A Guide to Unemployment Benefits in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) is the state agency that oversees the administration of Illinois unemployment benefits, provides employment services and analyzes and disseminates labor market information for Illinois residents and employers. 

The agency collects Illinois unemployment insurance taxes from state employers and then returns those dollars to workers who are eligible for Illinois unemployment insurance benefits. 

Unemployed workers who want to collect Illinois unemployment benefits must register with IDES and meet other specific requirements to be eligible. 

How unemployment works in Illinois

Here’s a quick overview of how the unemployment insurance process works in Illinois.

  1. Make sure you meet all benefit requirements before you apply.  You must meet all requirements to be eligible to collect unemployment insurance in Illinois.  Some of these requirements include being unemployed through no fault of your own, that you were paid at least $1,600 in wages during your base period, and that you were paid at least $440 of your base period wages at any time during the base period outside the calendar quarter when your wages were the highest.
  2. Apply for unemployment insurance if you meet all the requirements.   You can File a Claim Online for unemployment benefits during the first week you become unemployed or by visiting one of the Illinois unemployment office locations throughout the state.
  3. Determine the amount and duration of your benefit.   Your benefits are generally determined by the amount of wages you earn during your base period. Your base period is based on the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the beginning of your benefit year.  To determine the exact amount and duration of your Illinois unemployment compensation, go to the benefit table on the IDES.Illinois.gov website located here.
  4. Know how and when you will be paid.  Benefits are paid for calendar weeks that begin on Sunday and end on Saturday. You cannot be paid until you have certified that you have met all eligibility requirements during that week. Claimants can choose to receive benefits by direct deposit or by the use of a debit card.
  5. Conduct an ongoing job search.  You are required to look for full-time work on a weekly basis while drawing benefits.  You must document your efforts and you must also register for work with IDES.
  6. You can file an appeal if you are denied benefits.  If you file an Illinois unemployment application and are denied, you have the right to file an appeal. You must file your appeal within 30 days after you receive your letter of denial.  Appeals are heard by an Administrative Law Judge.

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Terms you should know

As you read through this guide, you should know and understand what the following terms are:

  1. Base period – a standard base period consists of the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters.  Calendar quarters run January through March, April through June, July through September, and October through December.
  2. Benefits – Biweekly payments made to people who qualify for unemployment are known as benefits.
  3. Benefit week – Benefits are paid for calendar weeks of unemployment.  Benefit weeks start on Sunday and end on Saturday.
  4. Benefit year – The effective date of your first Illinois unemployment claim is the beginning of your benefit year and is usually the Sunday of the week that you file your first claim. 
  5. Claimant – A person filing for unemployment benefits is known as a claimant.
  6. Waiting week – This is a qualifying period required by law in which benefits are not paid for the week and generally occurs during the first week you file Illinois unemployment weekly claim.

Illinois Unemployment Requirements

To be eligible to receive state of Illinois unemployment benefits, you must meet all eligibility requirements each week to receive benefits.

In general, you meet Illinois unemployment eligibility requirements if...

  • You are unemployed through no fault of your own.
  • You were paid at least $1,600 in wages for insured work during your base period.
  • You were paid at least $440 of your base period wages at any time during the base period outside the calendar quarter when your wages were the highest.
  • You are registered for work with IDES, the Illinois unemployment department.

Each week, you are eligible if…

  • You file your Illinois unemployment weekly claims as scheduled
  • You have served one waiting week.
  • You were able, available and actively looking for work.

How you can be disqualified from receiving benefits

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There are several ways you can be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits in Illinois:

  • You quit your job without good cause.
  • You were fired due to misconduct connected to your work.
  • You did not have a good reason to apply for Illinois unemployment or did not accept a suitable job offered to you.  A job may be deemed not suitable if the opening is due to a labor dispute, your health, safety or morals may be at risk, you would have to resign from or be prevented from joining a union, or the wages and working conditions were not as good as those for the same kind of work elsewhere in your community.
  • You were fired because you committed a felony or a work related theft.
  • You are already receiving benefits from another source.
  • You will be paid wages in the form of vacation pay or other similar types of wages for a particular week.
  • You are receiving workers’ compensation for a disability that is more than the unemployment benefit you are entitled to.
  • You are receiving pension payments that is more than the unemployment benefit you are entitled to.
  • You are a teacher, researcher or administrator working for an educational institution and you are between academic terms.
  • You are a professional athlete between sports seasons.

The basics of Illinois unemployment claim filing

To avoid any delays in receiving benefits, file a claim for unemployment benefits during the first week you become unemployed.  You can file for benefits online at IDES.Illinois.gov or by visiting one of the Illinois unemployment office locations throughout the state.

Illinois Unemployment insurance benefits are paid only to recipients who are actively seeking work.  As part of this requirement, recipients must register with the Illinois Employment Service systems.  To meet both of these Illinois unemployment qualifications, recipients can log into IllinoisJobLink.com and complete the registration process, create a resume and begin searching for work.

You will need several pieces of documentation and information to file for benefits:

  • Your Social Security number and your name as it appears on your Social Security card.
  • Your driver’s license or state ID.
  • If you are claiming a spouse or children as dependents, you will need their Social Security numbers, names and dates of birth.
  • Employer information for the past 18 months, including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, dates of employment and reasons for separation.  Wage records in the form of pay stubs or W-2 forms may also be required.
  • If you worked since Sunday of the week you are applying for benefits, you will need to report all gross wages.
  • Any pension payment information you are receiving, not including Social Security.
  • Alien registration information if you are not a U.S. citizen.
  • A Member 4 copy of the DD form 214/215 if you are a recently separated veteran.
  • A copy of your Standard Form 8 and Personnel Action Form 50 if you have been separated from work as a civilian employee of the federal government.

