If you’ve been receiving unemployment benefits, you’re not alone. According to the most recent data from the Department of Labor (DOL), the U.S. unemployment rate is 5.8% and the number of unemployed Americans is 9.3 million. And when unemployment claims are high, unfortunately, so is unemployment fraud.
The DOL has stated on more than one occasion that the COVID-19 pandemic created the perfect storm. As the government expanded unemployment programs to help people across the country get the help they needed, it became more common for fraudsters to take advantage of those benefits through unemployment scams and fraudulent claims.
Because states — not the federal government — are responsible for managing unemployment claims, the requirements that are in place for filing for and receiving unemployment may vary depending on where you live. However, one requirement that all states impose on those who file for unemployment benefits is that unemployed individuals must search for a new job while they receive benefits. In most cases, you must also be able and available to work.
Although every state requires you to search for a job while receiving unemployment benefits, there isn’t consistency in how to prove you’re looking for a job or what constitutes searching for a job.
However, job search requirements usually involve job seekers conducting a minimum number of work search contacts each week. It’s also common for states to require unemployment benefit applicants to fill out, submit, and retain a work search log to prove they’ve fulfilled work search requirements. You may be wondering, “does unemployment really check work search logs?” and the answer often is “yes.”
That’s why it’s crucial that you check your state’s requirements for active job search and unemployment benefits and contact a legal professional to ensure you’re meeting all necessary compliance obligations. Again, while it will vary state by state, the following activities count as a work search requirement:
Remember, what may be considered a valid work search activity in one state may not be considered one where you live. In addition, you need to review how you can prove your job search requirements in your state.
While the answer to this is technically yes, you really shouldn’t lie about searching for jobs while receiving unemployment benefits. Faking your job search and continuing to receive unemployment benefits is considered unemployment fraud, and you run the risk of being investigated by unemployment.
The penalties for unemployment fraud vary by state, but every state is required to assess a penalty of at least 15% of the amount of total fraudulent unemployment benefits collected, according to the DOL.
In addition to the monetary penalty, most states will criminally prosecute those who commit unemployment fraud, with punishment including fines and/or incarceration. In some cases, other penalties include prohibiting future eligibility for unemployment benefits and requiring the forfeiture of future income tax refunds. Finally, unemployment fraud cases and unemployment scams can be federally prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
As you can see, faking your job search to continue to receive unemployment benefits is a crime that carries a hefty punishment. Moreover, faking your job search by applying for jobs and not responding to interview requests (or worse, not showing up for interviews) does more harm than good. Simply put, this can damage your personal brand and burn bridges with potential employers. Therefore, you should never fake your job search to stay on unemployment.
Typically, you are only eligible to receive unemployment benefits if you’re fired from your job. However, many states allow employees who have quit their jobs for “good cause” to be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. What constitutes good cause will vary by state, so be sure to contact your state’s unemployment office with further questions.
In addition to not committing unemployment fraud, there are a handful of other things that you should not do while you’re unemployed. These activities include being overly picky in your search, applying for jobs with an outdated resume, and “ghosting” employers. Keeping these tips in mind can help you lead a successful job search.
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