The unemployment insurance program is administered jointly by state and federal agencies. Its goal is to provide temporary financial assistance to individuals who become unemployed by no fault of their own. Businesses in each state pay taxes to a trust fund that finances the program’s insurance payments to unemployed individuals, so the burden of the program falls squarely on employers’ shoulders.

In the state of Arizona, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) is the agency that administers unemployment insurance benefits to Arizona residents. The DES is responsible for deciding unemployment eligibility, administering benefit payments, and issuing regulations for the unemployment insurance program.

Qualifications for unemployment insurance

Not everybody who applies for unemployment insurance qualifies for benefits. When a DES agent reviews your application for benefits, they’ll consider the following qualifications:

  1. Working in Arizona
  2. Terms of employment loss
  3. Wage requirements
  4. Other requirements

1.      Working in Arizona

The state of Arizona’s unemployment insurance program is intended for Arizona workers, so it makes sense that you need to have worked in the state to qualify for benefits. If you’ve worked in multiple states during the previous year you can either apply for benefits with the DES for your total income, or you can choose to apply for benefits with the DES based on your Arizona wages and apply for benefits in the other states based on your income there. Either way, your work in the state of Arizona needs to be with an employer who paid unemployment taxes.

2.      Terms of employment loss

In order to qualify for unemployment insurance payments in Arizona, you cannot be at fault for your unemployment. A few commonly qualified situations include layoffs due to a business location closing, a reduction-in-force, or lack of work. If your separation from the company is due to a specific reason, the DES will assess who initiated the separation, and whether or not the reason for the separation qualifies for benefits. Generally speaking, quitting your job disqualifies you from receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

3.      Wage requirements

Your previous wages will play a major role in whether or not you qualify for benefits and will determine the value of your benefits. Most states have similar wage requirements, though the exact income qualifications will vary from state to state. In Arizona, you’ll need to qualify based on one of two income criteria:

  • You earned at least 390 times the state’s minimum wage in your highest earning quarter, and your total income during the other three quarters is at least half of your highest earning quarter
  • Or, you earned at least $7,000 in total wages during at least two quarters of the benefit period, with your wages during one of those quarters being at least $5,987.50

4.      Other requirements

Aside from those three primary requirements, there are a handful of other factors that the DES will consider when assessing your qualification for benefits:

  • Injury or illness
  • Attending school
  • Failing to seek work
  • Excessive travel away from the work area
  • Refusing to accept work
  • Inability to accept work
  • Failing to report a scheduled re-employment services orientation
  • Failing to return unemployment insurance claim-related documents within the agency’s specified time frames
  • Failure to respond to a referral for suitable employment by a DES agent
  • Refusing a genuine offer for suitable work without good cause
  • Retirement income (excluding Social Security)
  • Severance packages
  • Vacation and holiday pay that coincides with a period in which you’ve received unemployment insurance payments

Hoes does the DES calculate your benefit payments?

If you qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, your weekly benefit amount will be 4% of the wages you were paid during your highest-paying quarter of employment. There is no minimum weekly benefit amount, but there is a maximum of $240 per week.

How does the DES calculate your base period?

Your base period is the period of employment that the DES uses to calculate your weekly benefit amount. Your eligibility will be based on your wages paid by an insured employer during a one-year period. Typically, the DES will consider the first four of the last five quarters that you worked before you applied for unemployment insurance benefits.

Applying for unemployment insurance benefits

You can apply for unemployment insurance benefits beginning the day after your final employment date. The payments are not retroactive, so you should apply for benefits as soon as possible. The applications are all done online (click here), so you’ll need access to a computer. In order to complete your application, you’ll need the following documents and information:

  • Social security number
  • Arizona driver’s license or state issued ID
  • Mailing address
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of all your employers for the last 18 months
  • Last date of employment
  • Severance, vacation, holiday, and unused sick pay (the amount and payout date)
  • Pension and other retirement income (excluding Social Security)
  • Name and local number of your union hall (if applicable)
  • Alien registration number (if applicable)
  • Copy #4 of your DD Form 214 if you’ve been discharged from the military in the last 18 months
  • SF 8 or SF 50 if you’ve been employed in Federal Civilian service in the last 18 months

The waiting week

Your benefit claim goes into effect beginning on the Sunday of the week that you initiate your claim. Beginning with that Sunday, your waiting week is the first full week that you meet all of the eligibility requirements. If you earn wages greater than or equal to your weekly benefit amount (including severance pay, vacation, holiday, and unused sick time), the week you received the income can’t count as your waiting week. Unfortunately, the waiting week is not a payable week for insurance benefits.

How long do unemployment insurance benefits last?

Once you’ve been approved for unemployment insurance benefits, you may receive up to 26 weeks of benefit payments (subject to your wages during the base income period). Should you return to work or receive deductible income during any week, you may collect more or less than 26 weeks of income payments depending on your situation.

Need Help With An Employment Law Issue?

The state of Arizona is a great place to live and work, but knowing the employment laws will help you a lot. Whether you are a newcomer to the state or a lifelong resident, understanding your workplace protections is good for your career, and the more you know, the better.

Employment law issues can cause extreme distress and can affect productivity on the job. If you are being harassed at work, or dealing with any other employment issue, consider talking to our AZ employment law team to help you settle your case.

Call our Employment Law team at (480) 464-1111 to discuss your case today.

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