Be aware that many people lose unemployment benefits for a week or more because they do not follow instructions closely, thus delaying the processing and payment of benefits they are entitled to.  If you do not understand filing instructions, call IDES Claimant Services at (800) 244-5631 or visit an IDES office to seek assistance — you can determine your closest Illinois unemployment office here. 

Also, if you submit false or misleading information in an attempt to draw benefits that you are not entitled to, you can be prosecuted under Illinois law.  Penalties include fines, jail time, as well as a not being eligible to draw unemployment benefits in Illinois until after you have served as much as two years in penalty weeks and you have repaid the Illinois unemployment amount of benefits you received due to your act of fraud. 

Insured vs. uninsured work

Who can file an Illinois unemployment application? Those who qualify for unemployment benefits in Illinois will receive benefits based on insured work.  Insured work is performed for an employer who is required to make payments to the state as part of the Illinois Unemployment Insurance Act. 

While most types of work falls under this law, there are some types of work that are considered uninsured work.  Wages earned from uninsured work cannot be used as a basis for claiming unemployment benefits. 

Some examples of uninsured work include:

  • Agricultural workers are covered only if they worked for an employer who paid at least $20,000 in cash wages to employees during any calendar quarter or employed at least 10 employees during each of 20 or more calendar weeks during the current or preceding calendar year.  All others are not covered.
  • Domestic workers who did not earn at least $1,000 in any calendar quarter in any quarter in the current or preceding calendar year.
  • Railroad workers covered by the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act.
  • Certain types of family employment are not covered.
  • Work as a solicitor paid solely on a commission basis is not covered.
  • Some government work in special situations such as elected officials or those hired for short periods following a disaster may not be covered.
  • Federal, state or local relief workers or work training employees are not covered.
  • Direct sellers of consumer products, including those who are home based or any establishment that is not a permanent retail business are not covered.

Determining your Illinois unemployment amount

Your benefits are generally determined by the amount of wages you earn during your base period.  This applies to both part-time work and full-time work.  Your base period is based on the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters immediately preceding the beginning of your benefit year.

Unemployed workers who do not have sufficient wages to qualify for benefits using the standard base period may be eligible to use an alternate base period.

If your benefit year begins:Your base period will be:Your alternate base period will be:
This year betweenJanuary 1 and March 31Last year betweenJanuary 1 and September 30 and the year before between October 1 and December 31Last yearbetween January 1and December 31
This year betweenApril 1 and June 30Last year betweenJanuary 1 and December 31Last year betweenApril 1 and December 31 and this year between January 1 and March 31
This year betweenJuly 1 and September 30Last year betweenApril 1 and December 31 and this year between January 1 and June 30Last year betweenJuly 1 and December 31And this year between January 1 and June 30
This year betweenOctober 1 and December 31Last year betweenJuly 1 and December 31and this year between January 1 and June 30Last year betweenOctober 1 and December 31 and this year between January 1 and September 30

The size of your weekly benefit amount will depend on the amount of wages paid to you for insured work during the two calendar quarters of your base period when your wages were the highest.  If you have a dependent child or a spouse who does not work, you will receive an additional allowance.

To determine the exact amount of your Illinois unemployment compensation, go to the benefit table on the  IDES.Illinois.gov website located here.

The total amount you will be paid during your benefit year is 26 times your weekly benefit, including any allowances for spouses and dependents. In most cases, Illinois unemployment extensions are rare, so it is important to ensure you find suitable work before your benefit year ends. In situations where the Illinois unemployment rate is higher than normal during economic downturn, extensions may be granted.

You may be able to claim some benefits if you work less than full-time work during a benefit week, and the amount you earn is less than the weekly benefit amount you would receive if you were completely unemployed for the week.

IMPORTANT!  When you go back to work, you must report that information to IDES immediately. Failure to do so could result in an overpayment of benefits, potential criminal charges of fraud, an assessment of penalty weeks, and a state comptroller’s offset of state payments such as state income tax refunds.  The state also requires all employers to report new hires to IDES so that individuals collecting unemployment benefits can be identified.

When and how will I be paid?

Benefits are paid for calendar weeks that begin on Sunday and end on Saturday.  You will be assigned a call day, certification day or appointment after the end of a calendar week and you cannot be paid until you have certified that you have met all eligibility requirements during that week.  Certification takes place by telephone through an Illinois unemployment number or online on a bi-weekly basis.  You must certify every two weeks to receive your benefits.

Claimants can choose to receive benefits by direct deposit or by the use of a debit card.  Payments are typically deposited into a specified account two business days after the claimant has certified for benefits.  Claimants automatically receive benefits by debit card unless they register for direct deposit at IDES.Illinois.gov.

What if I am denied benefits?

If you file an Illinois unemployment application and are denied, you have the right to file an appeal.  You must file your appeal within 30 days after you receive your letter of denial.  Your appeal will be heard by an Administrative Law Judge where you will be given the opportunity to present your case.  You do have the option of using an attorney or another representative to assist you in your appeal.  The state contracts with law firms who can also give you limited legal advice at hearings. For more information about appealing a decision regarding Illinois unemployment, contact (800) 884-6591 to explore this option.

If your appeal is denied, Illinois unemployment laws guarantee your right to appeal to the Board of Review, an independent five-person body, who will also review your case.  If you are rejected at this level, your final option is to file an appeal with the Circuit Court of the county where you live. 

Learning more about (IL) Illinois Unemployment Benefits Eligibility

For more information on collecting benefits, visit the following Illinois unemployment websites:

IDES Official Site

File a Claim Online

IDES Frequently Asked Questions by Individuals

Illinois Unemployment Phone Number, IDES
(800) 244-5631