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

Short-term disability is the primary form of income support for people who are sick or injured. Unemployment rules require that you be physically able to work.

Paid sick & family leave programs are the place to turn if you need to care for a family member with a health issue. Unemployment criteria also require that you be available to work.

Finally, people laid off because of a pandemic (coronavirus) should qualify provided they are not sick themselves or caring for a family member.

Filing for Unemployment After Job Termination

One of the basic tenets across the country is that you can only collect unemployment compensation after job termination – and never before (because you would still be employed). Therefore, losing your job for medical reasons at least sets the wheels in motion for possible approval.

However, job loss is only the tip of the iceberg. Learn how to complete the claim form according to the rules in your state, which vary based on whether you resigned or your employer discharged you for cause.

State Disability

State-issued temporary disability insurance is the primary alternative to unemployment benefits for people who cannot work 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.

Personal Loans

Unemployment personal loans rely on the steady, predictable stream of government-issued benefit checks that could be available after job termination. Banks are more likely to lend money when you can report a regular source of income on the application.

If your state agency has already approved your claim, the borrowed funding can help you catch up on the bills that came in while you were unable to work due to medical reasons.

Claim Form

You will not find a universal medical unemployment claim form that is the same across the country. Each state passes and enforces its laws regarding how this critical income support program operates.

Also, each state provides generic paperwork rather than a specific medical unemployment form. However, you can follow these criteria for help in completing the document correctly – and interpreting the examples found later in this article.

Make sure that you meet all of these conditions that are the same in every state before completing the claim form – otherwise, the agency will reject the application out of hand.

  1. You no longer have a job and are not on a leave of absence
  2. You have recovered and are physically able to work
  3. Your caretaker duties no longer make you unavailable
  4. You are actively seeking a new job
  5. You are willing to accept suitable offers

Also, research the applicable laws in your state relating to voluntary quit versus discharge before completing the form. You want to have the specific statutes on hand to back up your case. Google a combination of your state name with all of these frequently used legal phrases.

  1. Good cause
  2. Compelling personal reason
  3. Compelling family circumstances

This legal research will prove invaluable in completing and filing the paperwork optimally based on whether you had to quit your job, or if your employer fired you.


Many people laid off due to the economic downturn associated with the coronavirus (Covid 19) pandemic should qualify to file for unemployment benefits – but not all.

The situation is very fluid, and state and federal rules may change at any time. However, we can apply the basic precepts to layoffs, with the caveat that caseworkers could be laxer during this scary time.

Unfortunately, those who fit into three likely scenarios could find that they do not meet the main criteria: physically able and available for work.

  1. Individuals who are sick with coronavirus are unable to work
  2. Parents taking care of children home from school are unavailable
  3. Caretakers watching over stricken patients are not available

In other words, people laid off due to the coronavirus have a slam dunk case when they are not sick themselves, and they do have to care for others.

Quit for Medical Reasons

Two rules govern whether you can get unemployment benefits if you quit your job for medical reasons. You must meet both sets of criteria to qualify.

  1. You must recover from the health issue that caused you to quit your job in the first place. All states require that you be physically able to work to get a claim check.
  2. Documenting unfulfilled requests for accommodations in your resignation letter establishes a legitimate rationale
  3. Laws in your state must include special provisions for employees who voluntarily separate employment for a good cause reason – and the definition must introduce wording about an ailment.

Unfortunately, very few states appear to define their statutes with this more lenient language towards employees who resign their position. Here are seven that include wording about health issues.

South Carolina  

Fired for Being Sick

The same two principles dictate whether you can draw unemployment if you were fired for being sick or injured. However, the second criteria are laxer when your employer takes action to terminate employment.

  1. You must recover from the health issue that caused your employer to fire you in the first place. All states require that you be physically able to work.
  2. The laws in your state must include language relating to a discharged employee’s infirmity.

Fortunately, a larger group of states include legal language that is more lenient to people fired for calling in sick too often. A quick Google search using your state name and the phrases noted above can help you find the relevant statutes to back up your claim.

Unemployment While Off for Medical Reasons

Most people cannot collect unemployment while off for medical reasons. Taking leave without pay creates financial hardship but does not match with the universal qualifying conditions – as we will illustrate below.

  • No longer have a job
  • Physically able to work
  • Available for duty
  • Actively seeking a new job
  • Willing to accept suitable offers

Short-term disability (see below) pays benefits when you are unable to earn an income because of a covered health condition. You can apply by completing a claim form – if you have coverage in force (most people do not). Buying a policy in advance of your need addresses the unpaid leave of absence problem for employees dealing with diseases, injuries, and surgery, but not mental health issues or the care of sick family members.


Filing for unemployment while off due to an illness rarely pays off. First, you still have a job during any leave without pay, which disqualifies you right away.

Second, anyone with a crippling disease, such as cancer, or multiple sclerosis, is unable to perform the duties of their regular occupation. Every state requires that you be physically able to work to be eligible, which is not the case when you are very sick.

Finally, patients with serious sicknesses can receive benefits once they meet two critical criteria.

  1. You recover and can handle any physical work duties
  2. The employment relationship ended due to prolonged sickness
    1. Tighter rules for individuals who quit (see above)
    2. Laxer standards for people discharged (see above)


People dealing with temporary unemployment due to surgery cannot claim benefits – in most cases. As before, if you are off on leave without pay during the post-operative recovery period, you still have a job and do not qualify.

After surgery, you may be unable to perform the duties of your primary occupation. Therefore, you do not meet the second criteria: physically able to work.

Surgical patients can become eligible only after employment ends and, they recover from the operation. Then, the state laws regarding good cause reasons come into play (see above for quitting versus fired).

