Unemployment Benefits

Updated January 2017   Fact Sheet PDF


Unemployment benefits were designed for people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. If you voluntarily quit work, were fired for misconduct, or do not look for work, you will not qualify for benefits.


To receive these benefits, you must file a claim:

  1. Go to your local Department of Workforce Services (DWS) office and complete a claim form. You may also obtain a form and process your claim by mail.
  2. File immediately, since no benefit will be paid for any time before the filing of the claim.
  3. If you last worked in a state other than Arkansas, you may apply through your local DWS office. The claim is forwarded to the state where you last worked for processing.
  4. The amount you draw will be based on your earnings over the last 18 months. Twenty-six weeks is the longest you can receive unemployment benefits.
  5. On the form, you will need to put the name and address of your last employer.
  6. You will state on the form whether you quit or were laid off or fired.
  7. You will give a brief explanation of the reason you are no longer working at your last job.
  8. You will be given forms you must return to the DWS office each week you claim unemployment benefits. You also can file your weekly reports using the telephone or can go online.
  9. By completing these forms, you are telling DWS you remain unemployed and available for work.


You Must Meet Certain Conditions

You must have worked long enough in jobs covered by the Employment Security Act. Almost all of work is covered by unemployment wages, but wages earned in some businesses will not count toward unemployment.


One Week Waiting Period

You will not draw a check for the first week after you file a claim. Once this waiting period has been served and DWS has determined you are eligible, you will begin to receive a weekly benefit check by mail.


After Filing

  • your past employer is told of the benefits claim
  • you past employer is asked to give DWS its version of why you are no longer working there
  • the Employment Security Department (ESD) may ask you to come in and give more details of the reason for leaving your job
  • you should tell your story in a simple, direct way, stressing the facts most favorable to you


Disqualifying Conditions

Voluntarily Quitting Without Good Cause

If you quit your job, your reason for leaving must meet a three-part test to qualify for unemployment benefits.


Part 1

Your reason for leaving would have made a reasonable person quit.


Part 2

You must have quit in good faith. If you quit because of mistreatment by your employer, you must have taken reasonable steps to prevent the mistreatment, such as following the grievance procedure if one existed at your old job. You will not be disqualified if there was a personal emergency. For example: if you had to stay home and tend a sick child or you, yourself, were sick, injured, or unable to work. You must show that you took steps available to preserve your job, such as requesting sick leave, family and medical leave, or extended leave, if available.


Part 3

You will be disqualified from receiving benefits if you were fired for job-related misconduct. This misconduct must be intentional or deliberate.



If you were fired for dishonesty, drinking on the job, reporting to work under the influence of intoxicants, or willful violation of safety rules, you will most likely be disqualified from receiving benefits. Typically, misconduct involves either a violation of the employer’s rules, or a disregard of the employer’s interests or the employee’s duties and obligations. If you are disqualified, you may be delayed from drawing benefits for eight weeks or, depending on the reason, essentially altogether. Your notice should explain your case.


Notice of Determination

One to three weeks after the claim is first filled, you will receive a computer-generated letter stating whether you will be eligible for benefits. Before the notice of determination is mailed, you may receive computer-card notices advising you that a decision is pending. You will not receive a benefit check during the time the DWS decision is pending. You must continue to turn in claim forms each week. The letter telling you whether you will receive benefits is very important. From the time this letter is sent, you have 20 days to appeal the decision to the Appeal Tribunal. The notice also states the date on which it was mailed and explains how the decision can be appealed. The agency determination must be appealed within 20 days of the mailing date stated in the notice. The first level of appeal is to a hearing officer (appeals referee) of the Appeal Tribunal.


Preparing for the Hearing

You will be told what issues DWS considered when they turned down your application for unemployment benefits. There may be more than one reason given for denying your unemployment benefits. You must be prepared to give information at the hearing that shows how this decision was incorrect. Go to the DWS office and ask to see your file. In it will be your former employer’s explanation of why you left your job. You can ask any coworker who knows the facts of your case to appear as a witness for you at this hearing. People who still work for your former employer may be reluctant to testify for you. You should not contact them at work concerning your case. Employers are prohibited from punishing employees who testify in unemployment compensation cases against them, but your former co-workers may still not be willing to testify for you. People who do not still work for your former employer can also testify if they know the facts concerning your case. You may use them to help support your claim. You should know what your former employer will say is the reason you left your job. Your employer may use attendance records or other documents if this is an issue in your case. You should have any supporting documents ready for the hearing, as well.


The appeals referee can issue subpoenas either to make witnesses attend the hearing or to obtain company records for the hearing. To obtain a subpoena, you should make a written request at the Appeals Tribunal. You will be asked to take the subpoena to the person being subpoenaed. A subpoena may be enough to convince a former co-worker to testify in your behalf. The coworker can tell the employer that he was required to attend the hearing and testify to the facts. If the witness has been subpoenaed and does not appear, the appeals referee will likely grant you a continuance. If you do not subpoena a witness and the witness does not show up, you will not be granted a continuance.


At the Hearing

The appeals referee will ask the questions. You and your witnesses must be able to answer the questions without rambling or going off on something unrelated to your case. The referee’s role is to bring out all the evidence that is relevant to the claim for unemployment compensation.


If you or your former employer fails to appear at the hearing, the referee will question the party who is present and consider all the available evidence. This hearing is not like others in a court of law. Hearsay and leading questions may be allowed. The hearing will be taped. Remember that gestures and nods do not show up on a tape recording. Be sure you and your witnesses speak clearly and slowly, especially when testifying to the most important parts of your case. If there is any evidence to support the decision of the appeals referee, their decision is unlikely to be reversed by the Board of Review.


This fact sheet is a collaboration of the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. These nonprofit organizations provide free legal assistance to eligible Arkansans who meet income, asset, and other guidelines. Legal assistance may also include advice and counsel, brief services, or full representation depending on the situation. For more information about civil legal aid in Arkansas, please visit arlegalservices.org. For information specific to Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc., visit arlegalaid.org. Apply for services online or by calling 1-800-9-LAW-AID (1-800-952-9243).
The information and statements of law in this fact sheet should not be considered legal advice. This fact sheet is provided as a broad guide to help you understand how certain legal matters are handled in general. Courts may interpret the law differently. Before you take action, talk to an attorney and follow his or her advice. Always do what the court tells you to do.
Content provided by: Center for Arkansas Legal Services


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