. When they receive their card, claimants must call Cardholder Services at 855-279-1271 or visit www.usbankreliacard.com to activate it and choose their pin. To validate the card, the claimant must sign it when they receive it.
COVID-19 and Federal Benefit Programs
Beginning March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic caused many workers in Wisconsin to lose their jobs overnight. With millions of new claims to process, Congress stepped in to help state agencies by passing the CARES Act, which extended benefits to those who needed it.
The CARES Act included several programs that extended the duration of state benefits and also gave them to people who wouldn't usually receive them, such as independent contractors eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fund. The Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) fund extended regular UI benefits by an additional 13 weeks.
When the CARES Act ended on March 13, 2021, its programs continued under the Biden administration's American Rescue Plan Act. Its benefits are due to expire on September 6, 2021. The American Rescue Plan Act also adds $300 a week to PEUC and PUA benefits, as many people have yet to go back to work.
UI Benefits and Income Tax
UI benefits are taxable; this includes payments from PUA, PEUC and other programs. Federal withholding is 10 percent of a claimant's weekly benefit payment. State withholding is 5 percent. Claimants have the option of having this money taken out of their payments when they certify each week.
The DWD also issues a 1099-G form to recipients, which they will use to file their taxes. The IRS also gets a copy. Claimants can print the forms from DWD's website by logging into the agency's Benefits Services page.
Appealing a UI Denial
A claimant who has been denied benefits can appeal the DWD's decision. They must send their appeal request in writing to the agency either through its web portal or by letter by the deadline included in the decision notice. After the DWD receives the request, it will schedule an interview with the claimant and their employer to review evidence. This usually takes place at a local DWD hearing office. After an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) presides over the hearing, they will issue a written decision and notify the claimant.
If the ALJ denies the claimant's benefits, they can file a second appeal with the state Labor and Industry Review Commission (LIRC) within 21 days of receiving the decision. If the second appeal is also not in their favor, they can further appeal it through the state circuit court.
- NOLO: Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Unemployment FAQs for Claimants
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: PART 7 - Eligibility Issues
- Job Center of Wisconsin: Home
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Part 3: Filing a Weekly Claim Certification
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Direct Deposit of Unemployment Benefit Payments
- US Bank Reliacard: Home
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development:UCB-10-P, Handbook for Claimants, Unemployment Insurance
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development: Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance Benefit Services
- Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development:1099-G Tax Information
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.