Unemployment Resource Center

This resource center is intended to help local leaders and members more confidently navigate the Michigan Unemployment Insurance (UI) system. Ultimately, each member must make individual decisions about whether and how to apply for unemployment benefits based on their specific situation, but AFT Michigan works with the Sugar Law Center for Social & Economic Justice to provide support to locals and members in understanding your choices and possible strategies. If you are an AFT Michigan member and have questions or suggestions for other resources to add to this page, contact unemployment@aftmichigan.org.

Who is Eligible for Unemployment?

Generally speaking, you are eligible if:

  • you are unemployed through no fault of your own;
  • you have earned at least a minimum amount in wages before you became unemployed;
  • you are able and available to work, and you are actively seeking employment. (During COVID, the requirement to actively seek employment has been waived.)

Programs to Increase and Expand Unemployment Benefits for Workers Affected by COVID-19

Beginning in spring 2020, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced new programs for Michigan workers affected by COVID-19. The governor signed an agreement between Michigan and the U.S. Dept. of Labor to implement Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Compensation programs that grant benefits to workers who did not already qualify for state unemployment benefits (including self-employed, 1099-independent contractors, gig, and low-wage workers who can no longer work because of the pandemic). The agreement also increased weekly benefits for all unemployed workers and extended the number of weeks people can collect unemployment. Specific amounts and timelines have shifted as Congress has passed successive relief packages.

For more information visit Michigan.gov/UIA.

Unemployment Insurance Eligibility Expanded to Include Workers Displaced by COVID-19

Click here for the Michigan Unemployment Agency’s COVID-19 Guide for information on applying for UI benefits.

Good cause for refusing suitable work

In general, employees who refuse suitable work without good cause can lose unemployment benefits. However, in accordance with current federal and state laws and guidance, workers may have good cause to refuse work in light of COVID-19 in the following situations:

  • The individual’s normally available transportation is now unavailable.
    • This includes, but is not limited to, if public transportation or ride-sharing services are reduced or eliminated due to COVID-19 or for another reason.
    • For claimants receiving Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the individual’s normally available transportation must be unavailable due to a quarantine related to COVID-19 only.
  • The individual is under self-isolation or self-quarantine in response to elevated risk from COVID-19 due to being immune-compromised. Examples of high risk include but are not limited to:
    • Older adults (age 65 and older), and those who are pregnant.
    • Those with specific disease or chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, lung disease, chronic liver disease undergoing dialysis, severe obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, and certain genetic disorders.
    • Those with specific medications or treatments such as steroids, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, dialysis, stem cell, bone marrow, or organ transplant.
  • The individual or household member has displayed at least one of the principal symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, atypical cough, and atypical shortness of breath.
    • Individuals must either have a positive COVID-19 test, have a COVID-19 diagnosis from a medical professional, or be seeking a COVID-19 diagnosis.
  • The individual has had contact in the last 14 days with someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
    • Contact for the purposes of healthcare exposures is defined as follows:
      • Being within approximately 6 feet (2 meters) of a person with COVID-19 for a prolonged period, without appropriate personal protective equipment consistent with Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) recommendations; or
      • Having unprotected direct contact with infectious secretions or excretions of the patient (e.g., being coughed on, touching used tissues with a bare hand).
  • The individual recovered from COVID-19, but it caused medical complications temporarily rendering the individual unable to perform essential job duties.
  • The individual is required to care for someone with a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • If an individual’s customary childcare is no longer available due to COVID-19, the individual must seek “reasonable” alternatives to childcare. If an individual cannot find “reasonable” alternatives to childcare, the individual may remain eligible for unemployment benefits. UIA will consider if alternative childcare is “reasonable” compared to the pre-COVID-19 childcare for an individual’s family. Factors for reasonableness of alternative childcare include:
    • Whether the individual has documented attempts to secure alternative childcare. Examples include but are not limited to:
    • Inquiries and/or applications to alternative provider.
    • Availability of alternative childcare.
    • Placement on a waitlist(s) for alternative childcare but cannot secure alternative childcare due to providers’ limitation on capacity.
    • Distance from an individual’s home to pre-COVID-19 childcare compared to the distance from an individual’s home to alternative childcare.
    • Cost of alternative childcare compared to pre-COVID-19 childcare. Reasonableness usually will not apply to the curriculum of childcare, absent a showing that a child requires a specific curriculum for a medically documented reason(s). For example, a child with special needs requires specific childcare arrangements.
    • Reasonable childcare includes childcare operational and in compliance with Executive Orders and LARA requirements, including disaster relief childcare centers authorized by Executive Order.
  • The individual has a family care responsibility as a result of COVID-19.
  • The individual has a reasonable belief that the workplace is unsafe or not in compliance with state or federal safety guidance and law. If an employer claims that a workplace is “suitable” because it meets state and federal workplace safety requirements, the employee may still have “good cause” to refuse that work if the employee can establish that he or she has a reasonable belief that the workplace does not meet safety requirements. Merely being afraid to return to work is not good cause.

