If you were fired for a serious type of misconduct, you might no longer be eligible for benefits. Here are common misconducts that disqualify you from benefits:
- Violation of safety rules
- Criminal offenses (e.g. assault)
- Failing an alcohol or drug test
When filing for unemployment benefits, your employer might dispute your claim. Appealing the unemployment agency’s decision could help you win the case and receive benefits.
Unemployment benefits can help those who are currently out of a job, providing valuable income support and job search assistance. However, the situation becomes more complicated if you have been fired. Serious misconduct like theft often prevents individuals from receiving unemployment benefits.
In this guide, we go over how state laws, reasons for termination, and other factors can impact the ability to collect unemployment benefits.
What are unemployment benefits?
The U.S. Department of Labor runs programs that grant unemployment benefits to eligible individuals who have become unemployed. The unemployment insurance program is a joint state-federal program. If you become unemployed, you can file an unemployment claim to potentially obtain unemployment benefits, which include:
- Income support to cover basic living expenses
- Job search assistance
- Benefits for 12 to 30 months
- Cash benefits depending on previous wages
General eligibility criteria
State law determines whether your reason for being fired makes you eligible for unemployment benefits. Generally, an employee’s misconduct needs to be quite severe before they are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
For example, in the state of New York, you can file a claim for unemployment insurance if you worked in NY within the last 18 months and are currently unemployed. You can receive up to 26 weeks of benefits, with amounts depending on your past wages. You can obtain around $100 to $500 a week.
Work history requirements
If you want to collect unemployment benefits, you will need to meet the minimum work history requirements. This typically involves:
- Having worked within the state in the past 12 months
- Earning the minimum amount of wages
- Actively seeking work while you collect benefits
- No excessive unexcused absences
Citizenship and residency requirements
If you are not a citizen of the United States or do not have valid work authorization, you might not be able to collect unemployment benefits from your state.
However, legal residents (AKA green card holders) of the United States can still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Make sure you check with your local unemployment agency to see if you can apply for benefits.
Other reasons for denial of benefits
Labor disputes: In some cases, participating in organized labor disputes might result in a denial of unemployment benefits. For example, joining a strike could disqualify you from receiving benefits during that period.
Refusal of suitable work: Actively seeking work is an essential requirement for receiving unemployment benefits. If you fail to make a reasonable effort to obtain a new job or refuse suitable work opportunities, your benefits claim may be rejected.
Safety violations: Violating safety regulations willfully usually results in the loss of unemployment benefits.
Workers’ Compensation: While it might make sense to apply for both workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits, some states do not allow you to receive both types of benefits at the same time. Check with your state laws to see which compensation better suits your needs.
Intentional violation of company policies: In certain cases, refusing to adhere to company policies on purpose can hurt your chances of receiving unemployment benefits.
Work status: If you are currently employed, you will not be able to apply for unemployment compensation. If you are self-employed, your benefits may be denied depending on your exact circumstances.
Misconducts that impact eligibility
Here are the main types of misconduct that could hurt your eligibility for filing a successful unemployment benefits claim.
Failing an alcohol or drug test
Many states classify failing a drug or alcohol test as misconduct. This may lead to your unemployment benefits claim being rejected and you won’t be able to receive any financial assistance.
However, if you believe that the drug or alcohol test results were incorrect, you might be able to file an appeal and fight the denial of benefits ruling through an unemployment hearing. This has been successfully done by either challenging the test results or the way the test was performed.
In some states, a valid medical marijuana card can allow the cardholder to obtain unemployment benefits if they lost their job due to a drug test that revealed cannabis use.
A legal expert can help you with the process of disputing a drug or alcohol test that leads to you being fired. It’s usually a good idea to follow state guidelines and file an appeal as soon as you can to avoid delays.
If you were fired from your company due to stealing from your employer or coworkers, you will likely be unable to collect unemployment benefits. Theft is a terminable offense that often results in the employer disputing your unemployment insurance claim if you try to apply for benefits. However, if you believe the theft allegation against you is false, an attorney might be able to help you fight for your case.
Any criminal acts could cause you to forfeit your unemployment benefits. Criminal activity includes a wide variety of offenses, such as property crimes, arson, assault and battery, murder, and robbery.
Common crimes connected with jobs include:
- Assaulting a coworker
- Driving under the influence while on the clock
- Destroying company property on purpose
Violation of safety rules
If you have violated the safety rules of the company, the exact circumstances can affect where your unemployment benefits claim will be accepted.
Laid-off vs. fired vs. terminated
In almost all scenarios, being laid off means that you will qualify for unemployment benefits. This is because being laid off due to lack of work means you lost work with the company being at fault.
As long as you meet the other state-specific and work history requirements, you should be able to apply for benefits and financial support after being laid off.
