Can I get Unemployment Insurance?

Produced by Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Greater Boston Legal Services
Reviewed May 2022

Information about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is below.

Most workers in Massachusetts are covered by Unemployment Insurance. Getting Unemployment Insurance usually depends on three things:

  1. How much money did you earn at your job?
  2. Why did you leave your job?
  3. Are you ready and able to get another job?

How much money did you earn at your job in the last year?

calendar icon courtesy of graphicadvocacy.org

To get Unemployment Insurance, you must have earned at least $5,700 in the last year, and you must have worked for at least 15 weeks in the last year (in most cases). The Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) looks at how much you earned during the time they call a “base period”. During the base period, you must have earned at least $5,700. You can find out your base period by looking at the table below.   Sometimes, the base periods listed below work out so that it looks like you cannot get unemployment insurance. Sometimes the DUA, will use an “alternate base period” that gives a better idea of your most recent earnings. You can find out more about base periods and alternate base periods on the DUA’s webpage Understanding Your Base Period & Benefit Year.

If you apply for benefits in:
You must have earned at least $5,700 in your base period

January, February, March, 2022

From October 1, 2020 to September 30, 2021

April, May, or June, 2022

From January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021

July, August, September, 2022

From April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022

October, November, December 2022

From July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022

Why did you leave your job?

Not everyone who loses his or her job can get Unemployment Insurance. To get Unemployment Insurance  benefits, you must have wanted to keep your job or tried to keep it. In other words, losing your job was out of your control.

Example

The company you work for goes out of business. It is not your fault that you no longer have a job. You should be able to get unemployment benefits.

If you quit, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance. You will need to show you had a good reason to quit your job and that you took reasonable steps to try and keep your job.

If you were fired because you could not do your job, you may be able to get Unemployment Insurance, as long as you did not break any rules at work on purpose.

Are you ready and able to work and are you looking for a new job?

The DUA only gives unemployment benefits to people who are ready and able to work. To get benefits, you must also  look for work. To keep getting benefits, you need to tell DUA how you have searched for a job. You must “certify” your job search every week.  You can certify your job search either by computer “webcert” or by telephone “telecert.” You can keep a log of your work search activities each week. A sample log is available on DUA's website.

Domestic Violence

If you quit or lose your job because of domestic violence, you may be able to get unemployment benefits. You may need to explain to DUA that you or your children are victims of domestic violence, and that you lost or quit your job due to the domestic violence.

You do not have to tell your employer about the domestic violence.

If you or your children have suffered domestic violence and you are in danger right now, call 911. If you are not in immediate danger, you can phone SafeLink 1-877-785-2020, or Casa Myrna Vasquez 1-800-992-2600 for help with all kinds of problems.

COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits

During part of 2020 and 2021, there were additional unemployment benefits because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  These benefits ended for most people on September 4, 2021.  You can learn more about these other benefits on DUA's website.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was a new program created during the COVID-19 pandemic. PUA gave benefits to workers that were excluded from regular unemployment insurance (UI) and who lost work or a job offer because of COVID-19. Even though PUA ended for most people on September 4, 2021, some people in Massachusetts might still be able to apply retroactively for PUA. To be eligible to apply retroactively for PUA, you must have:

  • Applied for regular unemployment insurance (UI) before October 4, 2021, and
  • Been denied regular UI after October 4, 2021.

You must call DUA, 877-626-6800, to apply for PUA.  

Learn more about PUA on DUA's website.

Common PUA Issues and Requesting Redeterminations

If you were approved for PUA, DUA may have later determined that you were ineligible. Common issues with PUA claims include:

  • COVID-19 Eligibility;
  • Employment Substantiation;
  • Identity Verification;
  • Potential UI Eligibility.

If you received PUA benefits for weeks in 2021, DUA will ask you to provide documents to show that you worked or planned to work at some point between the tax year before you filed for PUA and the start date of your PUA application. You can satisfy this “employment substantiation” requirement by providing documents like tax returns, W-2s, or 1099s. The documents can be about any job during this time and do not need to be about your job that was affected by COVID-19.  

If you disagree with a PUA determination, you have 30 days to file an appeal. If you lose at the hearing, you can ask the Board of Review to review your case. If the Board does not agree to review or reverse the determination, you can appeal to District Court.

If you have exhausted or used up your appeal rights or if you did not file an appeal in time, you can write to the Director of the DUA, Department of Unemployment Assistance, 19 Staniford Street, Boston, MA 02114 and ask him/her to "redetermine the decision under Section 71 of the law." Typically you have one year from the date of the original decision to ask for a redetermination, but the one-year deadline has been extended until August 1, 2022.

