Record numbers of people are filing for unemployment in Virginia. If you're laid off and about to be one of them, here's a simple explanation of what you need to do.

More than three million Americans lost their jobs last week, and the unemployment rate is higher than it's ever been since the Great Depression. Those of us who've kept our jobs are still seeing pay cuts, furloughs, and reduced hours.

If you're now unemployed or you've seen your hours cut, remember three things:

1. It's not your fault.
2. You're not alone.
3. You'll feel a lot better once you file for unemployment.

Social programs are historically underfunded, and nowhere is that fact more evident than the Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) website. Unfortunately, the website is not only antiquated, but a labyrinthine UX nightmare that will test both the strength of your internet connection and your patience overall.

It is very slow, and no, it's not just you. It is difficult to navigate, and no, it's not just you. It freezes often and generates error messages, and no, it's not just you. Keep trying.

While the VEC offers an official guide to the process, it's written in legalese and virtually useless for answering the only question any of us care about—how to actually file for unemployment. If you're confused, or if you're planning to apply but feel overwhelmed, here's a walk-through of what you need to do.

File Online or By Phone

There are technically two ways to file for unemployment: online or by phone. You are "strongly encouraged" to file online, which is the generous way of saying "If you call, you'll be waiting a long time."

If you hate yourself or if you don't have another option, you can file a claim by calling (866) 832-2363. Otherwise, I am so, so sorry, but you're going to have to use this terrible website.

  • The weekly maximum is $378.
  • You need to re-file a claim every week ("Weekly Claim Certification"), but that process is much shorter.
  • Please remain calm.

If you are able to navigate the system with no issues, skip to the section "File A Claim," and congratulations to you! 

Log In / Create an Account 

Go to https://www.vawc.virginia.gov.

To file a claim, you need an account. This is the easiest part of the process, but even figuring out where to go to do that is unduly confusing.

From the home page, click Register OR UNEMPLOYED—Complete Your UI Claim. You'll then be prompted to create a user account. It starts looking weird right around here, but yes, you're in the right place. This is when the games begin.

  1. Select Option 3—Create a User Account.
  2. Select Individual.
  3. Agree to all the disclosures.
    • Known Issue (The First Horseman):  There is a significant chance that now you're going to see a message telling you the system has timed out, or you need to sign in. Which is useless considering you don't have an account yet. I've tried enabling cookies, disabling cookies, clearing my cache (in Settings > Advanced), selecting different options, but eventually, I realized the problem is Google Chrome. Do not get trapped in this maze. Don't fall for its lies. Don't be naive and full of optimism, promising yourself, I know it'll work this time. No. Just open Internet Explorer (or Microsoft Edge). I have no idea why, and I'm sure some internet wizard does, but the website only works for me in Microsoft Edge or Internet Explorer. So let's try this again.
    • Solve: Don't use Google Chrome. If you still have this issue, watch an episode of Futurama on Netflix and then go back to try again. (The system may be overloaded). Do not be frustrated. You should be proud. You've mastered the first obstacle. If you've passed the first test or if you never had an issue, please continue to the next step.
  4. Excellent job. Now you're at this screen.


     
  5. Select Yes, you are trying to file an unemployment claim at this time. Select Next.
  6. Enter your social security number (if you are not a citizen, enter your alien registration number).
    • Known Issue: The system likes to log out at this point.
    • Solve: Just try again.
  7. Create a username and password.
  8. Go back to the first page and now log in with your credentials.
    • Known Issue: The system will sometimes not recognize your user name.
    • Solve: Try again. Sometimes it just needs a few minutes to remember you've created your account.

You have now completed the monumental challenge of logging in to the website. This is no small feat. If you've made it this far; only victory is ahead of you.

Access Your Dashboard (Greet the Smiling Man)

dashboard

Welcome to Destination #2: your dashboard. You'll be greeted by a cheerful man in a construction hat. He's smiling because he's not using this website. He is employed, unlike you. Look at you. You're a waste. Do not fall for this. There is an economic recession of historic proportions. Forget this man. Proceed to the next phase and leave his smirking visage behind.

  • This home screen is a UX nightmare from the depths of Wix.com hell. There are a million widgets, and what do they even mean? You don't have time for this yet. Ignore this mosaic of false promises.
  • Go to the left side panel. Under Services for Individuals, select Unemployment Services, then select File A Claim.

Congratulations. You may now begin to actually file your claim.

  • Note: The First Horseman will sometimes reappear at this point. Do not be discouraged. Try logging out and logging back in again, or take a break. 

File A Claim

Now it's time to tell the government your life story. 

