How Do I Get Information on State Unemployment Taxes?

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Each state has an unemployment tax fund into which employers must pay, through an unemployment tax. Most employers must pay into both the federal unemployment tax system and their state system.

Each state has its own unemployment department that runs under federal guidelines. State unemployment rates and payment requirements differ in amount and how they are charged and paid. State unemployment taxes are paid to the state workforce office or state department of labor.

This table shows the state unemployment tax wage bases (the base used to calculate state unemployment taxes). And this one has the state unemployment tax rates (as of 2017).

State Unemployment Taxes and Tax Rates

Most states base unemployment taxes on the federal tax requirements; a few states have different requirements for when unemployment taxes must be paid,

Employers must pay into both federal and state unemployment funds if they (1) pay wages to employees totaling $1500 or more in any quarter, or (2) have at least one employee during any day of the week during 20 weeks in a calendar year, regardless of whether or not the weeks were consecutive.

How to Register with Your State for Unemployment Taxes

When you hire your first employee, you must register with your state and begin calculating your unemployment tax rate and putting money aside from each payroll to pay unemployment taxes.

To find your state's unemployment tax department (different from the agency which pays unemployment benefits to workers) go to this Department of Labor page, click on your state, and look for the office of the department of labor, or workforce development (the office has different titles in different states).

Employee Deductions for Unemployment Taxes

A few states (currently Alaska, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) require employers within the state to take unemployment tax deductions from employees. If you have a business presence in one or more of those states, check on this requirement.

Questions to Ask When Starting Out as An Employer for Unemployment Taxes

Some questions to ask if you are a new employer and want to comply with your state's unemployment tax program requirements: 

  1. How do I apply? 
  2. What is my company's rate? Is it different for new companies? How often is the rate determined? 
  3. What are employees covered? Which employees are not covered? 
  4. Must I file annual reports? 
  5. How and when do I pay unemployment taxes? Can I file and pay online?
  6. What happens if a former employee files a claim? 

State Unemployment Benefits for Independent Contractors

Most states do not include independent contractors in unemployment assistance programs, nor are employers required to pay unemployment taxes on these workers. Each state has its own rules to determine whether a worker is classified as eligible for unemployment insurance.. Check with your state to see if independent contractors can file claims and whether you must pay unemployment taxes for these workers.

Credit Reduction States

A state may borrow from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits (as of 2018, only the U.S. Virgin Islands). These states are called "credit reduction states." If an employer in one of these states pays wages subject to unemployment tax, the employer must pay additional federal unemployment tax when filing its tax report and payment form 940. 

Some Examples of State Unemployment Tax Regulations

California has an unemployment tax program for employers called E-Services Online. The 2016 Employer's Guide for California states:

Tax-rated employers pay a percentage on the first $7,000 in wages paid to each employee in a calendar year. New employers pay 3.4 percent (.034) for a period of two to three years.

In Florida, the unemployment tax law is called the Reemployment Assistance Program. The state has an excellent booklet that provides a lot of information to employers about how to report and pay unemployment taxes in a variety of situations.