A Complete Guide on Massachusetts Unemployment Benefits and How to File for Them

FT Contributor
An unemployed man speaking on the phone while holding the newspaper and a pen.
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When you unexpectedly lose your job, there may be a gap between leaving that job and starting a new one. Unemployment benefits replace some of your income temporarily while you look for work. In Massachusetts, unemployment claims are handled by the Department of Unemployment Assistance. Claims should be filed online at the Massachusetts DUA website, but the state also has an automated telephone system. Claimants can call (617) 626-6338 to certify their information.

Like all states, Massachusetts requires you to meet certain eligibility requirements to file for unemployment. There are limits on how much you can collect and for how long.

Massachusetts Unemployment Benefits Eligibility

Although many Massachusetts workers qualify for unemployment compensation, the state requires you to meet specific eligibility criteria. These are related to earnings, employment status, type of employment, and more.

Past Earnings

Massachusetts unemployment is only available to individuals who earned at least $4,300 in the previous four complete calendar quarters. This is known as the primary base period when calculating your benefits, and the majority of unemployment claims are calculated this way.

Some claimants may be able to use the alternate base period, if they don’t qualify for unemployment under the primary base period method. The alternate base period method uses the previous three quarters of earnings plus the period of time between the last completed quarter and the date of the claim. This method is also used when it results in at least a 10% increase in benefits compared to the primary base period.

Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own

To qualify for Massachusetts unemployment assistance, you must have become unemployed through no fault of your own. This means you were laid off for economic reasons or downsizing, or you were fired for performance reasons, such as you lacked the skills to do your job or you weren’t a good fit.

If you were fired for misconduct, or you deliberately and regularly failed to follow a workplace rule or policy, you cannot collect unemployment. You’re also disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits if you are fired after being convicted of a felony or misdemeanor.

Although you typically cannot collect unemployment if you quit your job, there are exceptions. If you have to quit for personal safety reasons, such as you’re the victim of domestic violence or stalking, you may file a claim. You may also file for unemployment if you quit for reasonable cause, such as an unsafe workplace or you’ve experienced discrimination.

Totally or Partially Unemployed

Massachusetts unemployment benefits are for people who have become completely or partially unemployed. Partial unemployment means a significant reduction in working hours or earnings. You cannot file for unemployment if you are not working for other reasons, such as taking paid or unpaid time off or a leave of absence.

You Must Be Able to Work

Finally, the law requires that unemployment claimants be willing and able to work, and actively seeking employment while receiving benefits. While receiving benefits, you must report job search activities weekly using the online or automated telephone system. The state requires that you conduct at least three job search activities on three separate days of the week to continue to receive benefits. Some people may also be required to complete scheduled employment-related activities, such as training sessions or job fairs.

How to File for Unemployment in Massachusetts

Massachusetts prefers individuals to file unemployment claims online. You should file the claim in the first week after becoming unemployed, and you can make your claim at any time.

Claims can also be filed via telephone by calling (877) 626-6800 from area codes 351, 413, 508, 774, and 978; callers from other area codes should call (617) 626-6800. Telephone claims are accepted between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and the day you can call to make your claim depends on the last digit of your Social Security number.

To make an online claim, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim login page.
  2. Enter your Social Security number.
  3. Follow the prompts to provide the required information. This includes your name and address, and details about your former employment, like your employer’s name and address, your job description, your earnings, and the date of your last employment.
  4. Establish a password. You’ll need this to log in and check on the status of your application and benefits.

Appealing a Denial

Applying for unemployment benefits does not guarantee you will receive them. The DUA may have questions about your claim or require additional information. If they contact you for more information, respond quickly to avoid delaying your claim.

If your claim is denied, you can file an appeal online. You have 10 days from the date of denial to file an appeal, which will be assigned to a Review Examiner. The examiner will hold a hearing, either in person or by phone, during which you can make your case and present additional evidence supporting your claim. If the appeal is denied, you can appeal that decision to the Board of Review, and ultimately take the claim to court if necessary.

When Will I Get Paid?

Depending on how many new unemployment claims are made, it can take up to 21 to 28 days for your claim to be processed. Once a decision is made, you’ll receive a letter notifying you of your claim status. If approved, you can expect to receive your first payment within three to four weeks.

Claim Your Weeks

Once you begin receiving unemployment benefits, you need to continue to claim your weeks, or notify the DUA that you’re still unemployed but looking for work. In Massachusetts, you may request your weekly unemployment benefit any day between Sunday and Saturday.

The easiest way to do this is online. Log in to your UI account using the password you set up when you made your initial claim. Click on “Request Benefit Payment” and follow the prompts to certify your continued unemployment and provide information about your job search activities.

It’s helpful to keep a detailed log of your job search activities for these weekly claims. Jotting down where you apply and when, tracking interviews as well as other activities speeds up your weekly claims, and serves as evidence should you need to answer questions about your claim. If you run into trouble making your weekly claim, contact the DUA right away to get things straightened out to avoid missed or delayed payments.

Available Unemployment Benefits in Massachusetts

Unemployment benefits in Massachusetts are not designed to completely replace your earnings. How much you get, and for how long, depends on your circumstances.

Benefits Available

Massachusetts unemployment benefits are approximately 50% of your weekly earnings, with a maximum benefits amount of $823 per week. Benefits are calculated using your two highest paid quarters of the previous four quarters, divided by 26 to determine your average weekly wage. That number is then divided by 2 to determine your weekly unemployment benefit payment. Parents who are the main or sole support of a child receive an additional $25 per week per child.

Annual unemployment benefits are capped at the lesser of either 30 weeks of benefits or 36% of your wages in your base period. During periods of low unemployment, benefits are limited to 26 weeks. Depending on your benefit amount, you may not be able to take benefits for the full 26 or 30 weeks.

Benefits Extensions

Massachusetts does not offer unemployment benefits extensions if you do not find work before your benefits run out. At that point, you will be referred to the state Department of Health and Human Services for additional assistance.

Training Opportunities Program

If finding a new job requires you to develop new skills, you can apply for the Training Opportunities Program. Under this program, you can receive unemployment benefits — and potentially qualify for an additional 26 weeks of benefits. All while you complete an approved full-time training program.

Massachusetts One-Stop Career Centers

MassHire Career Centers are located throughout Massachusetts, and serve as a one-stop career resource for people looking for work. Here, you can get assistance with your job search, from resume and cover letter assistance, to interview training, to access to job listings as well as career training programs.

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