Can I Collect Unemployment If I'm Fired?

© The Balance 2018

Unemployment benefits exist to help protect workers in case they lose their job, through no fault of their own, so they can make ends meet until they find a new position. Depending on the circumstances and the state you worked in, you can collect unemployment if you are fired from your job.

Termination at Will

Most employees are employed at will, meaning that the employment agreement can be terminated at any time by either party. This means that, if you were fired because you weren’t a good fit for the job, your position was terminated because of company cutbacks, or for reasons like poor performance on the job or lack of skills, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If you decide to quit your job, however, you are unlikely to be eligible for unemployment benefits, although there are some special, extenuating circumstances that may apply.

Fired for Cause

When you are terminated for cause or misconduct, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits. Misconduct includes stealing, lying, failing a drug or alcohol test, falsifying records, deliberately violating company policy or rules, sexual harassment, and other serious actions related to your employment. Even conduct outside of the office, such as a problematic social media post on a personal account or committing a crime, can disqualify you from receiving unemployment benefits.

Keep in mind, being terminated for cause isn't the same as being fired for any cause. "Terminated for cause" refers to negative actions on the employee's part that warrant repercussions. Losing your job during a round of company-wide layoffs, for example, probably isn't the same as being terminated for cause, even though the termination was technically "caused" by company-wide layoffs.

In some states, being fired for misconduct bars you from receiving unemployment benefits permanently. In others, it only prevents you from receiving compensation for a limited period.

After Being Fired

Find out what your rights are when you are fired from your job. Your company may offer a severance package. You can also look into what other state programs you may qualify for to help your family while you look for work.

It’s a good idea to collect any documentation relating to your termination as well, and this is best done either before—if you suspect that you are at risk of termination—or immediately after you lose your job.

Emails, notes about meetings, phone messages, doctor’s notes, etc., can all act as supporting evidence you may need if your unemployment claim is denied.

If you have been fired from your job, and you are not sure whether you're eligible for unemployment benefits, check with your state unemployment office. In addition to verifying the cause of your termination, they can help to make sure you meet the minimum requirements for earnings and duration of employment for your application to be considered. They will help you claim unemployment benefits you are entitled to and explain the amount and length of coverage you should expect to receive.

How Does Unemployment Work?

Unemployment compensation receives the bulk of its funding through taxes paid by employers, and each state runs its own unemployment program. States have autonomy regarding who can receive unemployment benefits, for how long, and the amount of compensation.

Although unemployment compensation can be confusing, your state's unemployment website can help answer many of your questions.

For help in navigating the process, you can call your state's unemployment office. You will speak directly with an informed person who can help clarify requirements and get you the answers you need.

While You Receive Benefits

If you do meet all the various qualifications to receive unemployment, be aware that compensation comes with conditions. While you are receiving unemployment, you must be actively seeking a new job—and states can request proof of your job search. If you turn down a suitable position (that is, one that is reasonably on par with the responsibilities and salary of your previous roles), your unemployment benefits can be terminated. Also, during the Great Recession that bottomed out in 2009, many states changed their laws to prohibit receiving severance and unemployment benefits simultaneously.

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

When you have been fired from a job, you can file online for unemployment. It’s a good idea to get the paperwork for your claim in order as soon as possible after you receive notice of your termination. It can take time for your claim to be processed, and the sooner you file for benefits, the sooner a determination can be made as to your eligibility.

How to File an Appeal

If your claim is denied by the state unemployment department or contested by your employer, you have the right to appeal the decision. Make sure you collect all documentation related to your claim, as you will need to represent yourself in most cases.