4. How Are UI Benefits Calculated?
Calculating Monetary Eligibility and the UI Weekly Benefit Amount
In order to be monetarily eligible for UI, a claimant’s total earnings in their “base period” (see step 1 below for an explanation of “base period”) must equal or exceed the claimant’s weekly benefit amount multiplied by 30. The steps outlined below describe how the weekly benefit amount, the total amount of UI benefits, and the duration of UI benefits are calculated.
Step 1: Figure out the four completed calendar quarters prior to the filing of the claim and add up the total wages from these quarters. Calendar quarters are January 1st to March 31st, April 1st to June 30th, July 1st to September 30th, and October 1st to December 31st. The four prior completed calendar quarters make up the claimant’s “primary base period.” The claimant may use the most recent wages in an incomplete quarter (called the “lag period”) plus the prior 3 completed quarters, called the “alternate base period,” if the claimant is ineligible for UI using the primary base period, or if using the alternate base period results in at least a 10% higher benefit credit. (See Question 7 for a description of primary and alternate base periods.) Note: The weekly benefit amount excludes any allowance for dependents.
Step 2: Add together the two highest calendar quarters of wages in the base period and divide by 26 (the number of weeks in the two quarters) to determine the average weekly wage.
Alternative Step 2: If the claimant worked only two quarters or one quarter in the base period, determine the average weekly wage by dividing the highest (or only) quarter by 13.
This formula is particularly problematic for claimants who have worked for two quarters and earned fluctuating wages so that the two quarterly earnings vary greatly (due to slow-downs, overtime, payment of wages that are illegally late, etc.), resulting in monetary ineligibility because the average weekly wage is based on earning in the high quarter. Under this formulation, it is often mathematically impossible for total earning to equal or exceed 30 times the claimant's weekly benefit rate. See G.L. c. 151A, § 1(w). This result has a disparate impact on low wage workers who are the most likely to have volatile work schedules and could be easily remedied by calculating the weekly benefit rate based on the average of the wages in two quarters rather than determining the weekly benefit rate on the basis of wages in the high quarter alone.
Step 3: The weekly UI benefit amount is the average weekly wage divided by two rounded to the nearest dollar.
Under this 3-step calculation, a claimant is monetarily eligible for UI benefits if her total base period earnings equal or exceed 30 times her weekly benefit rate.
Calculating the Total Amount of UI Benefits
The total amount of UI that a claimant can receive in the benefit year (the 52 weeks after applying for UI benefits) is called the maximum benefit amount (and also referred to as the “total benefit credit.”) The maximum benefit amount is the lesser of 30 times the weekly benefit amount or 36% of the total wages earned during the base period.
Step 4: To determine the maximum benefit amount, calculate which amount is smaller – either 30 times the weekly benefit amount or 36% of the total wages in the claimant’s base period.
Calculating the Duration of UI Benefits
Step 5: Calculate the duration of UI benefits by dividing the maximum benefit amount by the weekly benefit amount. The maximum number of weeks is 26 weeks.
A more detailed explanation of calculating UI benefits can be found in Unemployment Insurance: A Guide to Benefits and Employment Services, for Claimants, available at https://www.mass.gov/doc/a-guide-to-benefits-and-employment-services/download (provided here as a reference and not as an endorsement of its contents). Claimants may also estimate their weekly benefit rate and number of weeks of benefits by entering their wages on this website calculator: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/how-your-unemployment-benefits-are-determined
Claimants can access monetary information (the weekly benefit amount, the maximum benefit amount for the benefit year, and the effective date and end date of the benefit year) through UI Online. All monetary determinations should be in the UI Online inbox. Alternatively, individuals can navigate to monetary determinations by going to: “View and Maintain Account Information,” then, “Monetary and Issue Summary,” then “Status.” Claimants can also obtain information about potential benefits through UI Online by clicking “Estimate Future Benefits” to access the Benefits Estimator Information page.
Missing Base Period Wages
Claimants and advocates should carefully review a claimant’s monetary determination for missing wages or base-period employers. While all employers are required to report wage information to DUA, G.L. c. 151A, § 14P; 430 CMR 5.01-5.04, some inaccurately report wages or fail to do so entirely. This is especially true for employers which misclassify their workers. See Question 39. Missing wages or base-period employers may result in claimants receiving a lower weekly benefit rate or being found monetarily ineligible for UI benefits.
In such situations, claimants and their advocates should fill out and submit to DUA the “wage correction sheet” attached to the claimant’s monetary determination, along with any available evidence to demonstrate the claimant’s wages from the base period (i.e., paystubs, tax forms, bank records). In the absence of employer records, DUA is required to establish the claimant’s monetary eligibility based on their “own statement of wages.” 430 CMR 5.04(3).
Federal courts have held that a state workforce agency’s failure to establish monetary eligibility based on the evidence available to the claimant in the absence of employer records violates the ”when due” clause of the Social Security Act. Islam v. Cuomo, 475 F. Supp. 3d 144 (E.D.N.Y. 2020).