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Proving active job search for unemployment benefits

Being unemployed does not automatically qualify you for unemployment benefits. This program is not intended as welfare, but as a way for people to survive until they can find another job. As such, most states tie eligibility for unemployment compensation to an active job search, and they require that you be:

  • able to work
  • actively looking for a job
  • available to work

Ability to Work

Ability to work generally means both physical and mental capability to perform a job. Any illness or injury that would prevent you from working would also disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits. A disability requiring only reasonable accommodation does not disqualify you. Each state sets its own criteria for ability to work.

Active Job Search

States differ on their definitions of "active," but in general, occasionally filling out a job application will not qualify. Your job-search activities should reflect a real effort to land a job. States will generally take into account your previous job and the availability of similar, suitable work. For example, if you're laid off from an entry-level retail sales job, then visiting similar stores and filling out applications may be acceptable. For a professional position, you may need to be sending out resumes, networking and going on interviews regularly. Some states require that you fill out a minimum number of applications or make a minimum number of inquiries in any given week. These states may also require that you provide details of where you apply or who you spoke with. Other states may only require you to state that you're looking for a job as part of your weekly benefits claim. Even if your state doesn't require details, you should make a habit of keeping records regarding:

  • The company where you filled out an application or sent a resume
  • The contact name or phone number, if available
  • The date you applied
  • If you applied through a job board, print out or save a copy of the posting
  • If you attend a networking event, collect business cards of everyone you speak with

This information is not only valuable for your records, but if your unemployment agency tries to deny you benefits based on not conducting an active search, you will have proof to the contrary. An active job search will also include accepting a suitable position that is offered to you. While the definition of "suitable" may be open to interpretation, if the position is similar to one you previously held and offers a similar salary, you risk being penalized if you turn it down.

Availability to work

Since you must accept a suitable position, you must also be available to work if offered one. You may be required to show that:

  • You have transportation. While you do not need a car, you must be able to either take public transportation or arrange for some other method of getting to and from a job.
  • You are willing to accept a full-time position or, if your state allows you to look for only part-time work, you are flexible on the days and hours that you are available to work.
  • Family obligations do not limit your availability. If you have children or a sick relative for whom you provide care, you must be able to make alternate arrangements quickly.

Talk to your state unemployment agency for specifics of how your state defines an active job search and what proof you will need to supply. Contact information and links for all state unemployment agencies are available on the federal Department of Labor's employment and Training Administration's Career One Stop website.

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