Like many legislatures, the Oklahoma representatives chose to cut the unemployment tax for the state’s employers in the guise of “reform.” Perhaps those reforms had a little to do with the recent unexpected outage at the website for the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC), the department that manages unemployment benefits. Whether the tax cuts are a net negative or positive for the state, it shows the importance of being on top of your game when applying for benefits in Oklahoma.
To qualify for benefits, you must have worked for an employer that pays into the state’s unemployment tax fund (a “covered employer”). You must have earned sufficient wages from that employer over the year prior to your filing a claim. If you earn enough wages, the OESC requires that you meet additional eligibility tests, including:
- That you be able and available to work
- That you have legal authorization to work in the US
- That you lost your job through no fault of your own
You must register with the job search service OKJobmatch.com within 10 days of filing a claim. Report any income you received when you lost your job, like a severance package.
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Lost Your Job Through No Fault of Your Own
You can’t be at fault for losing your job and collect unemployment. The program is meant to benefit those who wish to work, but for reasons beyond their control (other than disability), they cannot. If your employer closed a business, moved a plant or simply had no more work for you to do, you may be eligible for benefits.
You must be able to prove you are authorized by law to work in the US. You may show an alien registration card.
Able and Available
You must be mentally and physically able to work when you file your claim. You must be available to accept a suitable job offer. A suitable job is one that you’re trained to do or capable of doing, and the pay should be similar to that which you’ve received in the past. The longer you go without work, the less important it becomes that the job you accept be “suitable.”
Monetary Qualification and the Base Period
The OSEC will observe your wages over a 12-month period called the base period. The base period is the first four of the last five quarters prior to your filing a claim.
You must have earned at least $1,500 from a covered employer during your base period. In addition, your total wages earned during the base period must be at least 1.5 times higher than the wages you earned during the quarter where you made the most money (called your “high quarter” wages). Generally, if you had employment during the base period, your chances of meeting monetary qualifications are good.
You should receive a notice from the OSEC soon after you file for benefits. This notice will show you the wage calculations the department made, potential benefit amount and whether you meet the monetary qualifications. Receiving this notice doesn’t mean you will be receiving benefits. A separate notice will show whether you are eligible.
Calculating the Weekly Benefit Amount
The OSEC also uses the base period wages to determine how much you’ll receive each week, your weekly benefit amount (WBA). Your WBA will be approximately equal to 1/23 of your highest quarter base period wages.
The OK legislature sets the minimum and maximum WBA and is subject to change every year. You cannot receive a WBA lower than the minimum or higher than the maximum, even if the calculation of your wages is above the max.
The max is currently $505 and the minimum is $16.
Duration of Benefits
You may receive benefits for a maximum of 26 weeks, though the OSEC says that most people will receive 20 weeks. How many weeks you get also depends on your base period wages.
During times of high unemployment, the state or federal government may authorize additional weeks of benefits. No such program currently exists.
How to Apply for Unemployment in OK
You may apply for benefits using the online portal at https://unemployment.state.ok.us/. You may also file via telephone.
You need several pieces of information to file your claim:
- Your social security number
- Name, current contact information
- Any prior addresses and aliases
- Oklahoma ID or proof of authorization to work in the US
- Information regarding your last employer, including contact information and physical location
- Your supervisor’s name and contact information
- The reason for your separation from work
- Similar information from any employer you worked for over the past 18 months
If you were in the military or are a federal employee and using that employment for your claim, you will need the appropriate separation forms.
Weekly Certification and maintaining eligibility for benefits
The state requires that you maintain your eligibility while you are receiving benefits. To ensure this, the OSEC requires that you file a claim each week, sometimes called filing a continuing claim or certifying weekly.
You may file a weekly claim at the online portal or file by telephone using the IVR system. You can file at the beginning of each benefit week, which begins on Sunday.
If you miss a week, you should call the OSEC claims assistance number. If you are more than 15 days late certifying a weekly claim, the OSEC will consider your claim late and you won’t get paid for that week.