Reporting a Refusal to Return to Work

Both employers and employees have an obligation to report offers and refusals of suitable work to the UIA. Employees should notify UIA during their biweekly certification if they have refused an offer of work.

If an employer makes an offer of suitable work or to return to work that is refused, then the UIA will conduct fact-finding into the situation. If UIA finds that the employee did not have good cause to refuse work or to return to work, the employee will not be eligible for further unemployment benefits and may have to repay unemployment benefits already received. If UIA finds that the employee did have good cause to refuse to return to work, the employee will continue to be eligible for future unemployment benefits and will not have to pay back unemployment benefits.

When addressing refusal of work, UIA must ensure that the employer made a bona fide offer of work to the claimant. In determining whether there was a bona fide offer of work, the employer must have made a genuine offer of work, and the offer must have been successfully conveyed to the claimant, for example, by telephone, in person, by email, or by mail. The offer must also have been for a specific job and must have been available to the claimant.

Applying for Unemployment

  • Unfortunately, nobody can tell you for sure until you actually apply. 
  • Generally speaking, you are eligible if: 
    • you are unemployed through no fault of your own;
    • you have earned at least a minimum amount in wages before you became unemployed; 
    • you are able and available to work, and you are actively seeking employment. (During COVID, the requirement to actively seek employment has been waived.) 
  • You could also be eligible if you are no longer working through no fault of your own because of COVID-19.  This means you should consider applying if:
    • You are not working this summer and had a reasonable expectation that you would be working before the pandemic, or
    • Your hours have been reduced.
  • You may also be eligible for unemployment if you are unable to report to work during the pandemic because you are immunocompromised and/or do not have childcare.
    • However, you will have to meet a higher standard to prove that you separated for “good cause attributable to the employer” because of “health and safety reasons.” 
    • At a minimum, this means that before you “quit,” you would need to notify the employer providing evidence why you can no longer work safely.
  • You should apply anyway!  Answer the questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. So long as you are not filing fraudulently, the worst possible outcome is denial. 

The system itself is set up to gather the information to determine whether or not you are eligible. 

  • You should apply as soon as possible following a change in employment status that substantially lowers your total income
    • Your last day of work is generally the last day you perform duties for the employer (not necessarily the last date you are paid). This is also the day your “claim period” begins. 
    • The change in employment status can be either a reduction of hours or separation from the employer.
  • Typically you have 14 days after your last day of work to file (the time period has been temporarily extended to 28 days as a result of COVID). 
  • Social Security Number
  • Employment information for the past 18 months (employer name and address, first/last day worked, and gross earnings for all employers)
  • Your address, phone number, date of birth
  • Your most recent employer’s Federal Employer ID (FEIN) and Employer Account Number (EAN) — both can be found on your W2. 
  • (Non-US Citizens) Alien registration and the expiration date on your work authorization card.
  • The fastest and preferred method is online: www.michigan.gov/uia  
  • You can also apply by telephone – 1866-500-0017, TTY services – 1866-366-0004
  • Do your best to complete the necessary information so that you can complete your submission.  If there is a need for more information, you may receive a fact-finding form. 
  • You can also try to talk to a human being by calling 1-866-500-0017, TTY services – 1-866-366-0004.

