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Unemployment Benefits Guide

Authored By: Lagniappe Law Lab
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Contents
Can I get unemployment benefits? How do they decide how much money I get? Weekly Eligibility Am I eligible for unemployment benefits? How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits Protect your rights What else happens after I apply? Did you receive a denial notice? Appeal your denial notice What to do if you get a notice asking you to repay money overpaid to you How can I appeal an overpayment notice? 

Can I get unemployment benefits?

The federal program in Louisiana is run by the Louisiana Workforce Commission. In order to be eligible for benefits generally you must: 

  • Have adequate past earnings 
  • Be currently unemployed 
  • Be unemployed through no fault of your own
  • Be actively seeking reemployment. 

Once you have applied for benefits, you will get a decision regarding your eligibility. If you do not meet one of the above criteria, you can be denied benefits. 

 

How do they decide how much money I get?

Your Unemployment Benefits weekly amount is set based on how much you have earned before. Each state decides how much you can receive. In Louisiana, the highest amount you can get is $247 a week.

  • You have to remain eligible for each week that you file a claim for your unemployment benefits. You can work part-time, while receiving your unemployment benefits. If you do work part time, then an amount of that money will impact your weekly benefit amount.
  • You still report your unemployment benefits in your federal income taxes. Louisiana state taxes also apply. You can choose to withhold your federal income taxes from your weekly money you receive.

 

If you are not working or lost your job because of COVID-19, then you may get other benefits. Find out more.

 

Weekly Eligibility

To be eligible for benefits each week, you must complete a weekly certification. You can do this through your HIRE account

  • Some parts of the certification include:

    • To be eligible for benefits each week, you must be able to go to work each day. If you got an offer a job today, you must be able to accept.

    • You must look for work in good faith by contacting at least three different employers each week.

  • You should keep a list of your work searches including the employer's name, address (mailing, web, or email), phone number, date of contact, person contacted, method of contact and results.

  • You can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks. In times of very high unemployment, extended benefits may be available.

 

Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

I am still working +

You may be eligible to receive weekly unemployment benefits if you are still working less than full time and earning less than what you get in unemployment benefits. 

 

I quit my job +

If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause because of a substantial change to your employment by your employer. In general, good cause means that your reason for leaving the position was job-related and was so compelling that you had no other choice than to leave. For example, if you left your job because of dangerous working conditions or sexual harassment that your employer refused to stop, you may be able to collect benefits.

I was laid off +

If you became unemployed through no fault of your own then you are eligible for unemployment benefits. When you are laid off typically you become unemployed through no fault of your own. Sometimes this also happens when you are told there has been a reduction in workforce, or that your position is being eliminated or changed. 

I was fired or taken off the schedule +

If your employer has not called you back to work at your normal time, or took you off the work schedule you can apply for unemployment benefits.

  • You do NOT have to have proof, like a separation notice, of being fired. To help tell the agency what happened, it can help to have text messages or email(s) showing you were sent home with no return date, or you have asked to come back to work.
  • If you were fired because you lacked the skills to perform the job or simply weren't a good fit, you may still be eligbile to receive benefits.
  • If you were fired for misconduct relating to your job, you may be disqualified from receiving benefits.
    • If you were fired because you intentionally violated workplace rules, willfully disregarded your employer’s interests, or willfully disregarded the standards of behavior an employer has the right to expect from an employee, you may be disqualified from receiving benefits.
    • If you are fired for aggravated misconduct (such as stealing or damaging your employer’s property), you won’t receive benefits and none of the work you did or the wages you earned from that employer will count towards your unemployment claim.

I am an immigrant. +

You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to get the benefits, but you have to show that you are in the United States as a lawful permanent resident. 

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits

Step One: Prepare your documents to file your claim over the phone or website +

The agency takes claims by phone or over the internet.You can reach the Louisiana call center at: 1-866-783-5567. You can also apply online at the Louisiana Workforce Commission's website. To file online, you will first need to create an account. You will likely need prior check stubs, tax returns or W-2 forms to complete your application paperwork.

Step Two: File your weekly certification for benefits +

  • Individuals may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they meet monetary criteria and weekly eligibility criteria.
    • The agency looks at your claim and (1) sends a "monetary determination notice" (2) sends each employer notice of your claim, and (3) Sends a "Qualifying" or "Disqualifying" notice to you and each employer covered by your claim.
  • Report your weekly gross wages to determine each week you submit your weekly certification.
    • You must report any earnings for the week you work, even if you've not yet been paid. Include all income, commissions, tips, and gratuities. Report the gross amount before deductions. When you receive a monetary determination notice make sure all your earnings and jobs for the time period are listed. If your gross wages are more than your weekly benefit amount, you will not be eligible for benefits.

