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Unemployment Benefits After Being Fired

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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In some cases, an employee can collect unemployment after being fired. However, unemployment benefits are not available in all cases and sometimes being fired renders an employee ineligible for benefits. Individual state eligibility guidelines determine when an employee can receive unemployment and these guidelines may differ slightly from one jurisdiction to the next.

Eligibility Requirements for Unemployment

An employee must have worked long enough and/or made enough money in order to be eligible for unemployment after termination. The employee must also be able to work and actively seeking employment. Finally, eligibility will depend upon the reason the employee was terminated, as certain reasons for separation may disqualify him from receiving benefits. Regardless of the reason for leaving a position, an employee cannot receive unemployment benefits unless he has worked for the company for a certain length of time and/or made a certain amount of money while doing so. This rule is in place to protect employers, otherwise, an employer who hired an employee and determined within just a few days that it wasn't working out might become responsible for unemployment benefits.

State guidelines typically mandate that eligibility for benefits is determined by looking at an employee's earnings within the twelve months prior to the separation from the company. These twelve months are called the base period. The base period is generally divided up into designated calendar quarters. For instance, California defines one quarter as January, February, and March. April, May, and June are the next quarter, and so on throughout the year. In the state of California, one of the two ways an employee may establish eligibility is by proving that he earned at least $1,300 during one full quarter of the base period.

Another prerequisite to receiving unemployment benefits is that the employee is actively seeking work. Typically, this must be full time work although most states allow employees with a provable disability to obtain benefits as long as the employee is looking for part-time work. The last basic eligibility requirement is that the employee is unemployed or partially employed. Partially employed means the employee is working for limited hours and/or for a limited amount of money that falls below state-defined limits.

Reasons for Firing and Unemployment Benefits

When an employee meets basic eligibility requirements, his eligibility for unemployment benefits will depend upon the reason he was terminated or the reason he separated from the company. There are certain reasons for being fired or separating from the company that are considered disqualifying offenses. Other reasons may be considered non-disqualifying.

While the definition of disqualifying and non-disqualifying offenses can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, typically an employee who has been terminated because of willful misconduct or dishonesty may not collect benefits. However, if an employee has been fired for incompetence, unsatisfactory performance, or some other offense that was not deliberate, he will be permitted to receive unemployment. Further, if an employee has quit his job, he may still be eligible to receive benefits but only if he is able to prove he had good cause for leaving the position.

Misconduct and Unemployment Benefits

When an employee has allegedly been fired due to misconduct but seeks unemployment benefits, typically he may request a hearing in which the employer must prove the violation. Examples of violations or misconduct that could disqualify a claim for unemployment benefits include stealing from an employer, dishonesty or falsifying records, refusal to perform assigned work, insubordination, harassment of co-workers or clients, drug possession or conviction of a crime, fighting or sleeping on the job, or neglect that causes the employer to suffer financial loss or damage.

When an employer terminates an employee because of absences and alleges that this termination should disqualify him from a claim for unemployment benefits, the employer typically must prove that there was no good cause for the absence and/or that no notice was provided. The number of absences or the length of the absences may be a factor as well. For instance, in the state of Colorado, the employer must prove three or more separate instances of unexcused absences with no notice and/or no cause within the twelve months prior to the termination.

Non-Disqualifying Reasons for Termination

Although willful bad behavior or misconduct can disqualify an employee from receiving unemployment after being fired, other reasons for termination are considered non-disqualifying. Examples include incompetence, an inability to perform assigned work, or a lack of attention to work performed. Exercising bad judgment, experiencing personality clashes with management or co-workers, or having a bad attitude are all valid reasons to terminate an employee, but they are not willful acts of misconduct that disqualify the employee from receiving unemployment benefits.

This means that employees should not assume they will not be eligible for unemployment benefits because they were fired, and employers should not assume a termination-for-cause absolves them of responsibility to the employee. Instead, the reason for the termination and all surrounding circumstances should be taken into account by all involved parties in assessing the appropriateness of an unemployment benefits claim.

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