The UI Lexicon

The UI Lexicon is a collection of terms commonly used by state UI agencies and the sample meanings corresponding to those terms. The OUIM team created this resource based on research of the most commonly used terminology across all states’ and territories’ claimant-facing UI materials – you can review a full description of our research in this post. In its current form, the Lexicon contains the top 20 most-frequently used terms, although it may expand to include additional terms in the future. 

Review these terms and sample meanings as inspiration for your state’s plain language work or customize the sample meanings for use in your own content. Please note: The U.S. Department of Labor’s engagement with the development of this resource was limited to implementing plain language and content strategy best practices. Any state UI agency wishing to use sample meanings contained in this resource retains full responsibility for ensuring the accuracy and legal sufficiency of any provisions and instructions issued. 

UI Lexicon: Terms and sample meanings 

We’ve defined the preferred characteristics of glossary terms – each glossary term should do the following: 

  • Be written in plain language – reading level 8th grade or below 
  • Avoid legal and economics jargon 
  • Be short and succinct, so it can be used as “hover-over” pop-up definitions when reading information on UI web pages 
  • Include simple diagrams and visual aids when necessary 
  • Link to a page or pages with more detailed explanations on related topics 
  • Include links to any other glossary terms used in the definition 
  • List synonyms or truly interchangeable terms, or provide clarifying definitions when terms are used differentially 
  • Use second person voice to directly address the claimant 

In addition, use a neutral or supportive tone to create the best possible customer experience for your claimants. 


Sample meaning 


Generally speaking, all work that a person does for an employer. In this context, employment does not include self-employment.   

Able and available to work  

You are physically and mentally able to work, ready and willing to accept work, and have the time and a way to get to work. Common reasons for not being able and available to work include injury, illness, lack of childcare, and lack of transportation. To get unemployment benefits, you must be able and available to work and actively looking for a new job.  


A formal challenge you make when you disagree with a decision about unemployment benefits. You or your employer may file an appeal and have the chance to present your case during a hearing. Each state has an appeals process.  

Base period  

A 12-month period during which your past wages are used to see if you qualify for unemployment insurance and how much you might get. The agency will look at the last 5 quarters before you filed your application and the wages you earned in the first 4 of those quarters will be used to determine your weekly benefit amount.  

Benefit year  

The year-long period during which your unemployment claim is active. It usually begins on the Sunday of the week you file your initial claim. You may file for weekly payments during the benefit year until you have used up your benefits or the maximum number of weeks claimed is met. You must apply for a new claim once the benefit year ends.  


When you apply for UI benefits for the first time, it is called an initial claim. The initial claim is valid for one year, also known as your benefit year. When you request benefits payments each week, it is called a weekly claim. If you have not submitted a weekly claim for some time and your claim becomes inactive, then you may activate the existing claim by contacting the UI agency.  If it is more than one year since you filed the initial claim, you may need to file a new initial claim.  

Covered employment  

Services performed by an employee for an employer that is subject to unemployment tax.  


Providing false, incomplete, or inaccurate information in order to get unemployment benefits. Fraud is a crime that can be prosecuted and punished.  

Ineligible, disqualified, denied  

You will not be paid unemployment benefits if you are ineligible, disqualified, or denied. “Ineligible” usually means that you have failed to do something, such as looking for work, responding to a request from the agency, or attending a training. “Disqualified” usually means you have earned enough wages but you have other problems with your application such as the reason you left your job or your availability or ability to work. “Denied” means that the agency found that you are not eligible for unemployment benefits.  


When there is a problem with your application, or you have not sent information that the agency needs in order to decide whether you may receive benefits, an issue is set. Some issues may be fixed by providing more information to the UI agency.  

Maximum benefit amount (MBA)  

The total amount of benefits you may get during a benefit year.  

Monetary determination  

A written notice to let you know if you meet the wage and employment requirements for unemployment benefits. The notice lists your wages from past employers and the amount of benefits you may get. Although this notice tells you whether you have enough wages to qualify for a benefit, you must also meet other requirements of the unemployment insurance program to receive the benefits. Also see non-monetary determination.  

Non-monetary determination  

A written notice with a decision about whether you qualify for unemployment benefits for reasons that are not related to your prior wages. Things considered in this decision may include the reasons why you left a job and your ability and availability to work. Also see monetary determination.  


Benefits that are paid to you in error or that a state later determines you were not allowed to receive. In most cases, you will be required to pay back any overpayments.  

Severance pay  

Payments you may get from your employer when you leave your job. The amount of severance may affect the amount of UI benefits you receive.  

Unemployment Insurance (UI)  

A program that provides cash benefits to people who are unemployed through no fault of their own.  


Payment from employer to employee for work or service. Gross wages are the amount you made from work before taxes and deductions. Net wages are your “take-home pay,” or the amount you get after taxes and deductions.  

Waiting week  

The first week that you are eligible for unemployment benefits after submitting an application. You will not be paid any benefits for this week, but you still need to file a weekly claim. In some states, this is called a waiting period.  

Weekly benefit amount (WBA)  

The amount of money you can receive for a week of unemployment. This amount is calculated from your wages during the base period.  

Work search  

In order to continue collecting unemployment benefits, you must show that you are looking for work. You need to keep a record of the things you do to look for work and report as many of these activities as your state requires for each week you claim unemployment benefits.  

This Lexicon is meant to be a living document. If you have any questions or would like to share feedback with us, please email the OUIM team at