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The Lowdown: Can You Get Unemployment If You Quit?

Two people filing for unemployment

Unemployment benefits are meant to cover you financially in between jobs or for a set period of time as defined by your state. They’re typically issued for people who have been laid off from work, but you might be asking can you get unemployment if you quit?

The answer is maybe. If you’re thinking of quitting your job and would like to know more, take a look below, where we’ll go over:

  • If and how you qualify for unemployment if you quit your job.
  • What good cause means and some clear examples of it.
  • How you might be eligible if you quit for other reasons or leave under different circumstances.
  • The benefits you might be entitled to.
  • When you’re not eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • How to file to apply for unemployment.
  • The process of appealing for unemployment if your claim is denied.

Do I Qualify for Unemployment if I Quit My Job?

So you’re making the leap and quitting your job. Aside from the fact that you’re definitely not alone — a record number of Americans have quit their jobs since November — it was probably a tough journey to get to this decision today. Good for you.

By now you might be wondering whether you’ll qualify for unemployment benefits since you decided to leave. The answer isn’t so cut and dry, and the reason you quit will most likely determine your eligibility.

Determining your unemployment benefits eligibility

Traditionally, unemployment benefits were designed for employees who experience an unexpected income loss from being laid off (or sometimes fired, depending on the circumstance). So, most often, you won’t get unemployment if you voluntarily leave your job. But, good news, there are exceptions if you leave for what’s known as “good cause”. While this concept varies in how each state defines it, we’ve outlined some of the more common good causes below.

You’ll need to contact your state’s unemployment insurance office to figure out whether you’re eligible for unemployment benefits — and it’s wise to do this before announcing your resignation! The office can assess your specific case and state why you can claim good cause if your employer contests the benefits. And, if your claim is denied, you should get a hearing to plead your case. If the hearing doesn’t go well, your last option is to appeal the denial (more on this, below).

Quitting for good cause

When you quit for good cause, it usually means that most reasonable people would not have stayed in the job because the conditions or environment were that bad. Reasons can be anything such as:

  • Working in a hazardous setting
  • Being short-paid or cut back in hours
  • Having to endure discrimination or harassment

It really comes down to a case-by-case basis at the discretion of your state. No matter the situation though, you need to prove you did all you reasonably could to better your circumstances and that quitting was the final option.

In other cases and in some states, good cause can include personal reasons, like:

  • Medical reasons, though sometimes the condition needs to be directly caused or exacerbated by your job.
  • Dealing with a family emergency like caring for an ill family member in certain circumstances.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Relocating for a spouse’s job or military posting (in which case there may be a period of time when you can’t get unemployment before becoming eligible).
  • A new job that doesn’t materialize as expected. You most likely won’t get unemployment if you quit to look for or accept a new job, but if that new job doesn’t come through as noted in the offer, you could be eligible.

If these types of situations apply to you and are considered good cause where you live, you won’t need to demonstrate that you tried to keep your job.

Quitting for other reasons

Keep in mind that if you decide to leave your job without a compelling, urgent reason, you can’t get unemployment — this applies across the board, in all states. Perhaps you simply feel dissatisfied or unchallenged and there are no viable advancement opportunities, so you choose a totally new career path. This could be a wonderfully necessary life choice that will improve your overall well-being, which is absolutely worthwhile. Just know that you won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Qualifying under other circumstances

Good cause is the most common type of situation for which you’ll get unemployment, but you could also be eligible if each of the following applies to you.

  1. You’re legally entitled to work in the US. You will need to show documentation of being a US citizen or legally allowed to work in the country.
  2. You were laid off. Whether due to a company acquisition, bankruptcy or restructuring, your role being phased out, or something else outside of your control, chances are you’ll get unemployment.
  3. You meet certain earned wages, time worked, and employment type requirements. You’ll have needed to work for a specific amount of time and made a minimum amount of earnings, usually in the past year. As well, usually it’s just employees that can get unemployment, not contractors or freelancers (since an employer doesn’t pay unemployment while they work). There has been some temporary relief during the COVID pandemic for contract or “gig” workers though, and each state has different requirements. So be sure to check your state’s laws on unemployment for more specifics.

What Unemployment Benefits am I Entitled to?

Of course, a big question about unemployment is exactly the type and amount of benefits you’re eligible for. You’re probably wondering if it’s enough to live off of and how long you’ll be compensated for.

While your benefits are based on some percentage of your last salary, unfortunately, the answer is not so clear cut since it all comes down to where you live and the decisions of your state. Most jurisdictions offer unemployment for at least 26 weeks and there is usually a cap on the amount you’ll receive. Again, as with everything else benefits-related, check with your particular state’s unemployment department.

