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Washington DC Unemployment – Eligibility, Benefits, etc.

Last Verified: April 2017

While the District of Columbia is not a state, it does provide unemployment insurance for workers who earned wages in the area. The unemployment insurance laws function much like other states in spite of the large number of workers who earn federal wages. In 2016, the district increased benefit payments for workers. It was the first increase since 2005.

District of Columbia’s Unemployment Insurance Eligibility Requirements

The Department of Employment Services runs DC’s Unemployment Compensation Program. The UI program is housed under The Office of Unemployment Compensation (OUC).

Email: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 724-7000
Fax: (202) 698-5706

To qualify for unemployment benefits in DC, you must have earned sufficient wages from an employer covered by the district’s unemployment insurance laws during a 12-month period. If you have earned sufficient wages, the DESwill conduct further inquiries. To be eligible for benefits, you must also meet Non-Monetary Requirements:

  • Unemployed through no fault of their own.
  • Available for work
  • Physically able to work
  • Be a US citizen or legally authorized to work in the US

Eligibility Requirements Explained

Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own

Your actions or decisions cannot cause your separation from work. Workers who are laid off or their work location moves far away are likely to receive benefits. Generally, those who are dismissed or quit work won’t qualify.

Able and Available

You must be physically and mentally able to work when you file your claim. You must also be available to accept an offer of suitable employment. “Suitable employment” is a job you’re trained to do at a salary similar to one you’ve earned before. The longer you remain unemployed, you may be expected to accept work that isn’t so “suitable.”

Legally Authorized

You must be able to prove citizenship or that you are authorized to work in the US. An alien registration card may be all you need. If you have an H1-B visa, you may apply for benefits if you have a specified return date from a temporary lay off.

Monetary Requirements and the Base Period

You must have earned sufficient 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.

unemployment base period
This chart shows the base period.

The wage requirements are as follows:

  • Earned wages in at least two quarters of the base period
  • At least $1,300 in wages in one quarter of the base period
  • At least $1,950 in wages for the entire base period
  • Total base period wages must be at least 1.5 times the wages in the highest quarter or be within $70 of that amount.

If you do not qualify using the standard base period, the DES may use an alternate base period. It would be the four most recently completed quarters prior to your filing a claim.

Calculating Your Benefit Payments

The DES uses your base period wages to determine the amount you’ll receive each week, your weekly benefit amount (WBA). The district will use the wages from the quarter in your base period where you made the most money (“high quarter”) to determine your WBA.

The maximum WBA in DC is currently $425. The maximum number of weeks you can receive benefits is 26. Your total benefit payment for the year is 26 times your WBA. You may not receive more than the total benefit payment in a benefit year.

Extended Benefits

During periods of high unemployment, the district or federal government may authorize weeks of benefit payments beyond the maximum 26 weeks. The council and/or federal House and Senate would have to pass legislation to authorize such payments. No extended benefits program is active in 2017.

Notice of Monetary Determination

Soon after you file your initial claim, the DES will mail a Notice of Monetary Determination. It will inform you of whether you meet the wage requirements, your potential WBA an total benefit payments among other things.

If you disagree with anything you see on the notice, you can request a redetermination. You will have 15 calendar days from the mailing date on the notice in which to make your request. You must make the request in-person at an American Job Center. You must also provide evidence to support your claim.

How to File a Claim in DC

There are three ways to file an UI claim in DC:

  • Online via or (Note – this is the preferred and most accessible method to file a UI claim. The DOES claims this method to be the quickest option)
  • By Phone at (202) 724-7000
  • In Person at your local District of Columbia American Job Center (Location information can be found further down the page)

What do I need to file for Unemployment Insurance?

    •  Social Security Number
    • The names, addresses, and phone numbers of your most recent employer(s) within the past 30 days.
    • The dates you spent employed under the employer(s) from the item above
    • If you did or will receive any severance pay, then you must include your severance pay information

NOTE: Ex-military, federal employees, and individuals who are not US Citizens require different and/or additional information to apply.

You may file for Unemployment benefits at DOES American Job Centers.

Maintaining Eligibility and Weekly Claims

The DES requires that benefit recipients maintain their initial eligibility status while they continue to receive benefits. To monitor your continuing eligibility, the DES requires you to file a continuing claim each week (sometimes called “certifying weekly” or “requesting payment”).

