Massachusetts Unemployment – Learn your Rights Today

Last Verified: March 2017

The Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) and the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) are responsible for administering unemployment benefits in Massachusetts. These benefits provide temporary financial relief to workers in Massachusetts who are out of work through no fault of their own but are able and willing to work. In an effort to improve the unemployment program in the state, the DUA created a new online system to handle claims, payments, and to make public assistance more accessible.

Eligibility

To qualify for unemployment benefits, you must have earned enough money during a 12-month period from an employer covered by Massachusetts unemployment law. Additionally, the state requires that you:

  • You currently live and worked in Massachusetts
  • Lost your job through no fault of your own
  • are able and available to work suitable employment
  • be a US citizen or legally authorized to work in the country

The state may also require that you register with the Massachusetts Career Center. The DUA will inform you if that is the case.

Eligibility Requirements Explained

Lost Job Through No Fault of Your Own

To be eligible for benefits, your actions or decisions cannot cause your separation from work. Workers laid off or workers whose plant shut down are usually eligible for benefits. If you quit, it must be for a “good cause connected to work.”

Able and Available

You must be mentally and physically able to work when you file your initial claim for benefits. You must be available to accept offers of suitable employment. “Suitable employment” can be a job similar to one you are trained to perform at pay in line with what the market offers. The longer you are out of work, the less “similar” the job has to be.

Legally Authorized

You must be a US citizen to receive benefits or be able to prove that you are authorized to work in the US.

Wage Requirements and the Base Period

To qualify for benefits you must earn enough money from a covered employer within a 12-month period called the base period. The base period is the first four of the last five quarters prior to your filing an initial claim.

unemployment base period
This chart shows the base period.

You must have earned at least $4,300 during the base period to be eligible. The total wages must be 30 times the amount you would be eligible to receive each week, your weekly benefit amount (WBA).

The DUA may use an alternative base period if you:

  • Don’t qualify using the standard calculation, or
  • You would receive at least 10% more in the WBA

The alternative base period is the period between the last completed quarter and the effective date of your initial claim plus the previous three quarters.

Calculating Your Benefit Payments in MA

The DUA also uses the base period wages to calculate how much you may receive each week. The WBA is 50% of your average weekly wage during the base period.

To find the average weekly wage, take your two highest earning quarters and divide that sum by 26. If you only have two quarters or less with wages in your base period, take the highest quarter and divide by 13.

Now, take your average weekly wage — the figure from the previous step — and divide that by two. Round the answer down to the nearest dollar. That will be your WBA.

The maximum WBA allowed by law in MA is currently $742.

The maximum you can receive during a benefit year depends on your maximum benefit amount. The maximum benefit amount is your WBA X 30 or 36% of your total base period wages, whichever is lower. The DUA will then divide your maximum benefit amount by your WBA. The answer will tell you how many weeks you can receive benefits.

The maximum number of weeks anyone may receive benefits is 30 weeks.

Claiming Dependents

You may claim children that you financially support. This will add to your WBA. You may receive an additional $25 per child, as long as that figure is not more than half of your WBA. If you have two kids you take care of and your WBA is less than $98, you will only be able to claim one child.

Extended Benefits

When unemployment is high, the state may approve additional weeks of benefit payments for all benefit recipients. Also, the federal government may approve additional funding. While there are currently no extensions available, the maximum benefit week cap is reduced to 26 weeks, down from 30 weeks. This is so that the state can add additional periods of payments (e.g. 13 weeks on top of 26).

How to apply

You can file your claim for benefits by phone or through the DUA’s new online self-service system, UI Online. The online filing system is available seven days a week from 6AM to 10PM. Before you apply, you will need to ensure that you have the following information readily available:

  • Your social security number
  • Your mailing address, phone number, birthday
  • Your alien registration number if you are not a U.S citizen
  • Employer information for the past 15 months (names, addresses, phone numbers, reasons for leaving, start and end dates)
  • The social security numbers and birthdays of any dependents
  • Military employees may need your DD-214 Member 4
  • Federal government employees may need your SF8

You can file your claim over the phone by calling the TeleClaim Center:

  • 1-877-626-6800- For people calling from area codes 351, 413, 508, 774, and 978
  • 617-626-6800- For all other area codes
  • 711- Voice relay

You can call the DUA TeleClaim Center 8:30AM-4:30PM from Monday through Friday. For shorter waiting times, it is recommended that you call later in the week and after 2PM. In order to ensure that all claimants are able to get their calls through, the DUA has set the following Call Schedule in place based on the last digit of your social security number:

  • Last digit 0,1: Monday
  • Last digit 2,3: Tuesday
  • Last digit 4,5,6: Wednesday
  • Last digit 7,8,9: Thursday
  • Anyone: Friday

Requesting Benefit Payments

Once the DUA approves your benefits claim, you will have to request a benefit payment each week. This is sometimes called “weekly certifications” or “filing a weekly claim.” Filing a weekly claim is the most accurate description of what happens. You will have to show that you maintain your eligibility status each week to receive payments.

You will request a payment using the online claims system or the Teleclaim system, the same as when you filed the initial claim. You will have to answer certain questions to show that you are eligible. The questions will try to discover whether you:

  • Are able and available to work
  • Are making a good faith effort to find work
  • Have started or quit a new job
  • Have earned any wages or income that you need to report
  • Have refused an offer of suitable employment

You can file online or by telephone seven days a week between 6PM and 10AM.

