Receiving unemployment benefits is often the difference between living in poverty and getting by for many recently-terminated employees and their families. Despite the great need for unemployment benefits, they are not easy to apply for and only eligible people will qualify for them. Recently terminated employees must be insured, eligible, and not subject to disqualifications to receive benefits.
While it is possible to apply for unemployment benefits without hiring an attorney, most recently-terminated employees should consider seeking legal counsel. Not only can an attorney assist in the unemployment benefits filing process, statistics demonstrate that represented parties are more likely to collect unemployment benefits.
The Benefits Filing Process
Unemployment claimants must file an initial claim for unemployment benefits with the Missouri Division of Employment Security (MDES). The effective date of the claim will be the Sunday of the week in which the claim was filed. In general, claims should be filed as quickly as possible, which ideally means as soon as the claimant becomes unemployed.
MDES will then assign a deputy to the case. The deputy will evaluate the unemployment benefits claim to determine whether the claimant is an insured worker.
The “Insured Worker” Determination
A worker is considered an insured worker if one of two conditions are met. First, an insured worker is any employee who was paid wages of at least $1,400 in a calendar quarter of the base period and total wages of at least 150% of the wages in the calendar quarter in which the claimant’s wages were the highest during the base year. The “base period” is the first four of the last five calendar quarters (in other words, the base period is an evaluation of the year prior to the most recent quarter). Second, an insured worker can also be any employee who was paid wages in at least two calendar quarters of the base period and those wages total at least 150% of the maximum taxable wage base.
Employer Protests and Disqualifications for Unemployment Benefits Eligibility
An employer may protest the award of unemployment benefits to a former employee. Employer protests can be brought to contest the eligibility of a former employee to receive unemployment benefits or to prove that a former employee is otherwise disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
In order for a claimant to become eligible for employment benefits, the claimant must be unemployed, yet available and able to accept work. Being unemployed means that the claimant must have not worked or earned any wages during the week. A claimant is still partially eligible for unemployment if the claimant is working a part-time job.
Availability to work is the critical element of eligibility. To be considered “available,” the claimant must actively be seeking work and willing to accept any job when offered. Failing to search for a job will result in ineligibility for unemployment benefits.
Additionally, employees who were terminated for cause or who are currently involved in a labor dispute are not eligible for unemployment benefits.
Finally, a claimant could be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for various miscellaneous reasons. The most common disqualifying events are refusing to take employment when offered, voluntarily leaving employment, and retirement. The full list of disqualifying circumstances can be found in the Missouri Employment Security Act at § 288.050 R.S.Mo.
Amount and Duration of Unemployment Benefits
Unemployment benefits are generally a small fraction of the wages an employee used to earn. A claimant will earn 4% of the total wages paid during the highest paid quarter of the base period. However, the amount of weekly benefits cannot exceed the statutory maximum of $320 per week. Benefits can only be received for a maximum of 26 weeks unless Missouri is in an extended benefit period.
St. Louis Unemployment Benefit Attorneys Here to Help
Filing an unemployment claim can be intimidating, especially if you have never needed such benefits before. The legal team at HKM Employment Attorneys LLP is here to help. Our team of employment benefit lawyers possess experience assisting clients with unemployment benefit claims process. For immediate assistance, do not hesitate to contact our team today.