Can I Get Unemployment If I Was Fired?

You may be eligible for unemployment benefits after being fired; it depends on your state’s law and on why you lost your job.

Unemployment benefits are available to those who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. (This is just one of several eligibility requirements; for information on the others, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment?) If you were laid off or lost your job for financial reasons (because the company had to downsize or cut costs because of the recession, for example), you will meet this eligibility requirement. But what if you were fired?

Your eligibility for benefits after being fired depends on your state’s law. Applicants will not be eligible for unemployment benefits if they were fired for serious misconduct relating to the job. States vary in how they define misconduct, however.

Drugs and Alcohol

About half the states specifically disqualify applicants who are fired for reasons relating to drugs and alcohol. Some states disqualify employees who are fired for intoxication or reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Some states disqualify employees who are fired for failing a drug or alcohol test or for refusing to take one. Even if a state’s unemployment laws don’t specifically address alcohol and drugs, the state’s unemployment agency may consider alcohol and drug-related problems on the job to be included in the definition of misconduct that will render an applicant ineligible to collect unemployment.

Other Types of Misconduct

In a number of states, the misconduct for which an employee was fired has to be quite serious to render the employee ineligible for unemployment compensation. An employee who is fired for poor performance, lacking the necessary skills for the job, or simply being a poor fit, will still be able to collect unemployment in these states. An employee who intentionally acts against the employer’s interests, on the other hand, will not be eligible for benefits. Other states are more strict, finding that an employee who is fired for violating a workplace policy or rule, or even for performance problems, won’t be eligible to collect benefits.

In most states, these types of misconduct will likely render an employee ineligible for benefits:

  • Criminal actions. An employee who engages in criminal behavior relating to the job — such as driving for work while under the influence, assaulting a customer or coworker, or selling illegal drugs at work — will not be eligible to receive benefits.
  • Theft. An employee who steals money, trade secrets, or other valuable property from the company, or who steals from coworkers or customers, will not be eligible for benefits.
  • Safety violations. An employee who is fired for intentionally violating an important safety rule probably won’t be eligible for benefits.
  • Excessive unexcused absences. Failing to show up for work repeatedly is likely to be seen as intentional misconduct, not the kind of mistake or inability to meet standards that some states will excuse.

To find out how your state defines misconduct — and which reasons for getting fired will disqualify you from receiving benefits — contact your state’s unemployment agency. For links to each state’s agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.

If There’s a Dispute

Each state has its own procedures for handling disagreements between employers and employees, including disputes about why an applicant is fired. If your employer claims you were fired for misconduct and should not be eligible for benefits, there will likely be a hearing, in person or by phone, at which you and your employer can present your arguments. Before this hearing, find out your state’s rules on which reasons for firing will disqualify you from receiving benefits. Gather any available evidence about the real reasons you were fired, as well as evidence that the employer’s stated reason for firing you is incorrect. For example, an employee who was told he was fired for poor performance, but whose employer claims he was fired for theft, might present a copy of his termination letter, stating “We are sorry to have to let you go, but your performance has failed to live up to our standards.”

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