How to Calculate Unemployment Benefits in California

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The state of California offers unemployment insurance (UI) to people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. When calculating how much a claimant will get each week, the state uses a base period from their most recent complete year to determine the amount of benefits. If the worker doesn't have enough income, the state uses an alternate base period to compute benefit. Claimants who wish to calculate the figure can do so easily online by plugging their wage information into the California Employment Development Department's (EDD) website.

Eligibility Requirements and Base Period

The Golden State requires UI applicants to meet certain eligibility requirements when attempting to collect benefit payments:

  • Past earnings must meet a specific minimum amount.
  • Unemployment must have occurred through no fault of their own. Some examples of no-fault terminations include layoffs, a reduction-in-force (RIF), or the company has downsized for economic reasons.
  • While collecting benefits, they must show their availability and ability to work each week and actively continue to seek work.

California looks at the applicant's base period, which is the first four of five completed calendar quarters before they filed for unemployment benefits. For example, a person who filed a claim in July 2020 has a base period of April 1, 2019, to March 31, 2020. If they didn't earn enough during that time, the EDD will use an alternate base period to calculate earnings from their most recently earned wages. The minimum an applicant has to earn during their base period should be either $1,300 in their highest-paid quarter, or $900 in their highest-paid quarter, plus 1.25 times their top-quarter earnings during the overall base period.

Calculating California Unemployment Benefits

Most UI applicants will receive a weekly benefit amount of between $40 to $450 over 26 weeks. However, an increase in benefits is possible in times of high employment. For example, in March 2020, the EDD, in conjunction with the federal government, increased UI benefits due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These will end the first week of September 2021, and California will go back to its regular benefit totals.

An applicant who made $6,000 over their base period's highest quarter will get $231 each week in UI benefits. Those whose highest-quarter wages were a minimum of $11,674 will get $450 each week. The EDD has an online calculator for applicants who want to know how much they'll get in benefits.

When entering information about their wages in the calculator, it's important to remember California counts only W-2 earnings, not 1099 income from independent contracting or passive income. An applicant can also look at the highest earnings in their base period and check them against the EDD's Unemployment Insurance Benefit Table.

Collecting Benefits After Getting Fired

Usually, a person who gets fired from their job cannot collect UI benefits, but there are circumstances where benefits may be possible. For example, they may get them if an EDD investigation of the termination reveals it took place because they didn't have the skills to perform their job duties or weren't a good fit for the company.

However, if the EDD finds that termination occurred due to misconduct, the applicant will not be eligible for UI benefits. Misconduct requires these elements:

  • Company required the worker to carry out certain duties as part of their job.
  • Worker breached that duty significantly. Any transgression an employee makes must be frequent for this to apply; a single instance is not enough to disqualify an applicant.
  • Worker's behavior showed willful disregard. This means they weren't just careless, they were intentionally violating their duties and did not care what the consequences were. (An applicant's good faith error does not meet the standard for misconduct.)
  • Worker's breach harms their employer's business or reputation.

Quitting and Unemployment Assistance

When an employee quits their job, they usually cannot get unemployment compensation, but there is an exception to this rule. If they had "good cause" for leaving their job, they may qualify for benefits. These can include, but are not limited to:

  • Leaving work to care for a family member.
  • Leaving work to follow a spouse to another area too far from the job.
  • Suffering domestic abuse, and a leave of absence or transfer will not solve the issue.
  • Working conditions jeopardize their health or safety.

If a worker quits their current job to take another, they may also be eligible, but their new position must be permanent and significantly better as the job they had. Also, if their new employer does not come through with the job offer, they can collect UI.

Filing and Receiving Weekly UI Benefits

Californians who wish to file a UI claim can do so via the EDD's site or by email, fax or phone. When the agency receives the application, it will send the claimant documents, including a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award, which lets them know how much they'll receive. This is not an approval notice – that will come later. Approved applicants will get weekly payments via a debit card or a paper check.

Applicants who left their job through no fault of their own will get a Notice of Determination telling them they will get benefits. Claimants who left their job due to termination from the employer or who left of their own accord will receive notice from the EDD that a phone interview is necessary to determine their eligibility. After that, they will receive a Notice of Determination from the EDD, but if denial of the unemployment claim occurs, they will get a notice from the agency informing them that they have the right to appeal the decision.

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