The Arizona Department of Employment Security (DES), the department that runs the state’s unemployment insurance program is trying to right the ship after a troubled administration came to an end in 2016. Arizona governor Doug Ducey fired Tim Jefferies, former director of the department after evidence of gross abuses of power came to light. The state pays out benefits at a rate ranked among the nation’s lowest and does a relatively poor job of helping people find new work. Combine a reeling department with relatively high unemployment rates and it’s clear workers need to know how best to file a clean claim for unemployment benefits should misfortune occur.
Eligibility for Unemployment in AZ
In order to receive unemployment in Arizona, you must have earned enough wages and worked enough hours for an employer covered by the state’s unemployment law over a one-year period. If the DES finds you have met these financial eligibility requirements, you must also:
- Be able and available to work
- Have lost your job through no fault of your own
- Be a US citizen or legally authorized to work in the US
You must register with Arizona Job Connection before you can collect benefits. You must actively seek employment to continue to collect benefits once your claim is approved. You must remain otherwise eligible.
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Able and Available
You must be physically and mentally able to work when you file a claim. You must be available to accept any reasonable job offer. A “reasonable job offer” is a job you are trained to perform at a salary similar to one you worked previously.
Lost the Job Through No Fault of Your Own
Your actions or decisions cannot be the cause of your dismissal from work. If you were laid off or your plant closed, you are likely to receive benefits if otherwise eligible.
Only workers allowed to work by law (“green card” holders, HB1 Visa) or US citizens are eligible. You may have to provide proof of eligibility.
Wage Earning Requirements and the Base Period
The DES will look at the wages and hours you worked over a 12-month period called the base period. The period is divided into quarters. The first four of the last five quarters you worked prior to filing a claim will be your base period.
Within this period, you must have earned:
- At least 390 times the Arizona minimum wage of $10/hr., or $3,900 in your highest earning quarter and the total of the other three quarters must equal at least one half of the amount in your high quarter. For example, if you made $3,900 in your highest quarter you need to have earned a total of $1,950 within the remaining three quarters combined;
- Or at least $7000 in total wages in at least two quarters of the base period, with wages in one quarter equal to $5987.50 or more.
Alternative Base Period for Worker’s Comp Recipients
If you are not eligible using the standard base period measurement AND you are receiving worker’s compensation, the DES will use an alternative base period, which includes the first four of the last five quarters prior to your becoming eligible for worker’s compensation.
You must be otherwise eligible under the alternative base period measurement, meaning you have to be physically and mentally able to return to work AND you must have attempted to return to work to the employer you worked for when you became disabled.
Calculate Your Benefit Payments
Arizona bases your benefits on the amount of money you earned during your highest paying quarter in the base period. You will receive approximately 4 percent of the money you earned during this quarter each week, your weekly benefit amount (WBA). This chart tells you how much you can expect to receive each week.
The current maximum WBA is $240.
Length of Unemployment
You can receive benefits for up to 26 weeks. The 26 weeks do not have to be consecutive. If you don’t receive benefits for a couple of weeks because of a part-time job or because you received some other type of income, you can re-open your claim and continue receiving benefits when you stop receiving income.
How To Receive Payments
You will receive your benefits each week via an electronic debit card that you receive in the mail after applying for unemployment. However, you can request that your payments be directly deposited into your bank account instead using this form.
When unemployment is high — over a state-designated threshold — the state may add additional weeks to the maximum 26 week period in which you can receive benefits. The federal government may also authorize, through act of Congress, additional unemployment insurance money to fund more weeks of benefits. While Arizona’s unemployment is currently above 6%, the maximum 26 weeks is the same. Note that in this state less than half of the benefit recipients find work within 26 weeks.
How to Apply for Unemployment in AZ
If you want to apply for unemployment in Arizona, you must do so online at the website for the Arizona Department of Employment Security. If you don’t have an Internet connection, you can visit an Arizona Job Center with computer access or use a local library.
- Your Arizona driver’s license
- Your Social Security card
- Your mailing address
- Names, address and phone numbers of all your employers for the past 18 months.
- The last date you worked for your last employer.
- The amount of any severance pay, vacation pay or sick pay you received upon job termination.
- Your alien registration number (if you are a legal alien)
- Discharge paperwork from the military (if applicable)
You can find a list of Arizona Job Center locations at the Arizona @ Work website.
The Application Process
Begin the application process by filling out an application for unemployment benefits. You need to do this as soon as possible after you become unemployed because unemployment benefits are not retroactive. This means that you will not get any money if you were out of work before you applied.
During the application process, the computer or the person you are talking with will inform you of any potential eligibility issues and give you a chance to provide additional information. If these issues are not resolved during the application process, you will receive a form in the mail that you have to fill out and return to provide additional information and/or supporting documentation.
After you complete your application, you will receive a Certificate of Understanding Form, which you have to sign and return before your claim will be processed. You may also receive a benefit debit card. However, you cannot use the card before you receive notification that you will be receiving benefits.
You will also have to register with Employment Services and actively seek new work. You register when you apply for unemployment; it’s part of the application process.