Part-time Work and Benefit Payments

You may work part-time and receive unemployment. You may file a claim if your employer reduces your full-time hours to part-time work.

Part-time work will affect your WBA. You can earn up to 1/3 of your WBA before the DUA deducts from your benefit amount. Once you earn more than 1/3 of your WBA, the state will make a dollar-for-dollar deduction. Of course, you will be able to keep your earnings.

If you work full-time during any benefit week, you are not considered “unemployed.” You won’t receive your WBA even though your wages are less than your WBA. If you devote 40 hours a week to a self-employment enterprise, you will be considered unavailable for suitable employment.

You must report wages or income during the week you earned them, not the week you received payment.

Work Search Requirements

The DUA requires that you make a good faith effort to find work while you receive benefits. There are three steps that will help you satisfy this.

  1. You will have already registered with the Career Center prior to receiving benefits.
  2. Make three job searches per week (each on a different day).
  3. Keep detailed records of all job search activities.

The DUA may ask to see evidence of your job searches at any time, so keep good records. Record dates, times and contacts that you’ve made. Ultimately, you should apply for a job rather than simply search want ads.

If a DUA audit shows that you have not been looking for work, you may lose your benefits.

The state also offers training programs and targeted assistance for workers who qualify. If the DUA sends you a notice that you have been selected to participate in one of these programs, you must respond or the DUA may stop your benefit payments.

Reasons for Denial of Benefits

If you fail to meet the wage earning requirements, you will not qualify for benefits. You may be able to request a redetermination of your wages by request. If the state denies benefits based on base period wages, contact the DUA as soon as possible.

Separation Issues

If you meet the wage requirements, the DUA’s examiner will investigate the reasons for your separation from work. If the examiner finds that your actions or decisions caused the separation from work, the DUA may deny your claim.

If you quit without a good cause connected to your work, the state may deny your claim. If you quit because you wanted to return to school full-time, you quit for personal reasons. If you quit because you had trouble finding after-school care for a child, it may seem a good cause, but you quit because of something unconnected to your job.

For dismissals, the DUA will investigate whether you were fired for misconduct connected to work. “Misconduct” in an unemployment context is behavior that shows a disregard for the employer’s interests. Fighting on the job is a clear example, as is repeated policy violations.

Other Issues

Some applicants are ineligible by law, like those unauthorized to work in the US. People paid by commission or students in a work-study program may not be eligible.

If you fail to maintain eligibility requirements, the state may find you ineligible. If you fail to look for work or respond to certain communications by the DUA, the state may end your payments.

Quit and Still Eligible

You may be eligible for benefits despite making a decision to quit work. If the employer does something or fails to do something to cause you to quit, you may receive benefits. If your employer forces you to work in unsafe conditions, you may receive benefits. You must be able to show that you make a good faith effort to fix the problem (to keep your job) before quitting.

Fired and Still Eligible

Your employer may discharge you for many reasons. However, if the DUA doesn’t consider the reason to be “misconduct connected to work,” you may receive benefits. A mistake in judgement, inability to perform the duties or a one-time policy violation may not be considered misconduct.

Often a one-time violation meets the definition of misconduct if the action is severe. Failing to show up for work during your first week on the job or insubordination may well result in a denial of benefits.

What Happens if MA Denies Benefits

If your claim for unemployment is not accepted, you will receive a “Notice of Disqualification” in the mail. If you have been denied and you feel the decision was incorrect, you have the right to appeal and request a hearing. It is extremely important that you act quickly. Your request for a hearing must be mailed within 10 days of the notice being issued.

If you want to know more about the process of filing an unemployment benefits appeal, you can read our page on filing an unemployment appeal in Massachusetts.

Payments

If your claim was approved, you will receive a “Benefit Determination Notice” that will state how much you are eligible to receive each week, and the duration of your benefits. It can take up to 3 weeks to process your claim. During these 3 weeks, you should request your weekly benefit payments. Unlike some states, Massachusetts will pay benefits retroactively from the date you filed as long as you requested payments during the weeks that your claim is being processed.

Payments are issued via direct deposit or a DUA Debit Mastercard. You must request direct deposit, otherwise you will be issued a debit card.

Resources

TeleClaim Service

http://www.mass.gov/lwd/unemployment-insur/need-help/ui-services-by-telephone.html

Forms

http://www.mass.gov/lwd/unemployment-insur/forms-and-publications/for-claimants/

Department of Unemployment Assistance

Charles F. Hurley Building
19 Staniford Street
Boston, MA 02114
Tel: 617-626-6560

DUA department phone numbers

Accounts Control Division 617-626-6893
Audit 617-626-6820
Certified Assessments 617-626-5750
Employer Liability Registrations 617-626-5050
Experience Rating 617-626-6893
Fair Share Contributions 617-626-6080
Refund Unit 617-626-5090
Revenue Enforcement 617-626-5750
Reimbursable Unit 617-626-5790
Reports Processing 617-626-5243
TeleClaim 617-626-6800
UHI Department 617-626-5243
WorkShare 617-626-5521