To help make sure you continue to be eligible for benefits, the OSEC will ask you several questions when you file, whether online or by phone. These questions will address subjects such as:
- Whether you are looking for work
- Whether you are able and available to work
- Whether you have started or quit a new job
- Whether you refused an offer of suitable employment
- Whether you earned any wages during the week and how much
If you refused a job, you should report that to the OSEC. If you earned any wages during the week, report the wages for the week when you performed the work, not when you get paid.
Part-time Work and Receiving Benefits
As the previous section suggests, you can work part-time and earn benefits. This includes odd jobs that earn cash or part-time work with a business. Whatever the source of the income, you have to report it.
The part-time income you report will reduce your WBA. As long as your earnings don’t exceed the sum of your WBA plus $100, you can collect your full amount. Anything over that, the OSEC will reduce your benefit payment that week dollar-for-dollar.
If you have full-time employment (32 hours/week or more), you won’t be considered unemployed.
The state monitors payroll and employer records and may check to see if you are reporting wages properly. If not, you may lose benefits or face fraud charges.
Work Search Requirements
The OSEC expects that you will make a good faith effort to find work while you are on unemployment. You should have received specific work search information when you received your notice. However, the minimum requirements are that you make two job contacts each week.
Legitimate job searches are characterized by:
- Your job contacts should be easily verifiable
- If you make an in-person contact, talk to someone with hiring authority
- You can’t contact the same employer more than once a month (unless you are contacting a temp agency or the like)
- Your contacts/applications should be for suitable employment
Some people are exempt from the work search requirement. If you have a specific return to work date, you are in OSEC-approved training or member of a union hall, you may be exempt.
The OSEC may provide additional job search assistance and training to some applicants. These applications will have circumstances that suggest they may have a harder time finding work than others. If you are selected to participate in such a program, you must do so or face losing benefits.
Email the department for other questions about job searches [email protected]@oesc.state.ok.us
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
If you do not meet the monetary eligibility requirements, the state will deny your claim for benefits. If you do meet the requirement, the state may deny your claim based on issues related to your separation from work. If your claim is successful, the state may suspend benefits or deny a weekly claim because you failed to remain eligible.
The examiner will look at the circumstances of how your employment ended. If you quit, the examiner will check to see whether you quit with good cause. If not, they will deny your claim. If you were discharged, they will look for evidence of misconduct. If the examiner believes such evidence exists, they will deny benefits.
A “good cause” to quit is one that shows something your employer did or failed to do left you with no other possible course of action but to quit. If your employer failed to pay you for an unreasonable period, that may be a good cause to quit. If your employer forced you to work in unsafe conditions, you may be eligible to receive benefits in spite of quitting work.
You will have to show that you made a reasonable, good faith effort to keep your job. Did you speak with your supervisor or Human Resources officer about the situation? Did you try repeatedly to remedy the situation before quitting?
Misconduct is defined as behavior that shows a disregard for your employer’s interests. For example, coming to work late frequently in spite of warnings from your boss will show the claims examiner that you disregarded your employer’s authority and interests. However, if you were late to work because of a serious illness and then your boss fired you soon after, your conduct may not rise to the level of misconduct in that case.
The decision whether to deny benefits based on misconduct is fact-dependent in some cases. You will have to show, for example, that the action that got you fired was a simple mistake in judgement or a situation beyond your control. Your boss may be able to fire you for many reasons; however, those reasons may not be misconduct as defined by unemployment law.
In determining whether you caused your separation from work, the examiner will contact your former employer for their side of the story. They may accept the employer’s word in many cases. You may have to argue your case on appeal.
What Happens When the State Denies a Claim
The OSEC will mail a notice of eligibility determination after you file a claim. The notice will inform you of whether the state has approved your claim. If the state denies your claim, you may appeal the decision. You will have a limited time in which to request an appeal, so file your request as soon as possible. The OSEC’s notice will include instructions on how to file an appeal.
To Contact the Unemployment Service Center
|If you live:||Call|
|Inside the OKC calling area||525-1500|
Email the service center at [email protected]
To visit an Oklahoma Job Center in-person, find the locations at the OSEC site.
Find other answers to questions regarding some aspects of unemployment insurance by reading the OSEC claimant’s guide.