Can You Turn Down a Job When Collecting Unemployment?

Woman checking job postings in office

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Do you have to accept a job offer when you're collecting unemployment? To an unemployed person, any job offer might seem like a good thing. But what about when the job doesn’t pay enough, or doesn’t use your skills—or you simply aren’t interested? Do you have to accept the position anyway?

Failure to accept suitable work can result in the termination of your unemployment benefits. Therefore, it is important to know when you can and cannot turn down a job when collecting unemployment.

The question, of course, is what constitutes suitable employment. Obviously, you won’t always be able to hold out for your dream job. But you probably hope to avoid taking something that’s far below your previous positions in terms of salary or job duties. So, when can you refuse a job offer?

Here's what you need to know about accepting (or declining) a job offer when you're collecting unemployment benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • You may be able to turn down a job offer that isn’t considered suitable employment. Jobs that don’t use your skills or that pay a substandard wage may be considered unsuitable.
  • If you are offered your old job back, you may lose your unemployment benefits if you don't accept it.
  • Depending on how long you've been collecting unemployment, you may have less flexibility when it comes to turning down jobs.
  • Guidelines vary by state, so it's important to learn the law in your state before declining a job offer. Check your state unemployment office website for details.

When You Have To Take a Job Offer

Do you have to take any job offer you get while you're on unemployment? The answer is that it depends. In some cases, individuals can turn down a job offer if it does not represent suitable employment. However, that is most often the case when you are first unemployed.

In many states, if an unemployed individual turns down a job offer, they may no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits, unless they had good cause to turn down the job.

After a certain number of weeks of collecting unemployment, you will have less flexibility when it comes to turning down jobs. You may have to keep track of and report on the jobs you have applied to, and let the unemployment office know the status of your applications.


As with everything related to unemployment benefits, guidelines and laws vary by state. It’s important to learn as much as you can about your state’s laws regarding unemployment before declining a job offer.

What Is Suitable Work?

Each state sets standards to define what determines if a job will be considered suitable. In general, suitable work means a job that offers wages comparable to your recent employment and work duties that correspond to your education level and your previous work experience.


In general, suitable work is a job that you can reasonably do with your past training and experience. 

In New York, for example, suitable work means any work that is related not only to your primary skill, but also any work related to secondary areas of skill and experience. After a certain number of weeks on unemployment, the definition of suitable work expands. For example, suitable work then includes any work you can do, even if you have no experience or training.

In California, suitable employment means work related to your previous occupation or primary skills and experience. Along with this, suitable employment in California also takes into account any risk to your “health, safety, and morals,” your prior earnings, length of unemployment, and the likelihood of you getting a job related to your primary skillset.

Other states have different requirements. Some requirements include how related the work is to your skillset, the salary you would receive, and even the commuting time.

Many states change the definition of suitable employment based on how long you have been collecting unemployment. For example, this typically happens when one applies for extended unemployment benefits.


There are also exceptions to suitable work in some states. For example, in some states, union workers are exempt from suitable work requirements, as long as they are registered with their local union hiring hall.

Check With Your State Unemployment Office

Before you turn down a job offer, check the regulations for your location. The requirements will be listed on your state unemployment office website, typically in the Frequently Asked Questions section. The requirements may vary based on how long you have been out of work.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I have to return to my old job if my employer offers it to me?

If you are collecting unemployment and your employer asks you to return to work, in most cases, you are required to accept or risk losing your unemployment benefits. The state unemployment office may ask the employer if they have work for you, and if you don't return to work, the state can deny benefits or the company can contest your claim.

What's the best way to decline a job offer?

If you decide to decline a job offer, you want to go about it the right way. Be sure to express your gratitude for the job. If you are interested in the company but not the position, say so. If you decline a job the right way, you can maintain a good relationship with the employer, and may even be offered a job that is a better fit. If you like the job and the company, but the salary is not enough, explain this. You might try to negotiate a higher salary before declining the job.

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  1. New York State Department of Labor. "Returning to Work and Unemployment Insurance."

  2. NOLO. "Collecting Unemployment: Are You Able, Available, and Actively Seeking Work?"

  3. New York State Department of Labor. "Work Search Frequently Asked Questions."

  4. Employment Development Department. "Suitable Work."

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