A young woman holds her hand on her forehead in anguish over the pain or stress she is experiencing. Today’s question is ‘Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits?- If I Quit My Job Due to Stress’.
Jobs can be stressful. Sometimes, you may not find the job you are currently doing to be interesting, and as a burden. Sometimes, you may need to work for additional hours, with or without compensation. Other times, you may face deadlines from your managers and must work overtime to meet the deadline. Some jobs can be so stressful that it pushes people to the extent of quitting their job.
Especially during this COVID-19 times, with work from home and report work becoming the new normal, people are facing increased stress. There are communication gaps, the increased workload to cope up with the lost time, increased firing of employees to reduce losses in a company, and unemployment is at an all-time high. This has taken a toll on the mental health of employees.
Unemployment benefits are there for people who cannot continue their job due to various reasons, such as injuries, medical conditions, that forces them to quit their job. These benefits help these people with financial support until they get cured or can get back on their feet and can do another job. While stress is also technically a medical condition and a valid enough reason for people to quit their jobs, it still qualifies as someone quitting the job voluntarily. But, if you can get your stress condition medically documented from a hospital or a doctor, you can still get unemployment benefits, provided you meet certain criteria. These criteria vary from state to state, to country, but there are certain common criteria that you must meet to be eligible to get the benefits.
Who all are eligible for the benefits?
The first and foremost criteria are, WHY you quit the job. While this varies from workplace harassment, injuries sustained in the workplace, dangerous workplace environment, or if you cannot afford to travel to the job. One thing must be certain; that you did your absolute best, and you have no other choice but to quit. If, say, for example, you quit a job because you are no longer interested in it, you will not get the benefits.
Before we get into the stress, let’s look at when you are eligible for the benefit and when you aren’t.
When you are eligible for the benefits:
- When you were laid off from a company, with no fault of your own, as in cases of mass layoffs to cope up with the economy of the company, and you could not do anything about it.
- You must have a minimum work time and salary obtained to be eligible.
- The benefits are only for full-time or part-time workers, and freelancers will not be eligible, as only companies employing full-time or part-time employees pay unemployment taxes
When you are not eligible for benefits:
- When you were fired for misconduct, such as workplace violence, disrespect, not performing the required job, etc.
- You must actively look for other jobs. If not, you will not get qualified
Now that we have the prerequisites, let us focus on quitting the job due to stress. You may get qualified for the benefits, provided you have medical documentation supporting your condition. Stress is relative, and what is more stressful for you may not be as stressful for me. Hence, instead of personal claims, it is helpful to have a doctor document your condition and support that you could not continue your job due to stress. This might increase the chances of your approval. A point to note is that you must get this documentation from a doctor before quitting the job. If you get it after quitting, you will not be eligible for the benefits.
What you can do:
- Actively look for jobs: In addition to this, as we discussed earlier, you must actively look for other jobs. This serves to prove that you are mentally stable, and it was the job that stressed you out. You must be both mentally and physically stable to qualify for the benefits. It is also recommended to get a doctor to document that he/she suggested the job change citing the stress as a reason. All these will increase the chances of approval.
- Talk to your supervisor: One thing you must consider is, did you take this matter to your superiors. In most cases, if you have taken this to your supervisor or your manager, they might have offered to give you a break or would have offered a less stressful task or a job. If you did not express this matter to your superiors, then the chance of getting a benefit is low, as you did not do everything from your side, and it is not entirely the company’s fault. If in case you did take this matter to your superiors, and they ignored or rejected your request, then you can use this to further strengthen your case.
- Ensure sustainability: Even after you become eligible to get the benefits, you must make sure that it is enough to sustain until you find another job. The benefits will not be offered forever, and you must get a job before it ends.
- For example, in the United States, the average time was 20 weeks before the pandemic. But after the pandemic, that time has increased from 20 weeks to 26 weeks, in Georgia. You should also take into consideration the pay.
- Each state offers a different pay, with Mississippi being the lowest offering state at 235$ and Massachusetts being the highest offering state with 855$ a week or may even be up to half of what you earned at the previous job.
From the current pandemic point of view, you will be eligible for benefits if you were advised by a physician to quarantine and not go to jobs. In other cases, you can even be eligible for unemployment benefits if you quit your job to take care of the elderly or children who need special care. If you feel you are increasingly stressed out, seek medical help as soon as possible. The sooner you take care and cure it, the better, as stress affects the largest number of people in the world, and it may have serious consequences. Make sure you express your stress to your supervisor, or family members, as there may be better options than resorting to quitting a job.
Here are some questions that may arise and answers to those questions:
1. Where to apply for unemployment benefits?
There are special unemployment insurance programs dedicated to each state in the US. You may either claim the benefits by going in person, via a call, or online.
2. How to apply for unemployment benefits?
First, find the appropriate state insurance office (1). Make sure that you claim the state where you work. You will be asked to fill in general and personal information, and the response usually takes 2-3 weeks. You must also be careful when filling in your details as any discrepancies will lead to rejection of the approval.
3. Any changes to the unemployment benefits due to the pandemic?
The Government introduced additional benefits for people who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are progressively being ended in states. Through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Government was able to provide up to an additional 300$ of benefits, as an extension to the already existing unemployment benefits, for an additional 13 weeks along with the 20 weeks of standard unemployment benefits.
4. Are there any other benefits along with finance that one is eligible for?
According to US unemployment (2), there are various additional benefits to people who become eligible for unemployment benefits. For example, through the COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act), the Government enables those who qualify for the unemployment benefits and their family members to also remain in the employee’s group health insurance for a limited time, after quitting the job.
There are also unemployment training programs, which are usually free of cost or at a low price, that help people get the benefits and find a new job in the meantime. If you do not want to work in a company any longer, there are schemes for those as well. There are self-employment assistant programs that help people who do not want to work in a company, start a small business on their own (https://oui.doleta.gov/unemploy/self.asp). New York, Mississippi, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Oregon are the states that offer this assistance
5. Additional information on unemployment benefits.
- Some states allow additional benefits, extended ones when you exhaust the regular benefits.
- You must use and report the benefits as a source of income on your tax returns.
- Like we mentioned earlier, the stress condition must be documented BEFORE you quit the job, and you must have done everything from your side to avoid the stress, be it asking for a less stressful task, or take this matter to your superiors.
- Those who cannot work due to COVID-19, who must stay home to take care of their children as schools are closed, or are under quarantine, are also eligible for unemployment benefits under the PUA act.
- Up to 10% of the unemployment benefits can be withheld to pay for Federal income taxes.
- If you take up any temporary jobs, while under the unemployment benefits, you must report these earnings to the appropriate state unemployment agency, to determine whether you still qualify for the benefit, or the unemployment benefit must be reduced.
- If you are facing denial for the unemployment benefits, or are unsure about the process, you can always hire a lawyer to help with the case.
This COVID-19 pandemic is something that will not be gone for a while. Make sure you prioritize your mental health and contact anyone you feel comfortable with when you feel stressed. Please go through the links attached for further info from the official Government websites.