An employer firing you means that the company deems you at fault. This may disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits, especially if you were fired for serious misconduct.
If you believe that you were wrongfully fired for something that was not your fault, you could dispute the case and potentially win unemployment benefits.
While termination is often used interchangeably with laid off or fired, it is actually slightly different. An employee who is under at-will employment can be terminated from their position at any time, for any reason, as long as the reason is not discriminatory.
Employer factors in unemployment claims
Employer protest and employee response
An employer may disagree with your claim for unemployment benefits, which will lead to them filing a protest with the unemployment agency. Common protest reasons include:
- Not agreeing over the type of separation (e.g. fired vs laid-off)
- Believing you were terminated for misconduct
Fortunately, you will have the opportunity to respond to the employer’s claims and protest. You can provide your version of events to the unemployment agency. It’s essential to truthfully and clearly present your case so that the unemployment office understands the situation from your viewpoint.
Documentation and evidence
Using helpful supportive documentation can go a long way in increasing your chances of obtaining unemployment benefits. Here are some key types of documentation and evidence:
- Proof of your job search efforts
- Records of communication with your previous employer
- Relevant agreements (e.g. employment contracts and letters)
Uncommon employer practices impacting claims
Certain termination practices could affect your unemployment benefits eligibility. Here are some common ones:
- Sudden mass layoffs
- Company downsizing
- Company restructuring
Generally, as long as you were not found at fault for the termination of your job, you should be able to apply for unemployment benefits without the company disputing your claim.
Employers are expected to provide accurate and truthful information to the unemployment agency. The agency may also request further clarification and documentation from your previous employer when you apply for benefits. If you believe the employer is providing false or inaccurate information, you have the right to appeal decisions regarding your unemployment claim.
The state you work in can greatly affect unemployment laws, causing a significant variance in eligibility criteria. It is always a good idea to check on a state level whether you are allowed to collect unemployment benefits. Some states have specific actions or circumstances that disqualify people from receiving benefits.
Different states may use different methods for calculating how much income support you can obtain. Some states use a percentage of your previous wages, whereas others choose a fixed amount as cash benefits.
Different program duration
Unemployment benefits do not last forever. How long you can receive unemployment benefits depends on the state regulations and unemployment agency policies.
In certain cases, being fired or quitting won’t prevent you from collecting unemployment compensation benefits. If you lost your job but you were not at fault or had good cause for quitting, you might still be able to obtain unemployment benefits.
When can I collect unemployment when I quit?
Here are some common examples where your unemployment benefits claim should be accepted.
- You quit due to racial or sexual discrimination
- You underwent harassment at the job
- Your job involved unsafe working conditions
- The employer failed to pay you properly
- The job aggravated or caused disability/physical illness
- The employer required geographic relocation, which resulted in transportation issues
Alternative options for the unemployed
Bouncing back from losing your job can be a challenging, stressful process. Other than unemployment benefits, here are some alternative avenues you might be able to pursue.
A severance package includes various benefits, provided by an employer to a worker who is being terminated or laid off from the company. Severance packages can offer valuable financial assistance as an individual faces the challenging transitional period following unemployment.
A severance package typically includes:
- A lump sum severance pay
- Temporary continuation of salary or benefits
- Temporarily extended health insurance coverage
- Outline of how your stock options and retirement benefits might be affected
- Job search assistance or outplacement services
- Release of claims (waives your right to sue the company for mentioned issues)
- Non-compete or non-disclosure agreements
Job assistance programs
Getting by with your daily expenses and monthly bills can be daunting. You may be eligible for job assistance programs that can help you better manage your period of unemployment.
Expert tips for transitioning after job loss
Everyone deals with job loss differently. Here are some effective tips that could help improve your experience as you move on to the next chapter in your career.
Give yourself time:
Becoming unemployed, especially unexpectedly, can be both emotionally and financially challenging. It’s important to give yourself time to grieve the loss of your job before you jump into the process of the job search. That way you can be better prepared for finding a new job.
Assess your finances and budget:
Without your typical income stream, you will need to create a budget and adjust to your new situation. Evaluate your expenditures and needs, and see how long your resources and savings will last. This may be the time to use your emergency savings.
Know your rights and benefits:
Depending on your eligibility and reason for termination, you might be eligible for a severance package, unemployment benefits, or other benefits and programs. Make sure you thoroughly research your company and local policies to understand your rights and situation.
Upskill and stay relevant:
After losing your job, it might be a good opportunity to acquire new skills relevant to the industry in which you are seeking a new job. As you update your resume, consider taking online courses, attending workshops, and obtaining certifications to boost your marketability and relevance.
It’s understandable to feel weighed down after losing your job, making each job application rejection even harder to deal with. However, the key to finding a new position is to stick to your goals. Learn from the rejections and feedback so you can continuously refine your skills, resume, and approach until you find a suitable job.
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