 

Step Three: Read your notices and keep your records straight +

  • After applying, you will get numerous notices from the agency, especially if your claim involves more than one employer.
  • Read your notices.The appeal time for any notice is within 15 days, so you can lose your rights if you do not act quickly.
  • The agency sends each employer notice of your claim once it finds you eligible and gives each employer the chance to file a "protest" on your claim. Former employers affected by your claim have the right to appeal with the right to a legal representative. However, your weekly benefits should continue, if you are otherwise eligible and until a decision is made by a hearing judge against you.

Step Four: Follow up to determine whether you meet weekly eligibility criteria +

  • To be eligibile for benefits each week, you must, "be able, available, and actively searching for work" and continue to meet weekly eligibility criteria.
  • If the notice is qualifying in your favor, you should get your weekly benefits right away in your payment form selected, plus any past-due benefits. Your employer may still appeal. Keep on weekly reporting with the agency.
  • If the notice is disqualifying, and not in your favor you may appeal the notice within fifteen days of receiving the notice by mail, email, or inbox. Keep on weekly reporting with agency.

Protect your rights

 

Keep your records straight

You will get many notices sent to you from the agency. This is common, especially if you worked for more than one employer. 

Read your notices right away

You must act quickly if you read a notice and want to appeal any notice.

Reapply for weekly benefits

To remain eligibile for benefits each week you must complete your weekly certification. 

 

What else happens after I apply?

When you file, the agency looks at your claim and: +

  • Sends a "Monetary Determination" Notice. 
    • Read this carefully. Mistakes are often made here. Make sure all your earnings and jobs for the time period are listed. If it's wrong, you have a year to appeal. But, it's best to appeal right away. Maybe you can show the agency your check stubs, tax returns, or W-2 forms. You may need a lawyer if you don't have written proof.
  • Sends a  “Qualifying” or “Disqualifying” notice to you and each employer covered by your claim.
    • If the notice is against you (“Disqualifying”), appeal right away and keep on with weekly reporting. You have 15 days to appeal. 
    • If the notice is in your favor (“Qualifying”), you should get your weekly benefits right away, plus any past-due benefits.
    • Your employer can appeal. Your employer has 15 days to appeal. Keep on with weekly reporting.

I applied weeks ago and have not heard anything. What can I do? +

Claims are typically handled quickly by the state Louisiana Workforce Commission. If you applied and have not received any form of communication you should find an attorney to speak to. You may also raise complaints to the agency, your state legislator, or to the media. 

The state started to give me benefits, but then my former employer appealed. What are my rights? Will my benefits stop? +

  • Just like you, former employers affected by your claim have the right to appeal. An employer may request a hearing on any determination affecting your rights to benefits within 15 days of the date the determination was mailed. 
  • However, your weekly benefits should continue, if you are otherwise eligible, until a decision is made by a hearing judge against you. If your benefits stop before a hearing decision, talk with a lawyer right away. You might also try to speak with a supervisor at the state agency office, to try to get your benefits continued.

Did you receive a denial notice?

  • If your benefits stopped the agency should let you know that it wants to stop your benefits and why. 
  • There are many reasons why the agency can cut-off your unemployment benefits after they started.
    • Reasons may include: failing to do your weekly certifications, misreporting something to the agency, and others.
  • The agency must also give you a chance to respond before cutting your benefits off. It can do this by giving notice that you can appeal and an appeal decision before your benefits stop. The notice should also give you a hearing before an administrative law judge. 
  • You should not get cut off from benefits the agency thinks you were never supposed to receive. You should receive an overpayment notice from the agency. 
  • If benefits stop before a hearing decision, talk with a lawyer right away. You might also try to speak with a supervisor at the state agency office, to try to get your benefits continued.

Appeal your denial notice

Step One: Receive a written cut-off notice +

The agency should not cut off benefits without sending you a notice. The cut-off notice should say why your benefits are being stopped and say how you can appeal. You will get your notice mailed to you unless you asked the agency to send you notices in other ways like your email. You can also see any notices through your online "HIRE" account.

Step Two: Read through the notice +

If your benefits have been cut-off the agency should let you know that it wants to stop your benefits and why. The agency must also give you a chance to respond before cutting your benefits off. It can do this by giving notice that you can appeal and an appeal decision before your benefits stop. The notice should give you a hearing.

  • Some cut-offs can be fixed if you do something the agency states in the notice you failed to do before. For example, if you missed your weekly certification, go ahead and do your certification next week.
  • The agency should not cut off benefits it thinks you were never eligible for (or were always disqualified from) receiving unemployment without giving you a hearing first. People in this situation will also get an overpayment notice saying they owe all the benefits they were paid back.

Step Three: Prepare to Appeal the Notice +

  • You can appeal any decision that you should not get unemployment or that you have been "overpaid."
  • File an appeal on each denial. 
  • There are only 15 days to appeal from the mailing date of the notice. 
  • The notice will include the date you must submit your appeal by.
  • If you miss the deadline, you will lose your right to appeal.
  • Even if you think you might later abandon your claim, you should request a hearing immediately. 

