7. What Are the Financial (Earnings) and Personal Eligibility Tests?
To qualify for UI, claimants must be:
- financially eligible
That is, a claimants must have earned wages of at least 30 times their weekly benefit rate (generally about 15 weeks of earnings) and at least $5,100 (an amount calculated on January 1st based on the prior calendar year’s state minimum wage rounded down to the nearest $100), G.L. c. 151A, § 24(a)) during the base period. Effective January 5, 2020, the minimum earnings requirement increased to reflect the 2018 minimum wage increase to $12 per hour. The base period is determined either by using the “primary base period,” i.e., the last 4 completed quarters immediately preceding the effective date of the claim; or by using the “alternate base period,” i.e., the 3 most recently completed calendar quarters plus the “lag period” (the period between the last completed quarter and the effective date of the claim). A claimant is eligible to use the alternate base period if: (a) the claimant does not have sufficient wages in the her primary base period to meet the earnings requirements of G.L. c. 151A, § 24(a); or (b) the claimant established the UI claim using the primary base period, the total benefit credit is less than $23,850 (this amount changes annually on Oct. 1 as it represents 30 times the maximum weekly benefit amount), and there is “credible substantiation” that the alternate base period would result in at least a 10% higher benefit level. See 430 CMR 4.81 et seq. (establishing procedures under which the alternate base period will be used).
- Only paid wages, rather than earned wages, during a particular period are counted for purposes of base period wages, but an employer cannot manipulate the timing of payments in order to lower the UI rate. Naples v. Commissioner of the Dep’t of Employment and Training, 412 Mass. 631, 633, 591 N.E.2d 203, 205, n. 2(1992). Arguably, however, the earned wages figure should be used if the late payment is due to violation of wage laws concerning timely payment of wages, G.L. c. 149, § 148, and at least one District Court has agreed. McLean v. Leary, Commissioner of the Div. of Unemployment Assistance, Boston Municipal Court, Roxbury Division Docket No. 0502 CV 0073, (Coven, J,.) (2005) (deeming late payments of wages as timely paid when “earned” to ensure eligibility for unemployment under G.L. c. 151A, § 1(w)). Moreover, in another successful challenge under the same reasoning, Gerstein v. Cunningham, Director of Dep’t of Unemployment Assistance, Boston Municipal Court, Docket No. 2015 01 CV 001393, (Coyne, J,.) (11/23/15), the DUA appealed the decision to the Appeals Court and then entered a voluntary stipulation of dismissal with prejudice. Gerstein v. Cunningham, Director, Mass. Appeals Court, No. 2016-P-0003, (4/14/16).
- personally eligible
- in total unemployment or partial unemployment (an individual’s hours have been involuntarily reduced). (See Question 9) G.L. c. 151A, §§ 1(r), 29(b);
- capable of, available for, and actively seeking work. Note: To satisfy this element, claimants should continue certifying eligibility even if DUA initially denied their application for benefits;
- unable to obtain work in the claimant’s usual job or another job for which the claimant is reasonably suited. G.L. c. 151A, § 24(b); and
- not disqualified under G.L. c. 151A, § 25(e); i.e., show that the claimant did not leave work:
(1) by discharge—Discharge can be shown (by substantial and credible evidence to DUA’s satisfaction) to be attributable to deliberate misconduct (a) in willful disregard of the employing unit’s interest, or (b) due to a knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule or policy of the employer, provided that such violation is not shown to result from the employee’s incompetence; or
(2) voluntarily—The claimant may establish by substantial and credible evidence that there was (a) had good cause for leaving attributable to the employer, or (b) left for a reason that is of such an urgent, compelling, and necessitous nature as to make the separation involuntary; or
(3) because of conviction of a felony or misdemeanor.
We discuss each of these three disqualifications in detail in Part 3.