If you've checked the status of your claim for unemployment benefits and found that the claim is "pending a separation issue," that means there's a question about the circumstances under which you lost or left your last job. Your claim for benefits won't be approved until the state is satisfied that your reason for leaving makes you eligible for benefits.
In the language of unemployment benefits systems, an "issue" is anything that could prevent you from being eligible to receive benefits. "Separation" is any situation in which you stop being employed—either because you were laid off, you were fired or you quit. "Non-separation issues," by contrast, are those that relate to your ongoing eligibility for benefits. For example, states usually require people on unemployment to look for work or lose their benefits. If you lost your benefits for this reason, it would be a non-separation issue.
The unemployment benefits system is a joint program of the federal government and the states. Operating under federal guidelines, each state sets its own specific rules on what makes you eligible for benefits. But the general rule is that if it wasn't your fault that you lost your job, then you are eligible. If you bear responsibility for your separation, on the other hand, then you won't be eligible.
According to the legal information website Nolo, if you were laid off, you'll generally be eligible for benefits. If you were fired for reasons other than misconduct, such as simply being a bad fit for the job, you'll usually be eligible, too. If you were fired for misconduct, you'll be ineligible. If you quit voluntarily, then your eligibility will hinge on your reasons for leaving. Generally, Nolo says, if your working conditions were intolerable and any reasonable person could have been expected to quit, you'll have a strong case for eligibility. But if you left because you simply didn't like the job or wanted to seek other opportunities, you're ineligible. Some states allow you to collect benefits even if you quit for certain personal reasons, such as to follow a spouse who has been transferred, or to take care of a sick relative. Check with your state's unemployment program for specific eligibility requirements.
As the state processes your claim, it will check with your former employer about your reasons for leaving. If the employer disputes your eligibility, that will create a separation issue. Employers have an incentive to fight claims. The unemployment benefits system is funded through federal and state taxes on employers. Though the federal tax is a straight percentage of each employee's pay, state tax rates often vary greatly according to the state's past experience with individual employers. In other words, the more people an employer sends to the unemployment benefits office, the higher its state unemployment tax.