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Can I Collect Unemployment Benefits If I Was Fired?

By Maurie Backman - Sep 18, 2019 at 5:48AM

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The quick answer: It depends.

Sometimes, good workers get let go for reasons outside their control. For example, if your company experiences financial problems, it may have to lay off some of its staff. Similarly, if things shift within your company so that your department is eliminated, you could find yourself out of a job, even though you didn't do anything wrong.

The good news is that if you do find yourself out of work due to such circumstances, you may be entitled to unemployment benefits. Though those benefits won't replace your entire paycheck, they will provide some income for a number of months while you look for another job.

But what happens when you're fired for cause -- meaning, you were terminated because you either violated a company rule or did a poor job? Are you still entitled to unemployment benefits, or will your income truly take a turn for the non-existent?

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IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Being fired is bad news

There are several negative consequences that can result from being fired. For one thing, you may have a hard time finding a new job when you have to tell employers that you were let go for cause (and don't even think about lying your way out of that situation, because chances are, prospective employers will find out). Additionally, when you're fired due to your own poor performance or misconduct, you're generally not eligible for severance -- something laid-off workers often get.

Furthermore, getting fired can kill your chances of collecting unemployment benefits -- but not always. Generally speaking, you can't collect unemployment if you were fired due to serious misconduct, like stealing from your employer, lying about your hours, or doing something that clearly violates the rules set forth by your company. However, if you were fired due to poor performance, the laws are a little hazier.

Whether you'll be eligible for unemployment benefits is determined on a state by state basis. This means that what's considered serious misconduct in one state may not hold true for another. Therefore, if you're let go for cause, and you file for unemployment benefits but have your claim denied, it could pay to speak to an attorney who specializes in employment law for guidance, assuming you didn't do something blatantly wrong that would bar you from getting benefits.

For example, if you were fired because you failed a drug test or assaulted a colleague, your chances of collecting unemployment benefits are pretty slim. But if you were fired for not meeting your manager's expectations, you have a much stronger case, even if your initial claim for unemployment benefits is, in fact, denied.

Another thing to keep in mind is that depending on why you got fired for cause, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits after a certain waiting period. But again, the rules depend on your state.

The takeaway? Do your best not to get fired. It's within your power to not violate your company's rules, or do something unethical or illegal that's likely to result in your termination. Furthermore, if you fear you're at risk of being fired due to poor performance on the job, document your efforts to improve in writing so that you have a leg to stand on.

At the same time, always aim to have emergency savings on hand so that if you are let go from your job, you'll have a means of paying the bills. Unemployment benefits don't always kick in right away, and they'll generally replace just a fraction of your paycheck, so even if you're entitled to them, they're not necessary an all-encompassing solution for covering your expenses while you look for work.

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