Step Four: File Your Unemployment Claim Appeal +

You can file your unemployment claim appeal by letter:

  1. Online through the Louisiana Workforce Commission 
  2. By fax to (225) 342-4223
  3. By mail addressed to

Louisiana Workforce Commission, Appeals Unit

P.O. Box 94094,

Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9094

  • If you mail the letter you must have the letter postmarked no more than 15 days from the date of determination. If you file the appeal by mail, enclose a complete copy of the determination with your letter of appeal. You must also sign the letter to file the appeal.

Step Five: Prepare for your appeal hearing +

  • You will have a hearing, an informal trial, before an administrative law judge. Before the hearing, the judge sends you a letter with the date, time, place, and reason for the hearing. When you get the notice from the judge read the letter.
  • If you need more time to prepare, ask the judge to postpone the hearing and set it on another day.
  • If you want a witness to speak but cannot get them to the hearing, then you can ask the judge for an order (a "subpoena").

Step Six: Attend your appeal hearing +

  • Hearings are usually by phone and recorded.
  • The judge must explain your rights at the hearing. Your rights at the hearing include:

(1) The right to speak for yourself.

(2) The right to have witnesses with important information speak.

(3) The right to bring any papers or other evidence to show the judge.

(4) The right to question any witness your employer brings.

(5) The right to object to improper testimony.

  • The judge may let a witness speak by telephone if needed. You can object to that if you feel like the witness can or should be there in person.

Step Seven: Wait for a decision and start receiving benefits +

  • Based on the evidence presented at the hearing, the judge will decide whether you are able to get unemployment insurance benefits. 
  • If the judge's decision is in your favor, you should start getting your weekly benefits. If the judge's decision is against you, you can appeal again to the Board of Review in Baton Rouge within 15 days. 
  • Keep submitting your weekly certifications and read all notices from the agency. 

 

Step Eight: Appeal to Board of Review in Baton Rouge +

  • If the judge decides against you, or you disagree with the judge in your appeal, you have 15 calendar days to appeal. You must appeal in writing to the Board of Review in Baton Rouge.
  • The Board of Review does not hold another hearing, but can send your case back for a new hearing if you need to. The Board of Review should send you a decision in 4-6 weeks.
  • If the Board of Review makes a decision in your favor, you should get your benefits right away.
  • If you disagree with Board's finding, you may appeal in court within 15 days.
    • File your Petition for Judicial Review in the state district court for the parish where you live.
    • You have to file the right petition within 15 calendar days of the Board of Review's decision. Some courts have a form you can fill out, but most do not. If you cannot finish the papers yourself, a lawyer may help.
    • The court judge will not hear any more testimony from you or any other witness.
    • The judge will look at your claim file (including the transcript of your hearing), and listen to your lawyer (if you have one). The judge will make a written decision, and send you and your lawyer a copy. If the decision is against you, you can appeal to a state appellate court.

What to do if you get a notice asking you to repay money overpaid to you

 

I received and opened a notice and it said: 

 

"Non-Fraud"

  • Pay the money back. If you can't afford to pay the money back then you can appeal the overpayment notice with a waiver. See the overpayment appeal process below. 

"Fraud"

  • Fraudulently received unemployment benefits: The state is saying you lied or did something dishonest to get the money. A determination that you committed fraud could lead to investigation and criminal charges.
  • If your overpayment is found to be the result of fraud you will be disqualified for 52 weeks from receiving unemployment benefits, you will be referred for legal action such as investigation, and/or prosecution, your recreational hunting and fishing licenses will be suspended, liens will be assessed, and your federal and/or state income tax refunds will be garnished.

 

How can I appeal an overpayment notice? 

I received an overpayment notice asking me to pay money back. +

If the agency changes its mind on your claim after a hearing or after an appeal, it will send you a notice of overpayment asking you to pay the money back. You can appeal the overpayment and also ask for a waiver questionnaire, which you must complete. Appeal quickly, within 15 days.

  • In an appeal, you can tell why you can't pay the money back. If you appeal the overpayment letter, you will have a hearing with an administrative law judge. 
  • In the waiver, you can ask the state to stop trying to collect the money. Gather evidence to prove your eligibility including pay stubs, bank statements, phone bills, warning letters, performance evaluations, doctor's notes, and/or photographs. 
  • Complete your waiver timely and return it to the state agency with any other copies of bills, debts, and income (if any).
  • If you want a waiver because you can't afford to pay the money back, you can also explain this at your hearing. 

You should get a waiver if: +

(1) you told the truth in your claim and did not commit fraud; and

(2) the overpayment was not your fault; and

(3) making you pay the money back would be unfair (i.e. you have too many other expenses, income too little to pay the money back).

Last Review and Update: Apr 28, 2021