You’ll start filing weekly claims a week after you file your initial claim (during this “waiting week,” you’ll file but won’t receive a payment).

You can file online or by telephone, the same options you had to file your initial claim. You will have to answer certain questions to “certify” and be eligible for a benefit payment for that week. These questions attempt to determine your continuing eligibility in certain areas. You will be asked whether you:

  • Are looking for work
  • Are able and available to work
  • Have started or quit a new job
  • Have refused any offers of employment
  • Have earned any wages or reportable income

If you have started part-time work, you must report any wages. You must report them for the week you earned the wages, not the week you received a paycheck. If you started a new full-time job, you must report this as well.

Part-time Work and Benefits

You may apply for unemployment benefits if you worked full-time until your employer reduced your work hours significantly. You may also continue to receive benefits if you find part-time work after filing your initial claim.

The wages you earn will affect your WBA. The DES will reduce your benefit amount based on how much you earn during the benefit week. Use this formula to estimate how much you’ll receive:

  1. Add $50 to your WBA
  2. Subtract 66% of your gross weekly wages (the amount you made that week, not your “take home” pay).
  3. Round down to the nearest dollar.

What’s left is how much you’ll receive on your next benefit payment.

If you work full-time, you can’t get benefits for that week even if you earn less than your WBA. If you work full-time, the DES doesn’t consider you to be unemployed.

Other Deductions

Other kinds of income may reduce your WBA. You must report such income. These sources include:

  • Severance pay (usually when filing the initial claim)
  • Pensions (with no contribution from you)
  • Outstanding child support payments

Job Searches – Breakdown

One of the most important unemployment insurance eligibility criteria is the requirement for claimants to actively search for employment on a weekly basis. Even if you initially qualify for unemployment benefits in DC, those benefits may be revoked if you do not fulfill DC’s requirements. There is a possibility that you will be asked to report in person to discuss your work search efforts, and your records will be especially important in such scenarios.

The DES requires that you make two job contacts per week. A “contact” should be an attempt to find work through a person in a position to hire. You should be able to report, if asked, the name, date and contact information of your attempt as well as reporting the outcome.

If you fail to make a personal and continuing effort to find work, you may lose your benefits.

Reasons for Denial of Benefits

The DES may find that you haven’t earned enough base period wages to qualify for unemployment. If you request a redetermination and the DES determines you still do not meet the monetary requirement, you may appeal that determination.

If you do meet the monetary requirements, the DES examiner may find issue with your separation from work. Your former employer will receive notice you’ve filed for unemployment. They may present evidence that shows you were dismissed for misconduct or you quit without good cause.

Separation issues

If your actions or decisions cause your separation from work, the examiner will deny your claim. A decision to quit for personal reasons or being fired for repeated policy violations are often reasons for denying benefits.

Quit but Still Eligible

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, which 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?

Fired But Still Eligible

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.

Other Issues

You may find that other issues may make you ineligible for benefits. These issues may be present when you file the initial claim or may arise while you file a continuing claim.

  • Failing to report wages
  • Refusing a job offer
  • Failing to look for work
  • Failing to report when asked by a DES official
  • Being unavailable for work

Certain situations unrelated to work may cause you to quit or cause your employer to fire you. The DES rules state specifically that if you leave work because of these circumstances, you may receive benefits if otherwise eligible.

  • You are a victim of domestic violence (you must show some written evidence)
  • Your spouse or partner is a victim and you relocated with them
  • You cared for a family member who is sick or disabled

What Happens When the DES Denies Benefits

If the examiner denies your claim, you have the right to appeal on most issues. You will have 15 calendar days in which to file your appeal to the Office of Administrative Hearings. The DES will mail you a Notice of Determination telling you whether you are eligible. You will have 15 days to file from the mailing date of that notice.

Read more here about how to file an unemployment appeal in Washington DC.


File DC Unemployment Insurance Claim Online — (can use this link to file online as well)

Department of Employment Services Homepage

DC Unemployment Compensation

Job Seeker Resources

Find American Job Centers

DC Unemployment Compensation Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Frequently Requested Contact Information

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