Special Circumstances Faced By Educators

Michigan’s unemployment insurance system is confusing in many ways, particularly involving education employees.  Some employees of educational institutions are ineligible for unemployment benefits at certain times of the year because of what is called the school denial period.

  • A provision in unemployment insurance law that renders employees ineligible for unemployment insurance when they are not working when the institution is on a typical break period between academic terms (think K-12 teachers over the summer between school years). 
  • Employees are ineligible based on school denial when they have received reasonable assurance that they will return to work at the conclusion of the institution’s typical break period.

Claims by educational employees are often automatically denied by the computer system because of a misapplication of the school denial period. This means applicants need to be prepared to protest/appeal their determination.

  • You should apply anyway!  Answer the questions honestly and to the best of your knowledge. So long as you are not filing fraudulently, the worst possible outcome is denial. 

The system itself is set up to gather the information to determine whether or not you are eligible. 

  • First,  if you are not working because the institution is on a  typical break, but you have not received reasonable assurance that you will be working when the break period is over. 
  • Second, if you have been laid off and your institution is not on a typical break. For higher education, lighter course offerings over the summer do not constitute a typical break period (the 1-2 weeks between semesters when no classes are offered are a typical break period).
  • Third, if others in your job classification work during the typical break period, but you are not working because of limited work opportunities.

This means there are some common situations when educational employees are likely eligible:

  • Contingent faculty members should be eligible for unemployment when they are not offered classes for a semester, even during the summer semester.  Lighter course offerings over the summer do not constitute a typical break period (the 1-2 weeks between semesters when no classes are offered are a typical break period).
  • Paraprofessionals and other Support Staff should be eligible for unemployment over the typical break period if there is typically available work during the summer, but it is so limited that it results in layoff for some members. 

Determinations, Protests, and Appeals, Oh My!

For the reasons listed above, many if not most AFT Michigan members will not be immediately approved. Having to protest or appeal a determination can feel disappointing, but it’s all part of the normal process.

Continue to check your MiWAM account. Sometimes you will be sent a Fact-Finding Form because the system needs more information. Fill out this form within 10 days of receipt.

Don’t panic. Claims are denied for many different reasons and oftentimes erroneously denied by the computer program. AFT Michigan members are most often denied for the following reasons:

  • Ineligible because of the school denial period
  • Separation from work was voluntary (and not for good cause)
  • Separation from work was because of misconduct
  • Refusal to accept work offered
  • Protest the determination by filling out the protest form in MiWAM (unless you are convinced the denial is well-founded). 
  • Protests can be made by filling out the protest form on the MiWAM website or by faxing or mailing the protest form to the addresses listed on the determination. 
  • While claimants have 30 days to protest after a determination is issued, you should file your protest as soon as possible.
  • During this process, continue certifying your claim bi-weekly on MARVIN or MiWAM
  • Your protest could be as simple as stating: “I disagree with this decision and request a hearing” 
  • You may also choose to offer a more specific statement like “ I disagree with this decision because I was laid off by my employer on (date).”
  • You may include copies of documents like layoff notices with your protest but are not required to. 
  • You will be issued a re-determination.  This may be a monetary determination or a denial.
  • If you are denied, you should appeal and request a hearing by filing an appeal.  Your request for appeal should state: “I disagree with this decision and request a hearing.” 
  • Don’t panic.  You can appeal to have a hearing before an administrative law judge. 
  • If you are a dues-paying AFT Michigan member, contact unemployment@aftmichigan.org for support with your case
  • Keep “certifying” by logging into the system and reporting all income from any employer.
  • Continuously check your account in MiWAM for messages (often under the “Claims” or “Determination” tabs).
  • Contact unemployment@aftmichigan.org for support with your case.
  • Continuously check your account in MiWAM for messages and be sure to attend any hearings. If a hearing is scheduled at a time that you cannot attend, be sure to ask for the hearing to be rescheduled more than three days ahead of time.
  • If you end up being billed by the state to return benefits already received at the end of the process, you may still be able to appeal for it to be reversed or waived.