Collecting Unemployment for Medical & Mental Health Reasons

Collecting unemployment when you are off of work for medical and mental health reasons is rarely possible. However, every rule has an exception.

Eligibility hinges on your ability to work.

However, once you recover, you could qualify if you live in one of eleven states that include health conditions as a “good cause” reason to quit or suffer termination.

People dealing with cancer, heart disease, injuries, surgery, COVID, stress, and depression often face an extended period without pay – especially if they do not have access to short-term disability benefits.

Therefore, learn about unemployment rules to see when and where you might qualify. 

Unemployment for Medical Reasons

You can rarely collect unemployment while off from work due to medical reasons. Three universal criteria make you ineligible when a serious health condition prevents you from performing your job duties.

  1. Able to work
  2. Available for duty
  3. Actively seeking a new job

State Disability

State-mandated short-term disability is the more reliable alternative to collecting unemployment due to medical reasons. The primary advantage is that you do not have to wait until recovery to file a claim, as the plans pay while you are still sick or injured.

On the other hand, only a few states have a program – but you may have a policy from a private company already in force.

Your doctor must state in writing that a health-related condition prevents you from working at your regular full-time occupation. Also, your employer must sign the claim form indicating that you are no longer earning income.


Temporary unemployment due to surgery is not a legitimate medical reason to file a claim for benefits in most cases. During the post-operative recovery period, you could be ineligible for two causes.

  1. FMLA covers surgery and protects your job
  2. Post-operative recovery means you are unable to work

Other forms of financial help for surgery could prove more fruitful than filing an unemployment claim during your post-operative recovery period.


People covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cannot collect unemployment while off for medical reasons because they still have a job.

The FMLA provides unpaid legal job protections lasting twelve weeks for employees who cannot work because of a serious health condition.

Therefore, you are ineligible for unemployment while on leave without pay under FMLA. Meanwhile, you could become eligible after FMLA runs out – if you lose your job. However, this only holds once you meet the three primary criteria.

  • Able to work
  • Available for duty
  • Actively seeking a new job


Some people may be eligible to file for unemployment if they quit their job due to medical reasons – or their employer fires them for poor attendance. Of course, this holds only after your recovery from an accident, illness, or surgery because you must be able to work.

Typically, voluntary resignation or firing makes you ineligible for benefits. However, some states include an employee’s significant health condition in their legal definition of good cause. 

MissouriPennsylvaniaSouth Carolina


Collecting unemployment due to an illness such as COVID-19 raises three related issues worthy of further exploration.

First, you are ineligible to file a claim when you are unavailable to work due to caretaking duties.

  • Care of a sick family member with COVID or other diseases
  • Supervising a child home from school due to lockdowns

Second, President Biden signed an Executive Order on January 22, 2021, asking the Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers have the right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health – contract Coronavirus on-the-job.

Third, caretaking duties during maternity leave, COVID, and other severe illnesses qualify as a good cause to quit in many more states. Once you become available to work again, you may be eligible to file a claim if you work in a state with a lenient legal definition.

Unemployment for Mental Health

Collecting unemployment while off from work due to mental health reasons will prove even more challenging. The three universal criteria also make you ineligible when thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and moods prevent you from performing your job duties.

  1. Able to work
  2. Available for duty
  3. Actively seeking a new job


Collecting unemployment if you quit your job due to stress may prove difficult but not impossible. Of course, your mental health must first improve enough to make you able and available for work before filing a viable claim.

Stress by itself is unlikely to meet the standard for a good cause reason to quit. A doctor may have to state in writing that the anxiety worsened a medical condition, making it impossible to continue with your job duties.

Also, stress is a more viable justification in states with a pertinent legal definition. A good cause to quit includes an employee’s health condition.

MinnesotaPennsylvaniaSouth Carolina


Getting unemployment benefits if you quit your job due to depression will also prove very challenging. Once again, your mental health will first have to improve enough to be able and available for work before you will be eligible.

Clinical depression is a debilitating condition that could make it impossible just to get out of bed in the morning. A doctor or psychiatrist will have to state in writing that your depression prevented you from performing your job duties.

Also, depression could be a legitimate claim reason in the eleven states noted above with pertinent good cause definition for quitting that include an employee’s health condition. Hire an attorney if you live in other regions with less specific legal language.