So, you made a mistake and lost your job because of it. One of the consequences of being fired for misconduct is unemployment benefits may not be available to you while you look for another job. Many workers who are between jobs are eligible to receive a weekly payment. This financial safety net is a welcome asset for people who unexpectedly find themselves out of work, but there are lots of limits and red tape around unemployment benefits. If you were fired because of something you did, in many states you won't be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
In most cases, workers who are fired for misconduct are not eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
Understanding How Unemployment Works
All states have unemployment benefit programs. They're overseen by the federal government, but each state runs its own program and creates its own policies. Funding for these benefits comes from unemployment insurance (UI), which is part of the payroll tax that employers pay.
Unemployment benefits are designed to help American workers cover their bills while they're between jobs. Workers who lose their jobs and qualify for unemployment receive a weekly payment until they either find new jobs or meet their states' benefits limit. Each state allows recipients to draw unemployment benefits for only a certain number of weeks. The amount a worker receives each week is based on the state's policies and the amount of money the worker was earning before losing the job. Recipients typically receive anywhere from $200 to $700 per week.
These benefits aren't open to everyone. To qualify for unemployment, a worker must meet three criteria. He has to be actively looking for work. He must have earned a certain amount of money during what's called a "base period" before becoming unemployed, and he must have lost his job through no fault of his own. That's why getting unemployment may not be possible if you were fired because of misconduct.
How State Unemployment Rules Vary
Unemployment benefits are usually only available to people who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, but your state and the specifics of your misconduct matter because there are many nuances in state unemployment rules. The definition of misconduct even varies from state to state.
For example, in New York, you're not eligible for unemployment if you're fired for misconduct, and you won't be eligible in the future until you've found another job and earned a certain amount. However, just next door in New Jersey, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits if you're fired for simple misconduct like lateness or minor insubordination, but you're disqualified from receiving benefits for the week that the misconduct happened and for seven weeks afterward. In California, you're presumed to be innocent and eligible for unemployment unless your employer sends a written statement to the state's Employment Development Department contesting your claim. If your employer doesn't know or forgets to do that, you might get lucky and be able to claim unemployment benefits.
Anyone hoping to collect unemployment benefits should know that states differ in how long they allow a claimant to collect benefits. Most states allow an eligible worker to receive unemployment for up to 26 weeks. Montana allows workers to take up to 28 weeks of unemployment. Some states, including Michigan and South Carolina, provide only 20 weeks of UI benefits. Five states change their allowances depending on their current unemployment rates.
How to Seek Unemployment
If you meet the criteria for claiming unemployment, the process is often as simple as filling out an online application through your state's Department of Labor or equivalent department. The application asks for information about your previous employer, and the department contacts the employer to confirm the details. If you were fired for misconduct, the department will almost certainly find out and deny your claim. Before applying, consult with an employment lawyer who practices in your state.
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Introduction to Unemployment Insurance
- Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: Policy Basics: How Many Weeks of Unemployment Compensation Are Available?
- New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development: Chapter 2 Unemployment & Disability Insurance Benefits Section 2 - Claims & Benefits for Unemployment Insurance
- State of California Employment Development Department: Misconduct MC 5
- Business Insider: How Long Unemployment Benefits Last in Each State