Fired, Hired and Fired Again: Can You Collect Unemployment?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — For all the progress the economy has made since the recession ended, the job market only seems to be getting worse. The unemployment rate continues to hover around 9%, jobless claims have been on the rise for much of this year, and several reports show that more American companies – small businesses in particular – increased layoffs in June.

The unsteady job market has once again led many workers to question their job security. Nearly a quarter of those employed now fear there may be layoffs in the next six months, according to one survey by Glassdoor, the highest amount since the third quarter of 2009, right after the recession ended. Suddenly, those who managed to find work in the tough economy may be in danger of losing their positions at a time when the recession is supposed to be a thing of the past.

With the prospect of a double-dip job market looming for many American workers, a unique issue comes up: Can you collect unemployment again if you’ve already collected it for a previous job loss, and how long must you wait to claim benefits again?

In general, the answer is that workers can collect benefits after suffering multiple layoffs in a fairly short period, but how much and how long one can collect for varies significantly by state and by individual earnings.

When a worker applies for unemployment insurance after losing a job the first time, what he or she is really applying for is a certain number of weeks’ worth of benefits during the 52-week period following the first unemployment claim – what the Department of Labor refers to as their first “benefit year.”

Until recently, the maximum an American might be approved for is 26 weeks of payments during this benefit year, depending on how long the person had been employed before the unemployment claim. But during the recession, the government approved several extensions on the time one could collect to help the long-term unemployed (more on this later).

Put simply, then, if you have been approved for 26 weeks of benefits, the government gives you a full year to use them up, whether it’s for 26 consecutive weeks or it’s spread out over 12 months. Once you’ve used up those 26 payments, you must reapply to get more benefits.

Ordinarily, once workers have been approved for benefits, they either collect until they find steady employment or exhaust their allotted amount and must move on to other forms of government assistance. Since the recession ended, though, many workers have managed to find only temporary or unstable full-time work.

“In normal times, people generally are laid off for a short period of time, then go back to work and do not get laid off again in close proximity,” says Rebecca Dixon, a policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project who specializes in unemployment insurance. “But these are not normal times.”

Workers facing this situation fall into two groups: the ones who were laid off again within 52 weeks of when they first filed for unemployment, and those who were laid off for the second time after this period passed, in a new benefit year.

For those in the first category, the situation is pretty clear-cut: According to Dixon, as long as you are within the 52-week timeframe of when you first filed for unemployment, you can resume collecting any of your remaining benefits without having to reapply for unemployment insurance. For example, if you originally qualified for 26 weeks of benefits, collected 10 weeks’ worth before finding employment, then were laid off again a few months later, you are automatically entitled to continue collecting benefits at the same rate as before for the remaining 16 weeks or until the 52-week period ends, whichever comes first. Then you must reapply.

If, on the other hand, you lose your job again within a year of your first unemployment application, it falls in a new benefit year and you must go through the process of reapplying for benefits.

Here the situation becomes a bit more complicated.