Illinois Unemployment – Know Your Rights
In December 2016, the state legislature and Governor Bruce Rauner worked together to bring additional unemployment benefit weeks to workers laid off after the Steel Mill in Granite City, IL shut down. The law allowed 2,000 workers to collect an additional 26 weeks of benefit payments going into the holiday season. For Illinois workers, it was heartening to see a government responsive to a volatile economy.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) is responsible for handling unemployment claims and benefits throughout the entire state. The state funded unemployed insurance is meant strictly for individuals who are temporarily out of work due to qualifying circumstances. In order to apply for Illinois unemployment benefits, you must meet certain criteria.
Eligibility Requirements in IL
In order to be eligible for Illinois unemployment benefits you must meet the following standards:
- You must meet the wage requirement by having earned enough wages from an employer covered by the unemployment law in the past 18 months
- You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.
- You must be able and available to work
- You must be allowed to work in the US legally and be an Illinois resident
You must meet the wage requirement. Then, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) examiners will look at the circumstances of your dismissal and other issues to determine eligibility. When you file for benefits, you must register with the IDES’s job search website.
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Able and Available to Work
You must be physically and mentally able to work when you file your initial claim. You must be available to accept suitable employment; a job you are trained to do, capable of performing and one that pays a similar salary to your own. The longer you’re unemployed, you’ll be expected to accept jobs that pay less.
Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own
Your actions or decisions cannot be the cause of your separation from work. If the shop moved to a new city or the employer had no work for you, you may be qualified if otherwise eligible.
Wage Requirement and the Base Period
The IDES will observe if you have any wages from “covered employers.” Covered employers are businesses required to pay unemployment insurance taxes. Some occupations and employers are not covered. If you worked for one of these employers, you will not be eligible to collect unemployment insurance.
The state will look at your wages over a 12-month period called “the base period.” Your base period will be the first four out of the last five quarters you worked prior to the date you filed your initial claim for benefits.
- You must earn at least $1,600 during the base period
- Excluding the quarter where you earned the most money, you must have earned at least $440.
The IDES may require additional information from you regarding your claim if there are separation issues and your employer protests the benefit award, or you provided information they could not confirm. You may even be called after a weekly certification. You must respond when they request to speak with you in person or face loosing benefits.
Unemployment Benefit Amount in Illinois
The IDES will use the base period wages to calculate your weekly benefit amount (WBA). The amount will equal 47% of the average of your wages in the two highest earning quarters of the base period divided by 26 (the maximum amount of weeks you may receive benefits is 26).
You may claim dependents on your claim, just as you would for taxes. However, you can only claim either a spouse as a dependent or children, not both.
The state provides a chart to allow you to estimate your Illinois WBA. This chart includes the maximum amount you can receive. As of 2017, the max WBA for an individual is $449. The max with a spousal dependent is $535. The max WBA using children as dependents is $613.
How to Apply
The other option you have is to visit an IDES office in person to apply. However, if you apply in person you can expect to wait in line. You can find the nearest IDES office using the office locator here: http://www.ides.illinois.gov/page.aspx?module=13&item=31. The office hours are Monday-Friday from 8:30AM-5:00 PM. In order to ensure prompt service, make sure to have the required information when you arrive. You will need:
- Your name and SSN
- Name, date of birth and SSN of any dependents you claim
- Two forms of ID (one must have your SSN on it)
- Name, address, phone numbers, and dates worked for all employers in the past 18 months. You will also need to state the reason why you are no longer working with these companies.
- If filing for unemployment the same week your employment ended, you must provide your gross income for all days worked that week
- Recently separated veterans must bring the Member 4 Copy of their DD form 214 / 215
- If you are not a U.S. citizen you must have your alien registration card
- If you are filing for unemployment benefits but live out of state, this link will be helpful: http://www.ides.illinois.gov/Custom/Library/publications/Publications/
Receiving your Benefits
By default, IDES issues payments to a prepaid debit card. However, you also have the option of choosing direct depot which you can apply for after you’ve been approved for your benefits. You can apply for direct deposit here: https://benefits.ides.illinois.gov/File4UI/Benefits/
Maintaining Eligibility and Weekly Certifications
In order to receive continuing benefits you must certify for benefits on a regular basis. IDES will let you know your certification date when they send your approval letter. Your certifications will be done every two weeks on the date that Illinois assigns you. If you fail to certify, you will not receive your payments. You can certify online or you may call in to certify.
Certify by phone: 1-888-337-7234. You may call to certify Monday-Friday from 5AM-7:30PM
The IDES telephone and online systems will ask you questions when you certify weekly. These questions are designed to determine whether you remain eligible for benefits.
- Are you able and available to work?
- Have you started or quit a job?
- Have you refused a job offer?
- Did you earn any wages or receive any income?
