Collecting Unemployment After Being Fired

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Unemployment benefits are available to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. If, for example, you are laid off because your department is being eliminated or your company is downsizing, you will meet this requirement. You may also be eligible for benefits if you quit your job, as long as you have good cause for doing so. In general, good cause must be a compelling job-related reason, such as quitting because of dangerous working conditions or sexual harassment that your employer refused to protect you from. 

If you are fired, the rules are a bit different. In general, you will still be eligible for benefits, as long as you weren't fired for misconduct. Misconduct is defined differently in each state, but generally covers behavior by the employee that shows a disregard for the employer's rules or interests, or an intentional failure on the part of the employee to perform his or her work duties. An employee who is fired for misconduct will be ineligible for benefits, either completely or for a set period of time after being fired (called the “disqualification period”). And, some states have varying degrees of misconduct, which determines the length of the disqualification period (for example, misconduct, severe misconduct, and gross misconduct). 

What Is Misconduct?

In virtually every state, an employee who acts intentionally or recklessly against the employer’s interests will have committed misconduct. For example, employees who steal company property or show up to work under the influence of drugs or alcohol will be disqualified from receiving benefits. Beyond these more extreme acts, states differ in what qualifies as misconduct. In most states, misconduct does not include situations where an employee isn't able to do the job despite his or her best efforts. For example, an employee who lacks the skills to the job or is simply a "poor fit" will still be eligible for unemployment. However, other states have broader standards for misconduct, which disqualifies more employees. For example, in some states, an employee who is fired for violating a single workplace rule will be ineligible for benefits.

Common Disqualifying Offenses

In most states, employees will not be eligible for benefits if they are fired for:

  • theft
  • dishonesty
  • repeated absences without good cause and after warning
  • violation of safety rules
  • falsification of records, including a job application 
  • insubordination
  • harassment
  • fighting
  • conviction of a crime
  • possession of drugs, or
  • failing a drug test.

Common Non-Disqualifying Offenses

If you were fired for any of the reasons listed below, you are likely still eligible for benefits, as long as your acts weren’t intentional:

  • incompetence
  • poor judgment
  • inattention
  • inability to perform work
  • personality conflicts, or
  • unsatisfactory performance.

Again, whether the reasons for your termination will disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits depends on your state’s law and how that law has been interpreted by your state’s unemployment agency.

How Disqualification Works

In some states, an employee who is fired for misconduct is ineligible for benefits for that employment. In order to be eligible again, the employee must get another job, keep it long enough to meet the state's earnings or hours requirements, and then lose it through no fault of his or her own.

Other states impose a penalty on employees who are fired for misconduct. In these states, employees must wait out a “disqualification period,” during which they will not receive benefits. Once the disqualification period ends, the employee will once again be eligible for benefits. For example, a state may have an eight-week disqualification period for an employee who has committed misconduct. 

For information on your state's laws on eligibility for unemployment benefits after being fired, contact your state unemployment insurance agency. You can find links and contact information for every state's unemployment agency at www.servicelocator.org/OWSLinks.asp.

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