Unemployment Insurance Policy Advocate’s Toolkit


The Unemployment Insurance Policy Advocate’s Toolkit is designed as a reference guide to the issues we have faced together as advocates since the Great Recession and emerging issues we can expect to face in the future. This 2015 revision is intended to provide our readers with readily-used resources for significant state UI issues. We have added new topics, including independent contractors/misclassification and reemployment assistance. Readers will find resources supporting positive reforms as well as defending unemployment insurance (UI) programs from increasingly strident attacks.

Today’s workforce is made up of many different types of families. Women are in the workforce in large numbers and their incomes are no longer just supplemental, but are necessary for household essentials and, in some cases, are the primary source of family income. Workers are vulnerable to permanent and more frequent layoffs that could lead to involuntary part-time work or even a spell of long-term unemployment. Low-wage workers are more likely to lose their job, but less likely to receive UI benefits. Like part-time workers, they are mostly women.

Equally important, the emerging “gig economy” is combining with older forms of work that fall outside formal employment rules. To maintain relevance to our economy and viability in our political scene, UI must grow and adapt by ensuring that part-time workers are eligible in all states, work sharing programs are universally offered, and high quality reemployment tools are offered to jobseekers.

Toolkit Overview

The 2015 edition of the UI Toolkit begins with an overview of recurring issues concerning benefits and eligibility rules for UI programs. Chapter 1 discusses topics ranging from the maximum number of available weeks to work sharing. We cover part-time availability and partial benefits and compelling family circumstances as well because these are logical steps toward making UI more relevant for today’s labor market. In Chapter 2 we explore topics relating to benefit disqualifications and sanctions, misconduct standards, seasonal work and educational employee exclusions, and drug testing. Chapters 3 and 4 covers recurrent topics that advocates encounter when UI topics are debated; disincentive effects, economic impact, and reemployment.

The 2015 edition of the toolkit can be downloaded by section, chapter, or in its entirety by clicking on the links below.


Chapter 1: Benefits and Eligibility

A. Raising Application Rates to Increase UI Recipiency
B. Why Every State Should Pay 26 Weeks of UI Benefits
C. Maintaining Fair Weekly Benefit Formulas 
D. Expanding Part-Time Eligibility
E. Accommodating Compelling Family Circumstances
F. Updating Partial Benefits
G. Using Work Sharing to Prevent Layoffs

Chapter 2: Challenges to UI as Earned Benefits

A. Assisting Claimants with Job Searches and Reemployment
B. Defining Misconduct Fairly
C. Limiting Drug Testing for UI
D. Seasonal Work and Occupational Exclusions Overview
E. Avoiding Waiting Weeks

Chapter 3: Understanding UI Financing, Business Climate, and Employee Coverage Issues

A. UI Financing Basics
B. UI Taxes and Business Climate
C. Employee Misclassification as Independent Contractors

Chapter 4: Influencing UI Policy Debates

A. Economic and Social Impacts of UI
B. UI and Disincentive Effects
C. UI: Preventing Poverty, Supporting Job Search, and Helping the Economy

Related to

About the Authors

Rick McHugh

Rebecca Dixon

Areas of expertise:
  • Occupational Segregation,
  • Program Management,
  • Unemployment Insurance,
  • Workplace Equity

NELP is led by President and Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Dixon. Rebecca is a respected national leader in federal workers’ rights advocacy and is in great demand for her thought leadership on issues of labor and racial, gender, and economic justice.

Claire McKenna

Senior Policy Analyst, National Employment Law Project

George Wentworth