When am I Ineligible for Unemployment?

Besides quitting without good cause, you might not be qualified to receive unemployment if:

  1. You were fired for misconduct. Unlike getting laid off which could still qualify you for benefits, there’s a high chance you won’t get unemployment if you were fired for misconduct (in some cases, this applies even outside of work). Reasons for this can range anywhere from carelessness or poor performance, repeated absences or lateness to violence or harassment.
  2. You’re receiving severance. Employers often pay a severance package out to laid off employees for a certain period of time after they’ve left. If this applies to you, just know that you can’t get unemployment benefits in addition to it. Check on your state’s policies though, as you might qualify for unemployment once your severance pay runs out.
  3. You aren’t actively looking for a job. To keep your benefits, you need to prove that you’re actively and regularly job-seeking. And, if you decide to reject a suitable job that’s within your skill and pay level, your benefits could be reduced. Another reason this could happen is if you’re working a part-time job to supplement your income. Keep in mind that if you end up quitting part-time work without good cause, your benefits might not be extended but stay reduced permanently.

How Do I File for Unemployment Benefits?

So, you’ve made it this far and are confident you’re entitled to unemployment if you quit. To file for benefits, your next step is to visit your state’s unemployment benefits website to find and complete the application. You’ll need to provide standard personal information, like your full name and address, Social Security or work visa number, and information about your most recent job. You can also go through the process in person at your local unemployment office, if you prefer.

Keep in mind that the whole process often takes a few weeks, so be sure to get started with your claim as soon as you can. This includes submitting any supporting documentation for your case. In most cases, you’ll get a verdict after about 3-4 weeks. Once you’re approved, you can breathe a little easier as you’ll be supported financially during your job search.

Appealing a Denied Unemployment Claim

If you’ve filed for unemployment but your claim was rejected, or your employer contested it, there’s still some hope as you can explore the option of appealing the decision. The process for this varies from state to state, so be sure to consult with your unemployment office on the appeal guidelines, requirements and process. As well, keep in mind that you might not have much time — some states give only 10 days from the denial date to appeal.

In most cases, you’ll need witnesses, supporting documents, and continuous filing for benefits during the appeal time frame. The department’s website will be helpful as a start, but you’ll quite likely have specific questions around your particular claim, so phoning or visiting to speak with someone is often your best option.

Hopefully, this article has shed some light on if and how you can get unemployment if you quit your job. There are countless reasons to leave a bad work situation and it would be great if your personal circumstance qualifies you for benefits. But if not, think long and hard about staying in your job despite this. If your reasons are compelling and important enough, leaving could be worthwhile and, with some discipline and perseverance, it’s possible your financial situation can withstand that gap between jobs. Good luck!

Getting Unemployment After Quitting FAQs

I quit my job. Can I get unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits are usually for employees who unexpectedly lose their income due to a layoff. Exceptions are if you quit with “good cause”, defined differently by each state.

What does good cause mean?

Good cause simply means a negative situation in which a reasonable person would quit their job, often when the work environment or conditions are so unfavorable.

What are some examples of good cause?

Examples of good cause situations at work include:

  • A hazardous work environment
  • Discrimination or harassment
  • Pay or hours cut short

Good cause can also include personal circumstances, like:

  • Severe medical reasons
  • A family emergency, like caring for an extremely ill family member
  • Relocating for a spouse’s job or military posting
  • A new job that doesn’t play out as expected in the offer
  • Domestic violence

Can I get unemployment for reasons other than good cause?

You might be eligible for unemployment if you:

  • Are legally entitled to work in the US,
  • Were laid off, and
  • Meet specific requirements around your wages earned, time worked, and employment type.

Can I get unemployment benefits if I quit because I hate my job?

Nationwide, you need an urgent and compelling reason to quit in order to qualify for unemployment. While this doesn’t include job dissatisfaction, it’s still an important reason to consider new career opportunities.

What unemployment benefits can I get?

Benefits are based on a certain percentage of your previous salary, but the amount you get is decided by and varies by state. Most offer unemployment for 26 weeks minimum, with a cap on how much you can receive.

How can I request unemployment?

Head to your state’s unemployment benefits website (or office) for the application. Be ready with information like your name, address, Social Security or work visa number, most recent job details and supporting documents.

How long does the process take once I submit my unemployment application?

The whole process can take a few weeks, and you’ll usually hear back after 3-4 weeks or so.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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