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Know Your Rights – Montana Unemployment

Last Verified: January 2017

Unemployment insurance is undergoing changes in Montana. The Department of Labor and Industry in the state is proposing several rules changes that will affect whether and how workers receive benefits in the state. The rules changes are currently included in an omnibus amendment that the Department will present to the people of Montana sometime this year. Be prepared for any new rules by reading an overview of how to get unemployment benefits in Montana.

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in MT

To be eligible to receive unemployment benefits you must have become unemployed through no fault of your own, and;

  • Meet the state’s wage earning requirement
  • Be able and available to work
  • Be allowed to work by citizenship status
  • Register for work at a local MT Job Service Montana office

A claims examiner will look at your wages over a 12-month period to determine if you pass the wage earnings requirement. Then, the examiner will examine other issues separately. If the state finds that you are eligible, the state will inform you of how much you will receive. You must file a claim (request a benefit check) on a weekly basis and maintain your eligibility the entire time you receive benefits.

Eligibility Requirements Explained

Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own

If your actions or decisions caused your separation from work, you will not be eligible. Workers who are laid off, whose workplace closed or moved far away or quit with a very good reason (connected to their jobs) may be eligible for benefits.

Able and Available to Work

You must be physically and mentally able to work when you file your initial claim. You must be free to accept any reasonable job offer. There are some exceptions to these requirements. You may enroll in school and remain eligible if the education will further your career. You may be able to receive a medical exemption from the “able” requirement with proof of the condition.

If an illness caused the separation, you may still be eligible if unable to work when you file your claim.

Citizenship status

You must be a US citizen or have permission from the US government (resident alien, etc) to work in the US to receive benefits.

Wage Requirements and the Base Period

The Department will observe your wages over a 12-month period (called the base period) to determine how much in benefits you’ll receive each week. They look at each 3-month period, or quarter of a year, that you worked. They look at the first four out of the last five quarters prior to your filing a claim.

unemployment base period
This chart shows the base period for a monetary determination

If you aren’t eligible using this calculation, the Department will employ the alternative base period method to attempt to determine eligibility. They will use the wages from the last four months prior to your filing a claim.

They will pick out the two highest wage-earning quarters and sum your total base period wages. Your weekly benefit amount (WBA) will be 1% of your total base period wages or 1.9% times your two highest quarters, whichever is higher.

You can collect up to 28 weeks of benefits during the benefit year. The current maximum WBA is $487 per week according to several online sources. The minimum is $139.

The state offers an online tool to estimate your weekly benefit amount.

Registering at a Job Service Montana office

The state requires that you be active in looking for work while you receive benefits. Registering at a Job Service Montana office is the first step in maintaining eligibility.

How to Apply for Unemployment Benefits in MT

You may file your initial claim online, by telephone or at a Job Service Montana office. You will need several pieces of information to file your claim.

  • Social Security number
  • A current mailing address, telephone number and Email
  • The correct and complete contact information for all employers you worked for over the 18 months prior to filing your claim
  • Bank account and routing number if you wish to use Direct Deposit

Former military or federal employees must have the appropriate separation paperwork available. Union members need to provide their hall number. Non-US citizens must provide an alien registration card.

File via telephone by calling the Claims Processing Center between 9AM to 4PM, Monday through Friday. (406) 444-2545

Maintaining Eligibility and Weekly Certifications

To stay eligible, the state requires you to continue to look for work and to stay available to accept work. You will have to show each week that you maintain the status that qualified you for benefits initially. Montana asks that you request a payment weekly or bi-weekly, which amounts to your essentially filing a claim for benefits each week.

You request payments in the same manner in which you filed your initial claim. You won’t have to prove monetary eligibility. However, you will have to show that you remain:

  • Unemployed
  • Able and available to work
  • Are regularly looking for work
  • You have not refused a reasonable job offer

You will also have to inform the Department if you have started a new job or quit a job. You will have to report any wages or income you have earned (report when you earned it, not when you received it).

When you file your weekly claim, you will have to answer several questions that will help the Department determine whether you remain eligible for benefits and whether you are complying with the requirements.

A “reasonable job offer” is one that is at or near the salary you were making previously and one you’re trained or qualified to perform. The longer you remain unemployed, you will have to accept work that is less “reasonable.”

After 13 weeks of receiving benefits, you must accept work that pays 75% of the salary you were making before. You don’t have to take a job that pays below minimum wage.

Work Search Requirement

The Department asks that qualified recipients look for work in each week in which they request a benefit payment. You have to document your job search efforts and you must make at least one verifiable job contact during that week.

You will have already registered with the Job Service Montana office when you filed your initial claim. You’ll provide the Department with examples of your job searches when you file a weekly claim.

Some job search tips from the Department for complying with this requirement are as follows:

  • You should submit resumes within the week you file a claim. Submit resumes to someone with hiring authority.
  • Submit a resume or application to a different company each week (unless that company has several different opportunities).
  • Keep a record of all your contact attempts.
  • Apply with companies that are actively hiring. Research companies before cold calling or sending in resumes for positions not advertised as open.
  • Apply for jobs you are qualified for, available for and willing to accept

Self-employment, like starting your own business, will not count as a job search. Working part-time will not exempt you from a job search unless your qualifying wages (in your base period) were from part-time work or you were separated from part-time work.

