Can You Receive Unemployment Benefits If You Become Unable to Work?

by Michaele Curtis; Updated September 26, 2017

Whether you can get unemployment benefits depends on your state’s eligibility requirements. Although requirements can vary widely from state to state, one of the universal requirements is that you be physically able to perform work. If you’re unable to work permanently, unemployment benefits will be denied. If you are unable to work temporarily due to illness or injury, you can’t collect benefits for the time you’re unable to work. You must report your availability to work to the state accurately or you could face stiff penalties.

Ability to Work Requirement

You can’t collect unemployment benefits before the state labor office reviews your eligibility. One of the lesser known requirements is that you must be physically able to work. The way the unemployment program works is that you get temporary relief until you find a new job or until you max out your benefits. If you are physically unable to work, you can’t find a new job because you can’t perform the duties to work a new job. Don’t confuse physically unable to work with physically disabled. Depending on your line of work, you can could be partially disabled and still perform work with the proper accommodations.

Disqualification Vs. Benefit Adjustment

The permanency of your inability to work determines whether you’re disqualified from benefits completely or simply ineligible for certain periods of unemployment. Someone who is permanently, completely disabled would be flatly denied. On the other hand, someone who has a temporary injury that prevents them from working would receive partial unemployment payments, which deduct for the days they wouldn’t conceivably be able to work.

Reporting Your Ability to Work

The state labor office asks you to certify for your benefits before each payment. Depending on the state, you will be assigned a designated day to certify either on a weekly basis or a biweekly basis where you certify for each previous week. You call into the claims line or log into the claims website as instructed. The state then uses an automated system to ask you a series of eligibility questions, including one about your ability to work for the week in question. Answer truthfully and disclose the amount of time you were physically unable to work for that week. Your state will release a payment for the time you were able to work based on your answers.

Unemployment Compensation Fraud

Reporting your ability to work to the state is part of your responsibilities when collecting unemployment benefits. If you fail to report your availability accurately, your state could force you to repay an money received as a result of that failure. If the failure was intentional, you can be docked future unemployment payments, forced to pay monetary fines or sentenced to jail time, depending on the severity of the fraudulent behavior.

About the Author

Michaele Curtis began writing professionally in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Centers for Disease Control, Nationwide Insurance and AT&T Interactive, her work has appeared in "Insurance Today," "Mobiles and PDAs" and "Curve Magazine." Curtis holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from Louisiana State University.