- Have you participated in any training?
- Are you currently looking for work?
The questions will be phrased differently and there will be more of then; however, they seek this kind of information. Some answers may cause the system to direct you to speak with a customer service representative. You may be scheduled for an in person meeting.
Work Search Requirement
The IDES requires registration with as a prerequisite for filing a claim for benefits. If you receive benefits, you have to show you continue a serious job search each week.
Initially, you will only have to look for “suitable employment.” That’s a job that you are trained to do that pays in the same range of salary you received previously. If you receive extended benefits, you will have to look for work outside your experience and pay range.
If you use the employment services at Illinois Job Link, you will automatically create a record of evidence that you’ve been looking for work. You should keep a record of any job contacts or applications you make that doesn’t involve Job Link. The IDES may request evidence of your job searches at any time.
Part-time Work and Receiving Benefits
You may work part-time in Illinois and continue to receive benefits as long as you don’t earn more in wages than your WBA (you do not have to count the dependent allowance in determining this).
If you earn more than 50% of your WBA, but less than your WBA minus the dependent allowance, the state will deduct from your WBA. The state will deduct the amount you earned above 50% of the WBA.
If your WBA is $100, and you make $55 in one week, the state will deduct $5 from your WBA that week. You will keep the $55 you earned, but your WBA that week will be $95.
You must report any wages earned during the week you earned them, not the week you were paid.
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
The IDES claims examiner will deny benefits if you fail to meet the threshold requirement of wage eligibility. If you don’t have enough wages during your base period, the state will deny your claim. You will have the opportunity to request a redetermination of your wages, but you must present new information or show an error in the state’s calculation.
Most denials occur because of separation issues. This means that the claims examiner determined that your actions or decisions, related to your work, caused your separation from employment.
If you quit because you decided to go back to school, it may seem like a good cause for you. However, it is a decision that relates to you, not to your employer.
If your employer cited you for violating their policy over and over, and gave you repeated warnings, your actions caused your separation. This would be “misconduct connected to the work.”
The state may deny benefits based on non-separation issues as well. If you do not look for work or refuse suitable employment, they may deny benefits. Remember, suitable employment generally is a job you are trained to do and pays wages you are accustomed to. Some jobs are not “suitable employment” despite being similar to your old jobs.
- Jobs intended to break a union dispute
- Jobs too dangerous or which violate one of your Constitutional rights (like free exercise of religion)
- Jobs that would prevent your right to collective bargaining (stop you from joining a union)
If you are disqualified because of separation issues or refuse a suitable job offer, you will have to requalify for benefits by earning wages for four-weeks equal to your WBA. Then if you become unemployed, you must be otherwise eligible.
Quit and Still Eligible
- In Illinois, you may quit for some reasons, but remain eligible for benefits.
- Had to leave to escape domestic violence
- Evidence of sexual harassment on the job
- You found a new job
- Had to move because a military spouse relocates due to military orders
There are other circumstances that may qualify as a good cause to quit work. For example, if your employer forced you to work under unsafe conditions, you may be eligible for benefits if you made an effort to remedy the situation.
Fired and Still Eligible
Your employer may have dismissed you for violating an employer policy. However, your actions may not fit the definition of “misconduct connected to work” the IDES employs. You may have violated a rule once, and your employer fired you. Unless this one-time violation is particularly serious, the state may not consider it to be misconduct.
What Happens When Benefits are Denied: The Appeals Process
In the event that you are declined for benefits, you have the right to appeal the decision. If you disagree with a Monetary Determination issue, you may request a redetermination. You should be able to show new information or why there was an error.
You may file an appeal to any decision by the IDES. You have 30 days from the mailing date on the Notice of Determination you receive to file your appeal to the Appeals Division.
Chicago Office:IDES Appeals Division33 S State St, 8th FloorChicago, IL 60603-2802800-244-563Springfield Office:IDES Appeals Division607 East Adams, 9th FloorSpringfield, IL 62701
If you are denied benefits, please visit our section on appealing benefits decision in Illinois.
Other Important Information
As with unemployment claims in other states, Illinois requires that you are actively seeking work while collecting unemployment. If it is found that you have not been attempting to find work, benefits can be ended. You must register for work through IDES as well.
Also, if you are working part time while receiving benefits you must report your earnings to IDES. Failing to do so is considered fraud and can result in:
- Jail/Prison time
- Governmental prosecution
- Inability to receive benefits in the future
- Penalties, Fines, and repayment of all benefits received
- Losing your future income tax refunds
Here are some links that will be useful if you’re considering filing for Illinois unemployment.
IDES Official Site:
All IDES Contact Information
File an appeal:
File for Benefits:
Phone: (800) 244-5631
Guide to Illinois Unemployment Insurance:
Find out Which Illinois Employers are having layoffs
Job Search and Training