Work Search Exemptions

You will be exempt from the job search requirement if:

  • You are “job attached,” meaning you are guaranteed to return to work after a specific period
  • You are in a union and your hall has a program to return you to work
  • You are in a Job Service Montana-approved training program

Other Job Search Issues

The Job Service offices may call you to set up a visit. You may discuss your job search or receive counseling. You must attend, or risk losing eligibility.

The Job Service Montana office provides specialized job search programs for workers in certain circumstances. You may be eligible based on your line of work or for other reasons. These programs are designed to help you find work faster. If the office places you in this program, you must participate. If you don’t, you may lose benefits.

Part-time Work and Unemployment Benefits

You are allowed to work part-time and still receive benefits. How much you earn during the week may affect how much you receive in unemployment.

You must report these earnings when you request a weekly payment. You must report wages when you earned them. However, you have to report some income during the week you receive it. For example, if you work a few hours at a store, report the hours and wages during the week when you worked. If you receive a bonus from your old job, you report that during the week when you get a check.

The state will deduct wages from your WBA if certain conditions exist. You may earn up to 25% of your WBA before the state begins taking deductions. If you earn over 25%, the state will take out $.50 for every dollar you make on the job.

The Department of Labor website has a partial benefits calculator you can use to estimate deductions. Remember that while the state deducts from your benefit payment, you get to keep what you earned.

The state may deduct from your WBA for other reasons.

  • You may choose to have tax withheld from your payment.
  • If you receive payment-in-kind or barter for work, you must report the actual value of what you received.
  • Sick leave, payment for unused vacation days

If you work more than your regular work hours (the hours you reported during your base period), the state could consider you to be fully employed and no longer eligible.

Reasons for Denial of Benefits

If you don’t make enough wages in your base period, you will not receive further consideration for benefits. The Department will notify you of their decision through a Notice of Monetary Determination. You may ask for a reconsideration within 10 days of the mailing date of that notice. You may also appeal the decision.

You may make enough wages to qualify; however, the state could deny benefits based on issues to do with your separation from work. If your actions or decisions caused your separation from work, you may be disqualified on that basis.

If you quit your job for personal reasons, the Department may deny benefits if the reasons were not a good cause connected to your work. Quitting to return to school full-time may be a good cause for you personally, but the decision didn’t have anything to do with your job.

Get unemployment benefits at the MDLI

If your employer fired you for repeated violations of the employer’s policy, you may be denied benefits. The claims examiner may consider your conduct was “misconduct connected to work.”

There are other reasons the state may deny benefits that are not separation issues. Some include:

  • Refusing work
  • Failure to conduct a verifiable job search
  • Enjoying an employer-approved leave of absence from work
  • Unavailable to accept suitable employment
  • Receiving worker’s compensation from Montana
  • On strike

Some of these situations could appear at any time during your benefit year. The state may deny your benefits when these circumstances exist. When you file your initial claim, make sure you answer all questions about your status correctly. If the state discovers, for example, that you were receiving benefits and worker’s compensation simultaneously after a claim is approved, you will have to repay all the benefits you’ve received. You may also face criminal charges for withholding information.

When you do believe you may have separation issues that would disqualify you, you may be able to explain the reasons for your separation that show you should be eligible.

Quit and Still Eligible

When you quit work, your decision caused the separation. In some cases, your employer’s action is actually the cause of the separation. Your employer may have created working conditions so poor that you had no choice but to quit.

You will have to show that the conditions in fact existed and that you tried more than once to resolve the issue before quitting.

Fired and Still Eligible

Employers usually discharge employees for rule violations. They make their policy clear and you have to follow rules. The claims examiner will look for issues that show that you were fired for “misconduct connected to your work.” A one-time violation of a policy may not show misconduct. A justifiable termination is not always misconduct concerning unemployment law.

Be aware that your employer receives notice when you file for unemployment. The state will inquire with them about the reasons for your separation. If you cannot show special circumstances in filing your initial claim and the Department denies your claim, your only recourse may be to file an appeal.

What Happens When Your Claim is Denied: The Appeals Process

You may request a redetermination of the Department’s decision denying benefits. You must have new information and a sound reason to disagree with the original decision. You have 10 days from the mailing date on your Notice of Determination. That notice will contain the reasons why the state denied your claim and instructions on how to request the redetermination.

If you disagree with the redetermination outcome, you may file an appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). You have 10 days from the date the Department of Labor mails your Notice of Redetermination.

You may file an appeal online at the website of the OAH. It is a simple web form that you fill out and submit. If you do not have Internet access yourself, you may use any computer with a connection to file the appeal.

The hearings themselves are held by telephone. The process is similar to a trial, but much less formal. A Hearing Officer will act as a judge. The Hearing Officer listens to testimony and evidence, decides what the facts of the case are, and applies Montana unemployment law to those facts.

If you are denied benefits, please visit our section on appealing benefits decision in Montana.

For further information on filing for unemployment benefits in Montana:

Read the Claimant’s Handbook for more general information

Find other resources for claimants at the MDLI website

Find a Job Services Center near you

Read the laws governing Montana’s unemployment insurance

Learn about Appeals Hearings at the OAH website

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