Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in California
| Read Time: 4 minutes | Employment Law 101

If you are a Golden State employee seeking unemployment benefits, California eligibility requirements can be confusing. As one of the most populous states in the U.S., California offers a comprehensive unemployment insurance program designed to provide temporary financial assistance to eligible individuals. However, to access these benefits, workers must be fully or partially unemployed, have sufficient earnings over the past 12 months, and be ready and available for work. This article will cover unemployment benefits, California eligibility, and the differences in entitlements when an employee quits or is fired.

What Are California Unemployment Requirements?

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) administers the state’s unemployment insurance program, overseeing the distribution of benefits to qualified applicants. To determine eligibility, an employee must establish several factors.


Applicants must be legal residents of the United States and either citizens or eligible non-citizens with proper authorization to work in the country. Eligible non-citizens must demonstrate they have maintained satisfactory immigration status and are authorized to work in the United States while earning wages that establish their claim. They must also demonstrate they are permitted to work each week they claim benefits.


To qualify, employees must be involuntarily unemployed. Involuntary employment typically includes layoffs, company closures, or reduced work hours. Those who voluntarily quit their jobs without good cause or whose employer terminated them for misconduct are generally ineligible for benefits.

Sufficient Earned Wages

An employee must have received enough wages during a base period to establish a claim. California’s Employment Development Department examines an individual’s work history over 12 months to make this determination. During the base period, you must have earned at least $1,300 in your highest-paid quarter, or $900 in your highest-paid quarter, and, during the entire base period, at least 1.25 times your high-quarter earnings.

Work Ready

Additionally, ongoing eligibility depends on the claimant’s willingness and ability to work. Claimants must be physically able to undertake work. They must also be available for suitable work, actively seek work, and be ready to accept a suitable job.

What Happens After the EDD Deems Me Eligible?

Once the EDD establishes that you meet all eligibility requirements, maintaining those benefits comes with requirements. The EDD mandates that claimants certify for benefits every two weeks, which involves answering questions that confirm eligibility for that period, reporting income, attending job training programs if required, and complying with EDD directives. For help answering certification questions, you can review Unemployment Insurance Benefits: What You Need to Know online.

Is There a Work Search Requirement?

Most people must make a reasonable effort to find suitable work to be eligible for benefits. The EDD expects claimants to actively seek out and accept proper employment. Factors determining suitability include prior job experience, salary, and commuting distance. The EDD advises employees to record their work search dates and employer contact information for future use and potential eligibility interviews. They also provide individual work search instructions on the Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award employees receive. For more information, visit Job Seekers: Returning to Work.

What Happens If I Quit My Job?

If you quit your job, the EDD will conduct a phone interview with you and your employer after you file your claim to determine if you are eligible for unemployment benefits. Your eligibility hinges on whether you had good cause for quitting and if you made all reasonable attempts to keep your job, such as requesting a leave of absence or transfer. Good cause can involve unsafe working conditions, a doctor’s advice, needing to relocate for your spouse’s job, caring for a seriously ill family member, or protecting yourself or your child from domestic violence.

You may also qualify for unemployment benefits if legitimate concerns about your job prompted your departure, such as experiencing illegal discrimination, harassment, or employer fraud. However, you must have taken reasonable steps to address the issue before resigning to be eligible. Taking reasonable steps includes discussing the problem with your employer and allowing them a reasonable time to rectify it.

What Happens If My Employer Fired Me?

If your employer fired you, the EDD will conduct a phone interview with you, email you instructions on how to complete your eligibility questionnaire online, or mail you a paper questionnaire to determine if your employer terminated you based on a lack of job-related skills or a mismatch with the company culture. You won’t be eligible for such benefits if the EDD attributes your termination to misconduct.

In California, misconduct disqualifies you from receiving unemployment benefits only if your conduct meets all the following conditions:

  • You significantly violated a “material” duty to your employer, indicating a substantial failure to perform your required tasks;
  • Your breach of duty demonstrated a deliberate or reckless disregard for your responsibilities; and
  • Your breach of duty had a detrimental impact on the employer’s business interests.

Inefficiency, inability to perform, or genuine errors in judgment do not disqualify an employee from receiving EDD unemployment benefits. A skilled Los Angeles employment attorney at King & Siegel can review your claim and help you determine if you meet all the standards above.

King & Siegel LLP Can Help You Collect Your California Unemployment Benefits

If you are currently experiencing unemployment, don’t hesitate to contact us for a complimentary consultation. We are here to assist you in navigating your rights with the EDD and can help you understand unemployment benefits, California eligibility requirements, and how to manage the application process.

At King & Siegel, we take pride in offering unparalleled legal support that is both bold and empathetic, leading to the successful recovery of millions in client compensation. Moreover, our client commitment matches the caliber of legal services provided by larger firms. Many of our advocates have graduated from top-tier law schools, received exceptional AVVO ratings, and are recognized as Super Lawyers Rising Stars, among other accolades. Best yet, we operate on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won’t owe us a dime unless you prevail.

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Julian Burns King graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and founded King & Siegel in 2018. As head of the Firm’s discrimination and harassment practice areas, she champions the rights of working parents and victims of workplace discrimination and harassment. She has been recognized as a “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers annually since 2018 and has recovered tens of millions of dollars on behalf of her clients.

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