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1. How Does a Worker Apply for Benefits and What Are the Problems with UI Online?

A worker whose employment stops or whose wages are reduced to the point that UI is available should immediately file a claim with DUA to capture all earnings in the worker's base period of the claim (See Question 7). Generally, the later the worker applies, the greater the likelihood of her receiving a reduced amount of unemployment benefits. For this reason, it is best to apply during the first week of total or partial unemployment. (See Question 9). The claim begins the Sunday of the calendar week in which the claim is filled, called "the effective claim date." With very limited exceptions, (See Question 5), UI will not be paid for any week preceding the effective date of a claim.

Workers who need to file a new claim, reopen a claim, continue to certify for UI benefits, check a claim/payment status, update personal information, file a waiver of overpayment, file an appeal, estimate future benefits, etc. can do so online. UI Online Services is available at https://uionline.detma.org/Claimant/Core/Login.ASPX. The website is accessible daily from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. DUA translated the initial UI Claim into Spanish, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, Vietnamese, and Chinese, available at https://unemployment.mass.gov/.Claimants previously using TeleCert are able to use UI Online Services by providing their Social Security Number, date of birth, gender, and security answer to their security question. 

Additionally, DUA created a UI Online Claimant User Guide, which explains how to use the UI Online Services system. It is available at: https://www.mass.gov/doc/ui-online-claimant-user-guide-claimant-activities/download

Claimants can change their correspondence preference (U.S. mail or email) by either calling the DUA call center and speaking with an agent (1-877-626-6800 toll-free for area codes 351, 413, 508, 774, 978 or 617-626-6800) or logging into their UI Online account and clicking: View and Maintain Account Information→ Contact information→ Correspondence Preference →Edit →How would you like to receive your correspondence?  □ Electronic □ US Mail. (See UI Online Claimant User Guide Claimant Activities - View and Edit Contact Information [p. 8]).

Note: Claimants who select U.S. mail as their correspondence preference will also receive notices in their UI Online Inbox but will not get email alerts.  Claimants who select email will not receive hard copies of DUA’s correspondence and need to be vigilant so that important time-limited opportunities are not lost. This is especially the case if the claimant is relying on a smartphone rather than a computer. DUA has warned that the UI Online view as it appears on a smartphone is problematic because attachments that contain important information cannot be accessed through a smartphone.

Problems with UI Online

UI Online is an English-only system. UI Online is primarily for those English-speaking claimants with high level reading ability, computer skills, and regular computer access (as over 338,514 households in Massachusetts have no internet subscription and the majority of these households have very low or moderate incomes, the increasing reliance on an on-line system has a disparate negative effect on low wage workers). (For more information about UI Online and LEP claimants, see Question 52.) 

The Board of Review has repeatedly acknowledged the technical barriers imposed on claimants by DUA’s filing and registration system on-line including the requirement to participate in the mandatory Reemployment Services and Eligibility Assessment (RESEA), see Question 50) and found good cause in various situations.  See BR-0023 4469 28 (12/24/2018) (Claimant had good cause for submitting late certification , when a DUA error caused the online system to  not allow him to certify on time); BR 0025 1624 89 (9/24/2018) (Claimant had good cause for failing to complete RESEA review after gaining and losing a job within 10 days, as the email from a career center employee did not indicate the RESEA program would re-open when claimant began collecting UI again); BR-0025 6888 02 (9/6/2018) (Claimant showed justification for a late appeal after being locked out of his online account and repeatedly seeking assistance); BR-0025 1912 55 (7/30/2018) (Claimant had good cause for a late appeal, as his dyslexia rendered him unable to understand the DUA notice, and his multiple attempts to contact DUA for assistance were unsuccessful);BR-0023 4912 20 (4/30/18) (Claimant had good cause for failing to attend RESEA orientation seminar where he was unable to open the letter issued electronically notifying him to attend and the career counsellor could similarly not open the letter); BR-0022 3860 38 (1/19/18)(Good cause for granting a pre-date was found for a claimant who was forced to re-open his claim as he was in and out of unemployment every other week due to the employer’s unusual furlough program); BR-0020 8343 16 (9/25/17)(Failure of claimant to appeal 3 listed issues due to the “intricacies” of the UI Online system did not preclude Board from considering all 3 appeals); BR-0022 4579 70 (10/17/17)(where claimant received one notice that her training application had been approved and a second notice stating that the extended benefits had been denied, claimant was determined to have properly concluded that her training had been approved and that she did not have to participate in work search); N6-FMKP-27TM (11/29/2021) (claimant had justification for a late appeal filed beyond 30 days where online portal showed the he attempted to upload necessary information to file his appeal the day he received the notice of disqualification, evincing a clear intent to dispute the substance of the notice); BR-0033 7690 36 (5/29/20) (allowing claimants appeal filed beyond 30 days where she had difficulty opening and reading the notice on her smartphone; here the Board noted her “diligent efforts” to find out what the notice meant by calling DUA). Workers unable to use UI Online should apply by telephone instead, using the telephone numbers listed below:     

  • For Area Codes 351, 413, 508, 774, and 978877-626-6800
  • For Area Code 617 and all others617-626-6800
  • TTY/TTD: 888-527-1912

Currently, information is provided to workers in most languages either through DUA multilingual staff or through the use of a telephone multilingual language line.

DUA’s telephone services run 8:30 am–4:30 pm, Monday through Friday. To reach a DUA agent more quickly, advise claimants to call on Monday if the last digit of their Social Security number (SSN) is 0 or 1; Tuesday for SSN 2 or 3; Wednesday, 4, 5 or  6; Thursday, 7, 8 or 9; any last digit, Friday.

