How Long Do You Have to Work to Qualify for Unemployment in California?

Business watch
••• shipov/iStock/Getty Images

If you've been laid off in California, there's a good chance you qualify for unemployment benefits. A large determining factor in your eligibility is your earnings history. You don't need to have worked for any specific length of time, but you must have earned sufficient wages during a predetermined base period to qualify for a claim. Generally, this means you must have started earning wages at least three months before you file for unemployment.

California Unemployment Basics

The state of California offers eligible unemployed individuals a maximum weekly benefit of $450. The exact benefit payment depends on past earnings but, as a rule of thumb, benefit payments work out to be about half of average weekly earnings during the base period. Unemployment benefits last a maximum of six months. To qualify for unemployment, you must have been laid off rather than fired for cause. You may be able to collect if you quit, but only if it was because of a serious issue like discrimination, harassment or unsafe conditions. To continue to qualify for unemployment benefits, you must be available for work and seeking it actively.

Read More: How to Calculate Unemployment Benefits in California

Determining the Standard Base Period

You must have earned a sufficient amount of wages in your standard base period to establish a claim. According to California's Guide to Benefits and Employment Services, your base period is the first four of the five completed quarters before you filed for unemployment. For example, if you file for unemployment on Dec. 1, 2017, your base period would be July 2016 to June 2017.

Wages in the Standard Base Period

To qualify for benefits, you must have earned at least $1,300 in one quarter of your base period. Alternatively, if you earned at least $900 in the highest quarter and your total base period earnings are at least 1.25 times your earnings in the highest quarter, you also qualify. For example, say that you earned $1,400 in one quarter of your base period and zero in the others. You qualify for benefits. Now say that you earned $1,000, $1,200, $800 and $900 in each quarter of your standard base period. Your wages in the highest-earning quarter are $1,200, and your total wages in the base period are $3,900. Since $3,900 is more than $1,200 multiplied by 1.25, you still qualify.

Alternate Base Period

If you didn't earn enough in the standard base period to qualify, you're not out of luck. The state of California has an alternate base period it will consider if you didn't have sufficient earnings in the standard one. The alternate base period is the four most recent completed quarters before you filed your claim. For example, if you filed Dec. 1, 2018, your alternate base period would be October 2017 through September 2018. The earnings requirements are the same as they are for the standard base period.


  • To calculate unemployment, the State of California uses one of two “base periods.” Base periods are divided into three-month periods and the period you were paid the highest wages determines your unemployment benefit amount.

Related Articles