When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results.

Calvin Coolidge

Unemployment Compensation Insurance is a national system designed to provide insurance benefits to employees who become unemployed or underemployed through no fault of their own. 42 U.S.C. §§ 501 – 504, 1101 – 1105. In passing the program eighty-seven years ago, lawmakers intended to reduce the suffering caused by involuntary unemployment. Consequently, many out-of-work Californians are entitled to California unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the bureaucrats at California’s Employment Development Department (“EDD”), the state agency charged with administering California’s Unemployment Insurance program, often make securing unemployment benefits a time consuming, stressful, and burdensome ordeal.  Don’t let EDD keep you from receiving the benefits you paid into while employed.  Continue reading this article to learn how to apply for your unemployment benefits successfully and discover your options, should EDD deny your application.

An applicant must file an unemployment insurance claim with EDD to qualify for benefits. EDD allows filing online through the use of UI Online, by phone, or by mail or fax.

After the applicant files their claim, EDD investigates the claim and promptly makes an initial eligibility determination.  California Unemployment Insurance Code §§ 301, 1326 et seq..  The applicant has the burden of proving their eligibility.  Jacobs v. California Unemployment Ins. Appeals Bd., 25 Cal. App. 3d 1035, 1040, fn. 7 (1972).  

Eligibility for unemployment is a two-stage multi-step test. Despite the complexity, you can qualify for unemployment benefits with enough preparation.

Stage One: Initial Eligibility Determination

To pass the initial determination, the applicant must:

  1. Have earned sufficient base period earnings;
  2. Working in covered employment;
  3. Be of satisfactory immigration status; and,
  4. Have separated from their most recent job through no fault of their own. California Unemployment Insurance Code § 1251 et seq. [br][br]

Stage Two: Ongoing Eligibility Determination

Once the applicant satisfies the initial eligibility determination, they must certify to EDD, every week, that they:

  1. Are physically and mentally able to work;
  2. Are immediately ready, willing, and available for suitable work;
  3. Have not refused an offer of suitable work;
  4. Are actively seeking work; and,
  5. Are unemployed or underemployed. California Unemployment Insurance Code § 1251 et seq.[br][br]


1. Sufficient Base Period

To qualify for unemployment, the applicant must have earned enough wages in their base period.  A base period is a specific twelve-month or four-quarter period ending approximately three to six months before a new claim for benefits.  

EDD determines base periods using the following table:

A Claim filed in:Has a Twelve Month Base Period Ending On:
January, February, or MarchSeptember 30
April, May, or JuneDecember 31
July, August, or SeptemberMarch 31
October, November, or DecemberJune 30
Where the applicant files a claim in May, the base period begins on January 1 and concludes on December 31 of the prior year.

To qualify for unemployment benefits, the applicant must meet a minimum wage threshold during their base period. Achieving the “Sufficient Base Period Wages” requires the applicant to have:

  1. Been paid at least $1,300 in the highest grossing quarter of their base period; or,
  2. Been paid at least $900 in the highest quarter of their base period and have gross wages for the entire base period of at least 1.25 times the highest-grossing quarter. [br][br]
To qualify under the second option, an applicant who was paid $2,000 in their highest base period quarter must have been paid at least $2,500 during their entire base period. ($2,000 x 1.25 = $2,500). The gross wages requirement includes the applicant’s highest base period quarter. Therefore, the applicant must have been paid at least $500 in the other base period quarters combined. ($2,500 – $2,000 = $500).

Meeting the minimum level of base period wages only entitles the applicant to the minimum weekly benefit amount.  Click here to determine your benefit amount.

Knowing your base period is crucial in measuring your weekly benefit amount and your maximum benefit amount.

2. Working in Covered Employment

An applicant must have earned their wages while working in covered employment. Employers who pay into the Unemployment Insurance program provide covered employment. Although covered employment includes most employment performed for wages, EDD excludes specific job classifications from California’s unemployment insurance program.

As of 2019, some of the excluded categories of employment include:

  1. Domestic or household services in a private home, including cooks, housekeepers, and babysitters;
  2. Employees of close family members;
  3. Federal workers;
  4. Newspaper delivery workers under eighteen;
  5. Students employed by education institutions;
  6. Church employees; and,
  7. Hospital workers who are students or patients. [br][br]

Under California regulations, self-employment or services performed as an independent contractor are not deemed covered employment for purposes of unemployment insurance eligibility.

3. Satisfactory Immigration Status

Only applicants with satisfactory immigration status may collect unemployment benefits.  Accordingly, non-citizen applicants must establish their satisfactory immigration status and United States work authorization when earning their base period wages.  Further, non-citizen applicants must provide proof that they continue to remain in satisfactory immigration status and are authorized to work each week they claim benefits.  EDD will verify an applicant’s immigration status with the INS.

4. No Fault Separation from Most Recent Job

Generally, applicants must have separated from their most recent employment through no fault of their own.  This means that an employee who quits or is fired from their most recent job is often ineligible for unemployment benefits.  When the separation is at issue, EDD will investigate the matter and make an initial determination.  

Contact Astanehe Law today if you believe that your separation from your most recent employee will be at issue.  Astanehe Law will assist your swift acquisition of an eligibility determination by equipping you to navigate EDD’s complex bureaucracy successfully.

Discharged applicants, laid off, or quit with good cause are generally eligible for unemployment benefits. However, an applicant is usually not eligible for benefits upon discharge for misconduct.