Claimants may also in person on a walk-in basis at the Boston Re-Employment Center (REC), Charles F. Hurley Building, 19 Staniford Street, 1st Floor, Boston, MA 02114. Appointments for REC can be made online at https://rec-hurley-appointments.eol.state.ma.us/.  In addition, at each of the MassHIRE Career Centers, claimants can get help from an individual referred to as a "UI Navigator" who will connect the claimant to DUA’s call-in assistance. 

Note: walk-in centers each have different hours of operation. The list of MassHIRE Career Centers and their hours are available at www.mass.gov/careercenters or at 1-877-US2JOBS. DUA policy is that Career Center staff will respond positively to all requests by claimants for assistance and help them navigate the UI Online system, including providing a tutorial on how to file a claim and/or in case of hardship, one-on-one assistance on how to enter the claim. As always, staff will serve all customers who come into the centers with questions. Interpreter services remain available for any LEP customers.

By statute, DUA must provide an in-person orientation within 15 days of the application and must inform the claimant about the determination process, eligibility criteria (including worker profiling), health insurance, and extended UI benefits while participating in training. G.L. c. 151A, § 62A (c). However, DUA does not provide this orientation in person any longer, and such failure may provide an advocacy handle.

DUA may impose a sanction on claimants of a 1-week suspension of UI benefits for failure to attend Career Center seminars if requested to do so by DUA, unless they have good cause; and where there is no finding of good cause, the sanction continues until the claimant attends the seminar. DUA imposes even more severe sanctions on claimants during periods of federal extended benefits. To schedule a Career Center seminar, call 1-800-653-5586 or call the nearest One-Stop MassHIRE Career Center. (See Question 50.)

All DUA notices must contain the address and telephone number of the regional office serving the individual, as well as a statewide toll-free number for telephone claims services (for area codes 351, 413, 502, 774, and 978, the number is 1-877-626-6800; for all other area codes, the number is 617-626-6800). Additionally, the statute requires DUA to prepare notices and materials explaining the right to file in English, Spanish, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Italian, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Khmer, Russian, and any other language that is the language of one-half of 1% of all Massachusetts residents. G.L. c. 151A, § 62A(d)(iii). (See Question 52 for more information on DUA's obligations under this statute.)  A claimant is considered to have initiated a claim as of the date that she first contacts or  attempts to contact DUA. G.L. c. 151A, § 62A(f). This means that if the claimant is discouraged from filing or delays filing for some other reason determined to constitute "good cause," the claims filing date relates back to the date of first contact.

Note: Advocates have observed many instances where claimants are receiving multiple notices on the same day, e.g. a separation disqualification and a disqualification based on issues concerning availability to work. It is important that each disqualification is appealed separately to preserve the claimant's rights.

A UI Online application is deemed complete only when it is finished and the claimant gets a “confirmation page” that states the application has been submitted online or through the mail.

In 2014, the Massachusetts Legislature created a Special Commission to study the efficacy of the adjudication of claims by DUA.  Comprising members of the Legislature, state and municipal governments, and employer and employee advocacy groups, the Special Commission issued a comprehensive report that made eight recommendations to improve the efficacy of the DUA.  With respect to UI Online, the Special Commission recommended that the DUA: (1) continue its on-going review of UI Online’s design, accompanied by greater transparency and input by employers and claimants (e.g., focus groups to test new filing/response systems before implementation), and (2) ensure access to claimants of Limited English Proficiency, as well as access to filing by telephone (with the aid of customer assistance personnel) for claimants who cannot use UI Online.  See Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Office of the State Auditor, “Report of the Special Commission to Conduct an Investigation and Study of the Activities and Efficacy of the Adjudication of Unemployment Insurance Claims by the Department of Unemployment Assistance,” at pp. 2-3, available at https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/bitstream/handle/2452/335895/ocn936376630.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

Advocates are urged to be vigilant when claimants raise issues of ineligibility due to problems with UI Online.  A report issued by the National Unemployment Law Project, Closing Doors on the Unemployed:  Why Most Jobless Workers Are Not Receiving Unemployment Insurance and What States Can Do About It, (“Closing Doors”), 2017, available at https://www.nelp.org/publication/closing-doors-on-the-unemployed/  has documented that Massachusetts is one of the 10 states with the steepest increase in denials for non-separation reasons and that five of these states, including Massachusetts had instituted new claims-filing systems.  Closing Doors, at p. 11.  And in a comparison of UI denial rates between 2012-2016 and 2007-2011, the MA percentage increase was 2266%. Closing Doors, at p. 23. 

In August 2020, the Legislature passed a bond bill conditioning the financing of the UI Online overhaul on the input and feedback from an Advisory Council in response to the inequities within the UI system and exacerbated by UI Online. See Ch. 151 of the Acts of 2020. The Advisory Council comprises various stakeholders and a diverse range of end-users, including labor, business, legal aid from geographically diverse areas, individuals with disabilities, individuals with limited English proficiency, and people of color. The bill ensures that stakeholder input is received for the selection of consultants and bid evaluation. Further, a final report must set forth the processes for user testing; obtaining and resolving stakeholder feedback for continual improvement; greater transparency through the utilization of a public service announcement plan; and the creation of alternate methods of access for individual with barrier to the new online system.

Applying for UI from outside of Massachusetts

Claimants who work in Massachusetts and have moved to another state may still be eligible for UI by filing an "interstate claim." Interstate claims follow Massachusetts law (which is generally a more generous program than most other states). Interstate claims can be initiated through UI Online or by calling the Teleclaim Center. Claims will not be accepted from outside mainland U.S., Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Canada and benefits should not be requested during any time the claimant is not in the US, its territories or Canada. (See Question 46 Combined Wage Claims (Interstate Claims)).