For more information on requesting a waiver of an overpayment see Has the DUA asked you to return money they paid you?

Take the quiz!

Jim
1. Can Jim get unemployment benefits?
Last year, Jim graduated from high school and got his first full time job. But the company laid him off after ten weeks. Can Jim get unemployment?
answer type: 
Incorrect
Yes
answer type: 
Incorrect
Maybe
answer type: 
Correct
No
Correct! To get unemployment, you must have worked for at least 15 weeks in the last year. Jim would not qualify because he only worked for 10 weeks last year.
Sorry, the correct answer is 'No'. Explanation: To get unemployment, you must have worked for at least 15 weeks in the last year. Jim would not qualify because he only worked for 10 weeks last year.
Flora
2. Can Flora get unemployment benefits?
Last year, Flora worked on a farm. She only worked when her boss needed her. She worked for 20 weeks of the year, and she earned $3,000. Last week, the farm closed and laid off all of the workers. Can Flora get unemployment?
answer type: 
Incorrect
Yes
answer type: 
Incorrect
Maybe
answer type: 
Correct
No
Correct! To get unemployment, you must have earned at least $3,500 in the last year. Flora would not qualify because she only earned $3,000 last year.
Sorry, the correct answer is 'No'. Explanation: To get unemployment, you must have earned at least $3,500 in the last year. Flora would not qualify because she only earned $3,000 last year
Ross
3. Can Ross get unemployment benefits?
Ross came to work late 3 times last week. His boss fired him for breaking the rules. Can he get unemployment benefits?
answer type: 
Incorrect
Yes
answer type: 
Incorrect
Maybe
answer type: 
Correct
No
Correct! To get unemployment, you must show that losing your job was not your fault. Ross broke the rules by coming in to work late. It is his own fault that he lost his job, so he cannot qualify for unemployment.
Sorry, the correct answer is 'No'. Explanation: To get unemployment, you must show that losing your job was not your fault. Ross broke the rules by coming in to work late. It is his own fault that he lost his job, so he cannot qualify for unemployment.
Ahmed
4. Can Ahmed get unemployment benefits?
Ahmed worked full time all of last year. He earned $21,000. Last week, Ahmed was laid off. He is searching for a new job now and he has applied at several companies already. Is he eligible for unemployment benefits?
answer type: 
Correct
Yes
answer type: 
Incorrect
Maybe
answer type: 
Incorrect
No
Correct! To get unemployment, you must have worked at least 15 weeks and earned at least $3,500 in the last year. You must be ready and able to work. Ahmed worked more than 15 weeks, and he earned more than $3,500 last year. He can show that he is trying
Sorry, the correct answer is 'Yes.' Explanation: To get unemployment, you must have worked at least 15 weeks and earned at least $3,500 in the last year. You must be ready and able to work. Ahmed worked more than 15 weeks, and he earned more than $3,500 last year. He can show that he is trying to get a new job. Ahmed can get unemployment.
Kyung
5. Can Kyung get unemployment benefits?
Last year, Kyung worked at a restaurant. She worked for 50 weeks of the year, and she earned $22,000. Last week, the restaurant closed and laid off all of the workers. Since Kyung was no longer working, she decided to visit her mother in Korea for a month. Can Kyung get unemployment?
answer type: 
Incorrect
Yes
answer type: 
Incorrect
Maybe
answer type: 
Correct
No
Correct! Kyung earned more than $3,500, and worked more than 15 weeks in the last year. But while she is in Korea, she does not qualify for unemployment because she cannot show that she is willing and able to work. She cannot apply for jobs while she is o
Sorry, the correct answer is 'No.' Explanation: Kyung earned more than $3,500, and worked more than 15 weeks in the last year. But while she is in Korea, she does not qualify for unemployment because she cannot show that she is willing and able to work. She cannot apply for jobs while she is out of the country
Gina
6. Can Gina get unemployment benefits?
When Gina broke up with her boyfriend, he started calling her at work and harassing her. One day he followed her home from work and threatened to kill her. Gina was so frightened that she hid at a friend’s house and did not go to work for several days. Her boss fired her. Can Gina get unemployment?
answer type: 
Incorrect
Yes
answer type: 
Correct
Maybe
answer type: 
Incorrect
No
Correct! If you lose your job because of domestic violence, you may be able to get unemployment benefits. Gina needs to explain what happened to DUA to see if she can qualify for unemployment in her situation. She should also report this matter to the pol
Sorry, the correct answer is 'Maybe.' Explanation: If you lose your job because of domestic violence, you may be able to get unemployment benefits. Gina needs to explain what happened to DUA to see if she can qualify for unemployment in her situation. She should also report this matter to the police.

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