Written by attorney John Francis Mccarthy

How to Collect Unemployment Benefits in California Part I

How to Collect Unemployment Benefits in California

This guide provides useful information to individuals seeking unemployment benefits. This guide is meant to provide general legal information and should not be considered legal advice. You should contact an employment lawyer for more specific information, based on the facts of your case. It’s never a bad idea to have a lawyer help you prepare either.


a. What Are Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment insurance is a nationwide program that provides partial wage replacement to workers, who are unemployed, through no fault of their own, while they look for a new job. In California, the Employment Development Department administers the UI program. The Unemployment Insurance system is funded by employers, through tax payments.

b. How Much Unemployment Will I Get?

The EDD calculates your weekly benefits based on your highest quarterly earnings. To determine your exact benefit amount, you can look here:

c. How Long Can I Get Unemployment For?

Most claimants can collect up to 26 weeks of benefits in a year. But, you are only allowed to receive benefits equal to one-half of your Base Periods earnings. While claimants are normally limited to 26 weeks, three extensions are currently in place provided up to another 53 weeks of benefits because of the economy. So you can get up to 79 weeks. However, you should contact the EDD to verify.

d. When Can I Get Unemployment?

Your claim for benefits remains open for one year. After you file your claim, there is a seven day waiting period during which you will not receive benefits…Also, keep in mind that it might take longer to process given the state’s budget woes.


a. Should I Apply For Unemployment?

You should apply for unemployment benefits. There are three initial requirements that must be met to get unemployment benefits. Even if you’re unsure if you meet the initial requirements you should apply and let the EDD sort it out. The requirements are: 1) satisfactory immigration status-lawfully residing and authorized to work in the U.S. when you file; 2) have enough past earnings- at least $1,300 during one of the four quarters of your base period, or at least $900 during one of the four quarters of your base period and have gross earnings for the entire base period of at least 1.25 times the earnings for the highest quarter; and 3) unable to work through no fault of your own.

b. When Should I Apply For Unemployment?

You can file for unemployment at any time after becoming unemployed. Most people should apply as soon as possible. But, it may be better to wait if you think you can establish a Base Period with higher earnings if you wait. But, you should weight this against the downside of applying later.

c. What Do I Need to Apply for Unemployment?

To apply for unemployment you’ll need:

  • Your name, social security number, mailing and residence address, phone number, and Government issued driver’s license or ID.
  • The last date you worked for any employer. If you are working part-time then be sure to tell EDD that you are still working and give them the number of hours you are working each week.
  • Last employer information including: name, address (mailing and physical) and phone number. Make sure the information is accurate. You should check your paystub or a W-2. Inaccurate information will delay your benefits payments.
  • The reason you are no longer working for your last employer.
  • Whether you are getting, or expect to get, any unemployment, from any former employers.
  • Whether you are able and available to accept work.
  • Whether you have a legal right to work in the United States.

You might not be able to come up with all that. But, don’t let that stop you from filing a claim.

d. How Do I Submit an Application for Unemployment?

Here’s a nifty video on how to apply:

If you like reading, the individual files a claim for enomployment benefits using one of the following methods:

  • Access eApply4UI: The eApply4UI application is available on the Main menu of this Web site. Answers to questions are entered online. After the application is completed the individual submits it online to the Department. Note: This is the fastest way to file your claim.
  • Contact EDDby telephone: Individuals will speak to a Department representative who will ask a series of questions and record the responses.
  • Complete a paper UI Application, DE 1101I: The application can be completed online and printed, or it can be printed and completed by hand. The application can then be faxed, 1(866) 215-9159 or mailed to an EDD office at EDD, P.O. Box 419000, Sacramento, CA 95841, for processing.

Note: The above options may also be used to reactivate an existing claim or file for extended benefits.

e. What Happens After I Submit an Unemployment Application?

The EDD will probably conduct a phone interview with you and your former employer to determine if you are eligible for unemployment benefits. The EDD will mail you a notice (usually within 2-3 weeks). The notice will give the date and time of the interview. Make sure you are available. If you are not available for some good reason, i.e. your daughter is having a life-saving surgery at the time and you are one of the necessary organ donors, then you should contact the EDD immediately to reschedule. The EDD is usually very accommodating and willing to reschedule to a more convenient time if you have a good reason. But, not getting up before 9:00AM is not a good reason. Keep the following points in mind during the phone interview: 1) ask what the employer told the EDD so that you can rebut information that is inaccurate or misleading, if necessary, 2) tell your story in a way that relies on the law and not just what seems logical- i.e. if you quit because of the working conditions, then be sure to detail what you did to improve the situation and why you had to quit, 3) be clear on what is being asked of you- if you don’t understand a question, ask to clarify, and 4) do not give more information than necessary to answer the question- this is especially true if you are filing a wrongful termination lawsuit since employers frequently subpoena EDD files and use them to impeach plaintiffs in lawsuits.

The EDD will make its decision on eligibility within 1-10 days of the phone interview. If eligible, the EDD will start sending you checks. If you are found ineligible, the EDD will send a “Notice of Determination/Ruling," which describes the EDD’s basis for denial and provides information on how to appeal.

See Part II for more

John McCarthy is a San Diego employment lawyer handling wrongful termination, discrimination, and wage and hourissues. He counsels, and represents employees, and writes a California Employment Law Blog.

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