Add Your Work History (Report Earnings & What's Changed)

Add a listing for each job you've had in the last two-ish years (You only need one to file, but the more you add, the better it looks.)

  1. Once you've selected Add Entry, complete the form with basic details.

    • Add the Dates you worked there.
    • Find the Address, etc. on Google, because why would you remember that?
    • Select a Job Title ("Search by keyword" is fastest; just find something similar to what you did because the options are bizarrely sparse and imbalanced in density; or type different things until something loads.) Do the same thing for Industry.
  2. Go to Gross Wages. Tell them how much money you made at that job. (i.e. $15 if you select Based on Hour; the "Year" option for indicating salary is confusing, but you can do the math to convert your salary to its hourly equivalent rate.)
    • Your Gross Wages are what you made before taxes. (Net wages are what you actually received). You can find this on your taxes, your W2, or a pay stub.
    • It's really important to get this part right because that's how they calculate your benefit amount.
    • (Unfortunately, the weekly maximum is $378)
  3. In the Description field, describe your job. Briefly. (You can also auto-load a job description for your job title/industry that it will fill in for you.)
  4. From the dropdown menu, select your Employment Type.
    • Indicate if it was Contract, Seasonal, Temporary, Full-time, or Part-time employment.
    • (Contract means you filled out a W-9, not a W-4. Temporary means your employment had a set end date. Seasonal means the same thing as temporary, except the work is recurring.)
  5. Under Reason for Separation, choose the reason that you no longer work there. Select one of the following: Laid Off/Reduction in Force, Quit/Resigned, Part-time/Reduced Hours (Select this if you have recently had your hours reduced; you can't select "Reduced Hours" if you don't work there anymore), Fired/Suspended, or Union Strike. (??) 
    • If you select Quit/Resigned you'll need to answer a lengthy series of questions to explain yourself.
    • For Part-time/Reduced Hours, you'll need to report the last day worked, how many hours you worked that week, how much you made, and how many hours you used to work per week, and how much you made then.
  6. Repeat this process for every other job. (Again, you only need one listing to file, but it looks better the more you have, and you might qualify for more benefits.)
  7. Continue.

Choose How You Want to Get Paid (Payment Method)

  1. Decide how you want to receive your benefits. You can either choose to receive a card where your benefits will load automatically, or you can choose direct deposit.
    • If you choose direct deposit, enter your routing number and account number, etc. (Which you can find in your banking app if you don't already know them.)

Tell Them About Your Situation (Complete Your Weekly Claim Info)

  1. When asked, indicate how many hours you worked last week.
  2. Report how much money you received or got paid last week, for any reason.
  3. Indicate if you are/were able to work, and answer If you were offered a job today, would you be able to accept?
  4. Answer the other questions honestly.

You'll need to repeat this part every week.

Review & Submit

  1. Double-check that your contact information is correct, because the Virginia Employment Commission likes to use the mail. Select your preferred contact method, etc.
  2. Agree to the disclosures; promise that you're not committing fraud.
  3. Submit your claim.

Now we wait (unless legislation goes into effect and waiting periods are waived, which at time of publication, they are not).

Get Your Letter in the Mail

  1. In "7-10 days" (sometimes sooner), you'll receive a letter in the mail with your PIN and your weekly benefit determination (how much aid you qualify for). 
    • This number is calculated from your "base period earnings" (how much you usually made last year). This is the amount you can receive every week via the payment method you chose.
    • But here's the thing: you're not going to receive your benefits every week. You're going to receive benefits for every week that you file.

Submit Your Weekly Claim Every Sunday

  • Every Sunday (or after midnight on Saturday), you need to log back into this nightmare of a website and submit your Weekly Claim Certification. Don't panic—it's significantly shorter.
  • To submit your weekly certification, log in, revisit that M.C. Escher nightmare of a dashboard, and from the left side panel select Unemployment Services > Weekly Claim Certification. This means you want to claim benefits for that week.
  • You'll need to add three entries of jobs you applied for or "contacts" you made indicating that you were actively seeking work. (Unless this requirement is actually waived in Virginia.)
  • Then you'll need to answer the same questions about work availability, hours worked, income, etc. that you did at the end of your initial claim. Check all this info. Wait for the system to log you out a few times; repeat as necessary. Submit.
  • You should receive your benefits every Friday or Saturday, but it can take longer the first time.

Relax with A Glass of Fine Wine ("Fine Wine" Defined Loosely, Because of the Recession)

Bask in your victory.

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Why is the Virginia Employment Commission website so bad? Why is this process so complicated? Why is the sky blue? These are questions humankind has asked since time immemorial, whose answers may never be known. But you file that claim. You keep calling. You refresh that page one more time. You are not the only one who's frustrated.