Work Search Requirements and Maintaining Eligibility
In order to continue to be eligible for unemployment in Arizona, you must re-certify each week. You can re-certify online or by telephone. When you re-certify, you must indicate that you are continuing to look for work and are still in need of benefits. You must also report any income you received that week.
If you fail to re-certify, the unemployment system will delete your account and you will not be able to claim any additional benefits. You will have to contact the Department of Unemployment Security by telephone to re-open your claim.
The first week after you are approved for unemployment is a waiting period, but you must re-certify during this week to receive any benefits.
Whether you certify online or use the TIPS telephone system, you will receive several questions intended to determine whether you remain eligible for benefits. The DES will want to know:
- Whether you are actively looking for work
- Whether you have refused a reasonable offer of employment
- Whether you have started or quit a job during the benefit week
- Whether you have earned any wages
- Whether you are able to work and available for work
Job Search Requirement
You will have registered with the Arizona Job Connection before receiving benefits initially. This is the first step in what the DES calls a “systematic and sustained” job search. You must keep track of your job search activities. The state may investigate whether you have actually been looking for work. If you have not, or can’t show proof you were job hunting, you may lose your benefits.
While the DES doesn’t specific metrics you have to meet (e.g. two applications per week), you should go beyond simply searching the Internet or periodicals for jobs. Make personal contacts. Apply for work. Keep a detailed list of verifiable contacts you’ve made and the date you made them.
The DES may contact you to participate in a targeted program for workers in occupations or circumstances that suggest it would be difficult to find work before benefits are exhausted. The DES will provide additional job search assistance. Attendance is mandatory. Failure to respond when contacted may mean you lose benefits.
Part-time Work and Receiving Benefits
You may work part-time, earn wages, and still receive benefits. However, the state will reduce your WBA depending on how much you earn.
You may earn up to $30.50 before the state reduces your WBA. The state will subtract the amount you earn over $30.50 from your WBA. You will keep the wages you earn. If you earn more than your WBA, you will not be eligible for a payment that benefit week.
You must report the wages earned. Report the wages for the week you earned them rather than the week you received payment.
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
The DES will deny your claim for unemployment if you do not meet the wage earnings requirement. The DES will issue a Wage Statement that tells you how they determined whether you qualified and the potential WBA you would receive if you qualified. You may file a wage protest if you disagree with math on your Wage Statement. You have 10 calendar days from the mailing date of the Wage Statement to dispute the document.
You may meet the wage requirement, but still be denied benefits. The DES’ claims examiner will observe the reasons for your separation from work. If your actions or decisions caused the separation, that may cause the state to deny benefits.
If you quit without a good cause connected to work, your claim may be denied. If you quit because you couldn’t find child care, it’s a good cause for you personally, but it is not connected to your employment. It’s a personal decision.
If you repeatedly violated a rule at work and repeatedly received warnings regarding your conduct, the DES may deny your claim for benefits. Your actions may be considered to be “misconduct,” or actions performed with disregard for your employer’s interests.
Quit and Still Eligible
You may have decided to quit, but your employer left you with little choice. If your employer did something or failed to do something to force you to quit, you may still be eligible for benefits. For example, if your employer forced you to work in unsafe conditions, you may be eligible. You will have to show you tried to work things out with your employer (and in this case, that the working conditions were actually unsafe).
There may be other circumstances unrelated to work that may cause you to quit. If you have to move suddenly because of circumstances beyond your control (domestic abuse, child in need of serious medical attention), you may still be eligible.
Fired and Still Eligible
Your employer may be able to fire you for a variety of reasons. However, unless they fired you for misconduct, you may still be eligible for unemployment. A one-time violation of a minor policy may not rise to the level of misconduct.
What Happens When the DES Denies Benefits
You have the right to appeal any decision by the DES. The DES will mail a “Determination of Deputy” informing you of the circumstance. You will have 15 calendar days from the mailing date of the determination to file your appeal.
For more about the unemployment benefit appeal process, please view our page on Arizona Unemployment Appeals.
Who to Contact
If you have questions about unemployment, you can contact the Department of Economic Security by phone, email or regular mail.
The call center is open from 7 AM to 5 PM on regular business days. You can call it using one of three numbers.
- Toll free number: 877-600-2722
- Phoenix number: 602-364-2722
- Tuscon number: 520-791-2722
If you are deaf or hearing impaired, you can also contact the call center via TDD at 877-877-6226.
If you would prefer to email the Department of Economic Security, you can do so by filling out a form.
You can also send correspondence to the department at the following address:
Department of Economic Security
Unemployment Insurance Administration
P. O. Box 29225
Phoenix, Arizona 85038-9225
Or on the web:
There are separate phone numbers to call if you want to use the automated system to re-certify each week.
Toll Free: 877-766-8477
- Phoenix: 602-417-3800
- Tucson: 520-884-8477
- TDD (Telecommunications Device for the Deaf): 877-877-6226
Finally, if you have any complaints, you should contact the Client Advocacy Department. This department can be reached by phone or regular mail. The phone number is 620-542-5954
and their mailing address is:
DES Unemployment Insurance Administration
Site Code 720A
P.O. Box 6123
Phoenix, Arizona 85005-6123