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Unemployment Disqualifications

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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Unemployment disqualifications, factors disqualifying individuals from receiving unemployment benefits, can occur for a variety of reasons from having been terminated from employment for cause to classification as an independent contractor when you thought you were an employee. Individuals may also be disqualified from unemployment benefits while receiving benefit payments.

Disqualifying Factors: Employee Classification and Length of Employment

To be eligible for unemployment benefits in the first place, your employer must classify you as an employee, and not an independent contractor. Because independent contractors are technically self-employed, they are not eligible for state unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, an individual can determine whether they are an independent contractor or an employee by looking at his or her paycheck and tax information. Employees have taxes taken out of their paychecks, including social security and unemployment benefit taxes, while an independent contractors do not.  

An employee will also receive a W-2 at the end of the year for federal and state tax filing purposes, while an independent contractor receives a 1099. However, an employer does not get to label an individual an independent contractor arbitrarily or because they choose to do so. Certain criteria must be met in order to pay an individual as an independent contractor, and if it is found that an individual has been misclassified, the state may determine that he or she is eligible for unemployment benefits. If you believe that you have been misclassified, and as a result have been denied unemployment benefits, seek assistance from your state’s department of labor or an employment attorney.

Even if an individual is classified as an employee, he or she must work for their employer for a certain period of time in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. In most states this minimum period of time is one year. This means that if an employee is laid off after working for his new employer for only three months, he will most likely be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. However, this time period will vary by state and economic circumstances. For example, in a recession, some states will decrease these minimums so that employees may be eligible for benefits after a shorter period of time.

Circumstances of Job Loss

While many workers who are fired or laid off are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, there are some disqualifying factors that can render a person ineligible for receiving these payments. The exact circumstances in which unemployment payments will be approved or denied are set on a state level, not a national one, so there may be some differences depending on the location of the job loss. In most states, however, an employee will be disqualified from unemployment benefit eligibility if he or she is fired for misconduct, willful behavior, or other justifiable cause. Generally speaking, this means that if an employee engages in prohibited or illegal activity, violates company policy, or otherwise does something intentional that leads to being fired, he or she may be disqualified from receiving unemployment payments.

An employee will also be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits when he or she quits without good cause to quit. The precise definition of good cause varies by state. However, if an employee is forced to quit, or is “constructively discharged” because of illegal discrimination or other illegal action taken by the employer, this will generally be defined as good cause for quitting. However, most reasons for quitting will not qualify as good cause. Examples of such reasons include entering school, getting married, being involved in a labor dispute (i.e., strike), or simple job dissatisfaction.

In most states, being unable to work disqualifies an individual from receiving unemployment benefits. This is because unemployment benefits are paid to individuals on the condition that they look for new work. If an individual is completely unemployable, then he or she will be unable to meet this condition, and will therefore be disqualified from unemployment benefit eligibility.

Disqualification for Action Taken While Receiving Unemployment Benefits

As stated in the last section, unemployment benefits are paid out to individuals on the condition that they seek new employment. Simply put, if you are laid off, don’t expect to just be able to sit back and let the unemployment checks roll in! A state’s department of unemployment will expect an unemployed individual to be on a continuous hunt for new work during the entire time he or she is receiving benefits. Further, the individual will be expected to document the job search through claim forms provided by the unemployment department.

If an individual seeks out work and then refuses a suitable job offer, this too may disqualify the individual from receiving further unemployment benefits. Finally, any false information given on any paperwork filed with the state unemployment department, including claim forms, will also disqualify an individual from receiving unemployment benefits.

How to Fight Denial of Unemployment Benefits

If you believe that you have been wrongfully denied state unemployment benefits, you should contact an employment attorney. All persons have the right to appeal the denial of benefits to the state unemployment agency. An unemployment attorney can explain your rights and help determine your best chances of a successful appeal based on the facts of your case.

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