Applicants discharged for poor performance, a mistake or single error in judgment, or off-duty conduct, are still likely eligible for benefits. Additionally, an applicant may remain eligible for benefits, even amid accusations of misconduct, where they demonstrate that the employer founded the discharge on unrelated grounds. Finally, if your employer failed to reprimand you for alleged misconduct, EDD will likely deem the employer to condone the alleged misconduct, and you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Some common examples of employee misconduct include insubordination, chronic absenteeism and tardiness, dishonesty, stealing employer property, lying during the job application process, habitual poor customer service, committing worksite violence, sleeping on the drug, and illegal drug use.

Some examples of quitting with good cause include relocating for a partner or spouse, unsafe working conditions, caring for an ill family member, pregnancy, resigning due to domestic violence, substantial transportation or community difficulties, fraud or misrepresentation during the employment, a substantial pay reduction, and quitting out of fear for one’s health. Constructive terminations for harassment or discrimination are also good cause for departing from a job.

Once accepted, EDD sends the applicant a Continued Claim Form (DE 4581). The applicant must certify that they have continued looking for work, have not refused employment, and have not been too sick or ill to accept potential work. To receive benefits, the applicant must submit a completed Continued Claim Form every two weeks via UI Online or phone. EDD refers to this process as “certifying for benefits.”


1. Physically & Mentally Able to Work

Under California law, an applicant must be physically mentally able to work at their usual or customary job to receive unemployment benefits. This means the applicant must be able to work in a position similar to their most recent job, or a reasonably similar job given the applicants, age, existing skills, experience, and training.

Where an applicant has a temporary injury or illness, EDD prorates the unemployment for each day of an inability to work. Where an injury or illness persists for more than a week, the beneficiary should consider filing a claim with EDD for temporary State Disability Insurance benefits. Although an individual cannot simultaneously collect unemployment and disability benefits, California permits its citizens to alternate between the two benefit programs.

2. Immediately Ready, Willing, and Available for Suitable Work

To be eligible for benefits in California, an applicant must be ready, willing, and available for suitable work. Alternatively, the applicant must have good cause for any inability to immediately accept employment. Good cause means a restriction on a job search so compelling that someone eager for work would cease their employment pursuit.

Despite lacking good cause, an applicant may still qualify for unemployment benefits where their unavailability did not reduce job opportunities. Given the digitally connected nature of the present-day economy, this traditionally challenging exception has become a viable justification for benefits. However, the EDD is not uniformly receptive to this argument.

Similarly, the EDD deems traveling applicants to be ineligible while out-of-state. However, an applicant may be eligible where travel was primarily part of an employment search or the applicant demonstrates that they did not miss any job opportunities.

EDD considers incarcerated applicants unavailable and ineligible for benefits when detained for more than two business days. The EDD determination stands even upon subsequent dismissal of the charges.

3. Have Not Refused an Offer of Suitable Work

EDD may disqualify an applicant for unemployment benefits upon the refusal of an offer for suitable work without good cause.

4. Actively Searching for Work

The applicant must actively search for work to remain eligible for benefits. The search must be reasonably designed to result in employment and includes the customary methods of obtaining work as well as current labor market conditions.

Customary methods of obtaining work include calling potential employers, conducting online searches, emailing prospective employers, and submitting job applications.

California Job Search

To fulfill this obligation with confidence, an applicant should communicate with at least three potential employers a week.

Where the EDD argues that an applicant failed to meet this requirement, the applicant may be able to avert disqualification where they demonstrate that the search would be fruitless. Typically, to be successful, the applicant:

  1. Is seasonally unemployed and it is unlikely that they will find work during the off-season;
  2. Was temporarily laid off and will return to work within thirty-days; or,
  3. Has a definite promise of work that will start within a reasonable time. [br][br]

5. Unemployed or Underemployed

The applicant must remain unemployed to receive unemployment benefits.

If the applicant secures employment, they may still be eligible for benefits if they demonstrate that they are underemployed. The EDD will deem an individual underemployed where they work less than full-time work during the week where the payable wages for the week do not exceed their weekly benefit amount after reducing the weekly payable salary by $25 or 25%, whichever higher.

Alternatively, an applicant who earns less than 1.33 times their weekly benefit amount will be deemed underemployed. Here, EDD will find that the applicant is entitled to reduced benefits of:

  1. If the applicant earns less than $100 in a week, their benefits for that week will be reduced by the amount of wages over $25; or,
  2. If the applicant earns more than $100 in a week, their benefits for that week will be reduced by 75% of their weekly wage. [br] [br]


If EDD has any questions about an applicant’s eligibility, they may schedule a phone interview to discuss the claim with a representative and provide important eligibility information. If the applicant is unable to participate in a phone interview, EDD will make a decision based on the available facts. Generally, the EDD representative will seek information about why the applicant separated from their previous employer.

Following their investigation, EDD will decide as to the applicant’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. Relatedly, EDD is empowered to re-determine eligibility for unemployment benefits at any time based on an applicant’s certification provided on the Continued Claim Form.

In California, applicants have the right to appeal any denial of unemployment benefits.  It is imperative that applicants file their written appeal immediately.  Applicants have twenty calendar days from the date of mailing of the Notice of Determination or Ruling to appeal the denial of benefits.

Contact Astanehe Law today if EDD has denied your right to unemployment benefits.  Proceed with peace of mind knowing that you have discussed your options with an experienced attorney.