Not everyone who is terminated from his or her job is entitled to unemployment benefits. Eligibility is based on a variety of factors, including the reason for termination. However, just because an employee’s termination was justified does not mean that that employee cannot receive unemployment benefits. The employer must still prove misconduct occurred in order to disqualify the employee from receiving benefits.
Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits
After being terminated, an employee must meet some basic requirements in order to qualify for unemployment benefits, such as a minimum term of employment prior to being let go and proof that the employee is actively looking for work. Eligibility can be affected by the reason that the employee was terminated, with some reasons disqualifying the employee from receiving benefits.
In most cases, an employee will still be eligible for unemployment benefits even if they were fired for poor work performance. While certain actions by the employee are sufficient to justify termination, it does not necessarily follow that the same reason disqualifies the employee for unemployment benefits.
Denial of Benefits: Misconduct
One disqualifying reason for termination is “misconduct.” While the exact definition of misconduct varies by state law, it usually requires that the employer proves that the employee’s actions were willful. This means that if an employee is fired for poor performance, they are still entitled to benefits as long as their poor performance was not intentional. Similarly, while poor attitude, personality conflicts with co-workers, or inability to perform the work are all valid reasons to terminate employment, termination for these reasons will not disqualify the employee from unemployment benefits.
Instead, misconduct requires intentional violation of employer policies, the law, or other specific acts. Some examples of behaviors that may disqualify an employee from benefits include insubordination, dishonesty/theft, drug possession/use, and workplace harassment.
It is important to note that the burden of proving misconduct rests on the employer. This means the employer must put up evidence to prove that the employee’s actions rose to the level of misconduct and that the actions were willful. It is important that you have an experienced unemployment attorney on your side to clearly and effectively present the facts and establish willful misconduct as required by law.
In response to the difficulty of meeting the previous “misconduct” standard, legislators were able to pass a new law,1 effective August 28, 2014, that lowered the threshold for misconduct as it applies to unemployment cases. Changes in the definition are as follows:
Previous law = misconduct required a “wanton or willful disregard” or either the interests of the employer or the standards the employer has for employee behavior, as well as a substantial and intentional disregard of their duties and obligations or deliberate violation of employer rules.
New law = misconduct includes any “knowing disregard” of the interests or standards of the employer, as well as a knowing disregard of duties and obligations or any violation of an employer’s rules, so long as the rule is reasonable and lawful.
In addition to lowering the general standard for misconduct, the law also sets out that the following acts will be considered to be misconduct:
- Violating a no-call, no-show rule
- Chronic tardiness
- Chronic absenteeism
- Absences that were not approved after a written warning
- Violating a state regulation that would result in employer sanctions
Note that an employee may commit such misconduct in or out of the workplace or even after work hours, so long as the conduct is somehow deemed to be “connected to work.”
Contact an Unemployment Attorney Today
Having the right attorney on your side is critical to success at unemployment hearings. If you are involved in an unemployment dispute with a discharged employee, contact an experienced attorney right away. The Law Offices of Kenneth P. Carp has the background necessary to ensure the best result possible. Call (636) 947-3600 today to schedule a free consultation.