Question: I was recently fired from my job. My manager was hired just a few months ago, and we never really got along. He told a couple of my coworkers that he needed to get rid of someone to make room to hire his niece, and sure enough she got my job the day after I was fired! This seems shady, but I was an at-will employee and I know they have the right to fire me whenever they want, even for a reason like this. The problem is, my manager wrote on my termination paperwork that I was fired "for cause," and said I had performance problems. This isn't true, and now I'm worried about applying for unemployment. Can they deny me unemployment benefits because he said he had cause to fire me?
Answer: Unemployment benefits are available to people who are out of work temporarily, through no fault of their own. Generally, as long as you have met your state's minimum earning requirements to qualify for unemployment, you'll be able to collect benefits if you are laid off or lose your job in a reduction-in-force or a downsizing.
If you are fired, you will still be able to collect benefits unless you were terminated for misconduct. Each state has its own definition of misconduct. Some allow workers to collect benefits unless they were fired for extremely serious actions, such as breaking the law or intentionally violating a duty to their employer. Other states disqualify workers for more minor offenses, such as violating an employer policy, as long as they were aware of the policy and the employer enforced it consistently.
In most states, however, you will not be disqualified for performance problems, for being a "poor fit," or for not having the skills or abilities required to do the job. Typically, state unemployment offices will assume that an employee who was fired is eligible for benefits, unless the employer shows that the employee should be disqualified. So, you will likely be eligible for benefits unless your employer takes the time and effort to show that your alleged "performance problems" were actually a form of misconduct -- and the unemployment office buys it. If your employer decides to contest your claim for benefits, you will have a chance to give your side of the story. And, if you lose the first round, you will have an opportunity to file an appeal.
To find out more about how your state defines misconduct, as well as the process for filing for benefits and appealing a denial of benefits, contact your state's unemployment office. You can find a list of links at State Unemployment Agencies.