How to Apply For Unemployment in California


The economic turmoil resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rattle on in California, with little sign we’ll be out of the woods anytime soon. As of the week ending March 28, 6.6 million workers had filed their first week of unemployment benefit: a record number that’s only set to increase. If you’re one of the millions whose income has been negatively affected by the crisis, it’s crucial to find out exactly what your entitlements are, and how to claim them.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act

On 27th March, the government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, an unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus package designed to keep both businesses and individuals afloat in these extraordinary times. In addition to a supplementary $600 weekly payment to unemployment claimants, the act will allow small businesses to seek assistance via loans ($350 billion has been made available for the purpose) and industries, cities, and states to request a piece of a $500 billion loan fund. In an effort to reduce hardship, the government has also waived the usual 7-day waiting period for workers claiming Unemployment Insurance benefits because of COVID-19.

Am I Eligible for Unemployment Insurance Benefits?

As a result of the current situation, a certain flexibility has been applied to the usual eligibility criteria for claiming unemployment. Even if you wouldn’t have been eligible for unemployment under the old guidelines, you may still be able to claim if your working situation has been negatively affected by COVID. As each state has its own guidelines for determining eligibility, it’s worth checking out the fine print to see if you qualify for Unemployment Insurance benefits in California. Under the standard guidelines, only those who tick the below boxes are eligible to claim unemployment:

  • I have worked in California for 18 months or more
  • I have earned $1,300 in the highest-earning quarter of the base period, or $900 in my highest earning quarter, and a total base period earnings of 1.25 times the highest-earning quarter
  • I am unemployed through no personal fault
  • I am physically able to work
  • I am ready, willing, and available for work
  • I am actively looking for work

Further to the federal government passing new legislation to allow states to provide Unemployment Insurance benefits to those affected by COVID-19, California has amended its eligibility criteria to offer more widespread support. As outlined on the State of California Employment Development Department website, under the new conditions, you may be able to claim Unemployment Insurance benefits if:

  • You’re unable to work because you are sick with, or have been exposed to, COVID-19. If you are not sick yourself, you may be asked to provide a medical certificate validating your exposure.
  • You’re unable to work because you are caring for a family member affected by COVID-19.
  • You’re unable to work because of school closures and have no alternative means of childcare.
  • You’re unable to work because your employer has shut down operations, either temporarily or permanently.
  • You’ve been asked to work reduced hours because of COVID-19.
  • You are self-employed and your business has been adversely affected by COVID-19.

While we’re on the topic of eligibility, tt’s worth noting that the reason for your claim may affect the amount of unemployment you’re paid: If you are sick or in quarantine, benefits will be capped at 60-70 percent of your base wage and will range from $50-$1,300 a week (depending on your usual income). If you are caring for a sick or quarantined family member, you can file a Paid Family Leave PFL claim, which will entitle you to 60-70 percent of wages, with actual amounts varying from $50-$1,300.

If you have been furloughed, you will not be expected to actively look for other work, However, you must meet all other eligibility criteria and be ready and able to return to work as soon as your employer requests it. State benefits will range between $40-$450 per week depending on income. For an indication of how much you’ll receive, provides a useful calculator to help: simply enter your income details for the base period, along with your number of dependents, and the calculator will evaluate your potential entitlement amount. Do bear in mind, however, that this is an estimate only: your actual benefits may be different.

How Do I Apply for Unemployment in California?

To file a claim, you will need to ensure you can provide the following documents:

  • Social Security Number
  • Driver’s Number (if applicable)
  • Employer Information Form (this will contain details of your employment history for the past 18 months)
  • Pay Stubs
  • Form SF08 and Form SF50 (if applicable)
  • Form DD-214 (if applicable)

While you’re able to file your application by telephone (call 1-800-300-5616), the high call volume currently being experienced is resulting in lengthy waiting times. You’re therefore recommended to file your application online if possible. To file your claim online, log onto the Employment Development Department Portal at one of the below times:

  • Sunday – 5:00 AM to 8:30 PM
  • Monday – 4:00 AM to 10:00 PM
  • Tuesday-Friday – 2:00 AM to 10:00 PM
  • Saturday – 2:00 AM to 8:00 PM

Providing you give accurate information and supply all requested documents, you can expect to receive a decision within 3 weeks. After submitting your application, you will need to log in weekly to verify your claim. Remember to do this even while a decision on your application is still pending. While you are waiting on a decision, it may be worth checking whether you’re eligible for any other forms of assistance. As part of the CARES Act, the government has made an additional $17.8 million available in Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds to those worse affected by the crisis. Assistance varies, but you may be able to claim support for such necessities as utility assistance, rent, clothing, food, childcare, and transportation fuels. For more information about your possible entitlements, the EDD provides a comprehensive guide.

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