If you are laid-off from your job or lose your position because of downsizing, industry changes or other circumstances, unemployment insurance helps you continue to meet monthly expenses while you look for employment. When you initially file an application for benefits, your eligibility and benefit amount are determined by analyzing wages from four previous quarters.
Base Pay and Quarterly Earnings
Unemployment applications require you to report your gross earnings for a period of months prior to your becoming unemployed. Your eligibility for benefits and the amount of your weekly payment are based on these totals. In most instances, this makes applying for unemployment as soon as possible a priority if you want to receive the largest possible benefit.
To report your quarterly earnings on the unemployment application, locate your old pay stubs. Set aside the pay records from the most recent earnings quarter and refer only to the stubs from the four previous quarters. For example, if you file a claim in July, you don't reference pay earned in April, May or June of the same year when filing for benefits. A standard unemployment insurance application relies on the first four of the five most recent completed quarters when determining eligibility.
Alternate Methods of Determining Earnings
When you need to determine your earnings and no longer have your pay stubs or a statement of earnings, request your pay records from your former employer. Referring to direct deposits on old bank statements doesn't cut it since unemployment eligibility is based on gross wages, not take-home pay. If you are filing for benefits using a base period that runs from January through December of a calendar year, use your W-2 form to determine your earnings.
Standard Base Pay
The unemployment office uses the wage figures you report to determine eligibility for benefits. In some states, you need to meet an established minimum amount of earnings to qualify for unemployment while others use formulas or a combination approach. For example, California's unemployment eligibility guidelines state that you need to earn at least $1,300 in your highest earning quarter. However, if you didn't earn that much in a quarter, you may use a minimum earnings amount of $900 if your wages over the entire 12-month base period equal 1.25 times your high quarter earnings. If you earned $1,000 in your highest quarter and at least $1,250 during the base period, you meet the eligibility guidelines.
Alternate Base Period
When your earnings during the standard base period do not qualify you for benefits, you may use an alternate base period that looks at your wages during the four most recent quarters. However, you can't use the alternate base period to qualify for a larger weekly payment than the standard base provides. The same minimum earning requirements apply to both base periods.
Ashley Mott has 12 years of small business management experience and a BSBA in accounting from Columbia. She is a full-time government and public safety reporter for Gannett.