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Unemployment benefits: can you still get them if you are fired?

With states imposing new restrictions more people are finding themselves out of work. Depending on why you lost your job you may be entitled to benefits.

With states imposing new restrictions more people are finding themselves out of work. Depending on why you lost your job you may be entitled to benefits.
Bryan WoolstonREUTERS

As the coronavirus continues to surge through the US many states are placing restrictions on businesses through limiting opening hours and capacity inside which will invariably lead to a new round of layoffs. The good news is that those people may be eligible to receive Unemployment Insurance if they have not used up all of their benefits. The bad news is that the expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act are set to expire before the end of the year.

Unemployment benefits vary from state to state and the requirements to collect those benefits. A general rule of thumb is that an employee must be out of work through no fault of their own to be able to collect unemployment benefits but there are caveats. Workers who lose their jobs in a layoff are clearly eligible for benefits, as are most employees who are fired for reasons other than serious misconduct.

An employee leaves their work voluntarily

Even employees who leave their job voluntarily may be able to collect benefits depending on the reason for quitting. If an employee does not have “good cause” for quitting then they are not eligible for unemployment, however “good cause” varies from state to state according to NOLO a legal advice website.

  • Constructive discharge: Is a form of wrongful termination. This happens when working conditions are intolerable for a reasonable individual in that situation. (e.g., the working conditions are dangerous and aren’t remedied, constant harassment, or an employee is asked to do something illegal.)
  • Medical reasons: Many states cover employees who quit because of an injury, illness or disability, but some states require that the condition is linked to the job.
  • Another job: An employee left for another firm job offer but between leaving a job and starting a new job the new job falls through.
  • Domestic violence: If an employee has to quit a job due to domestic violence, many states allow that person to collect unemployment.
  • To care for a family member: Some states allow individuals to collect benefits if they must take care of seriously ill family members but this varies from state to state.

Fired for serious misconduct

If employment is terminated for serious misconduct, generally speaking that individual would be ineligible for benefits either entirely or for a certain period of time known as a “disqualification period” according to NOLO a legal guidance website. The definition of misconduct can vary from state to state but the misconduct would need to be serious to make that individual ineligible for unemployment benefits.

  • Failing a drug or alcohol test: In some states even refusing to submit to testing may also disqualify an individual from getting unemployment benefits.
  • Theft: Stealing from the company or co-workers will likely invalidate a person to receive unemployment benefits.
  • Committing a crime: If an employee commits a crime connected with their job, they may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Violating safety rules: If an employee willfully or intentionally disregards company safety rules they will most likely not be eligible for unemployment benefits. If it is a simple mistake the individual may still be able to get unemployment benefits.

A person’s best bet is to check with their state unemployment insurance agency to find out more about his or her eligibility for unemployment benefits. Career One Stop site, sponsored by the federal Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, provides links and contact information for every state’s unemployment insurance agency.


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