Mental Health

Individuals absent due to mental health problems rarely qualify to get unemployment benefits on this basis alone. Once again, if you are on leave without pay because of stress, anxiety, depression, or any other thought disorder, you still have a job and do not qualify.

If your job ends, people dealing with mental illnesses may not be able or available to work, or hopeful enough to seek new employment. The inactivity disqualifies you from the remaining criteria.

However, after recovery, you may be eligible if you live in one of the states with lenient rules for an employee’s disabling condition (see above). Keep careful records of treatment from your therapist, psychiatrist, or psychologist to document your mental health status over time.


Receiving unemployment while off due to an injury is also non-viable.  As with the previous examples, during unpaid leave, you are still employed and, therefore, ineligible. Also, you must wait until you separate from your employer, recover from your wound, and then look into the applicable laws in your state regarding voluntary terminations and dismissals.

However, the implications for injuries depend on where the accident occurred.


Workers Compensation provides partial wage replacement for on-the-job injuries that prevent you from performing the duties of your vocation. Promptly notify your employer after any occupational accident and follow through with a claim to the insurance company.

Workers’ compensation disability typically pays much more than unemployment does for a much lengthier period. Plus, it covers the medical care needed to restore function.


People suffering a non-work-related injury cannot collect unemployment or Workers Compensation, but could file a short-term disability claim if they have the coverage – but most do not (see below).

Unfortunately, off-the-job accidents result in strike three for many people. The only alternative is waiting until your wounds heal, and then pleading your case based on state law for quitting or dismissal.

Care of Family Member

Getting unemployment to take care of a sick family member brings parallel issues into the equation – along with several right angle twists. As before, family caretakers on leave without pay still have a job and are not eligible.

However, the similarities end there.

  • You remain physically able to perform the duties of your occupation and pass the second rule
  • You are unavailable to work while caring for a sick family member or bonding with a newborn baby and fail the second qualifying rule
  • Many states require that you inform your employer in writing to request an accommodation in schedules or assignments
  • Paid family leave laws cover family caretakers in eight states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington)
  • People who lose their job after caring for a sick family member become eligible once they are available for duty, and if their state laws regarding good cause reasons include a lenient definition for dismissal or resignation.

Fortunately, more states have laws that are forgiving towards family caregivers who must quit their jobs. The regions listed below excuse voluntary job termination for the care of an immediate family member (spouse, parent, dependent children) with an infirmity.

Personal Reasons for Good Cause

New YorkNevadaPennsylvania

Compelling Family Reasons

MinnesotaNew HampshireOklahoma

Other Acceptable Rationale




The rules for drawing unemployment while absent under FMLA follow the same pattern. You are taking unpaid leave and still have a job. Plus, you may be unable or unavailable to perform any job tasks.

However, many people have specific questions about this topic.

  • While still on FMLA you enjoy legal job protections and cannot file because you remain employed under the law
  • If you don’t qualify for FMLA, you are ineligible during the time you are disabled (unable) or a caretaker (unavailable) even though you could be subject to discharge
  • If fired after FMLA runs out you could be eligible once you are able and available to work again, and the laws in your state support your circumstances (see above about completing the form)

Unemployment Benefits and Disability Insurance

The topic of unemployment compensation and disability benefits intersect because both can relate to medical issues. Each program limits the amount and duration of payments. Therefore, it is natural for people to ask about collecting both at the same time, stacking one after the other, and which pays more.

However, this topic introduces a new wrinkle into the equation: access.

  • All 50 states offer unemployment compensation
  • Only five regions have mandatory short-term disability
  • Social Security covers only permanent conditions – not temporary

Same Time

You cannot get unemployment and disability (Social Security & Short-Term) at the same time because the criteria for the two programs are mutually exclusive. If you qualify for one, you automatically become ineligible for the other.

  • Unemployment requires that you be physically able to perform work duties
  • Disability requires that you are physically unable to perform work duties

The primary rule for each benefit option is a binary opposite. Therefore, you cannot draw unemployment while on short-term or Social Security disability.

Before & After

Because the criteria are mutually exclusive, applying for disability or unemployment after either benefit runs out is unlikely to bring victory. Only a change in health status allows you to reach this goal.

  • Applying for unemployment after short-term disability runs out will not succeed if your injury or illness continues to impact your ability to resume working. However, once you recover, you could qualify based on state laws for voluntary separation versus discharges.
  • Applying for disability after unemployment runs out can succeed if you develop a qualifying impairment in the interim. In other words, you must first be able to work and then become unable due to a covered medical condition.
    • Short-term disability may require that you be unable to perform two of five activities of daily living if you file a claim when you no longer have a job.
      • Dressing
      • Transferring
      • Eating
      • Preparing meals
      • Toileting
    • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) requires that you paid sufficient FICA taxes in the past and that your health problem will prevent you from performing any work for at least one year – or result in death.

While Waiting

Be very careful before applying for unemployment while waiting for disability. Social Security can take a long time before approving applications. In the interim, any form of assistance can go a long way to help you survive financially.

However, resisting the temptation is the safest bet. You do not want to provide conflicting information to two government agencies. Saying you can work to one depsartment could jeopardize your standing with the other that pays out when you cannot work. Plus, the checks for one continue much longer than the other.

  • Employment claims are temporary, lasting only months
  • Disability benefits can continue for decades up to age 65

Which Pays More

Finally, many people ask which pays more, disability or unemployment, as if they have a choice in the matter. Since the criteria for the two programs are mutually exclusive, one option will always result in denial and yield zero dollars.

Therefore, the appropriate benefit given your health situation will always pay more than the one that denies your claim.

Able to Work>$0$0
Unable to Work$0>$0