Does Being Wrongfully Terminated Affect Unemployment Eligibility?

Today’s guest post comes courtesy of Steven I. Azizii, who reached out with this helpful information about wrongful termination and unemployment eligibility. California residents that wish to reach out with questions about wrongful termination can find Steven here. Thank you for your contribution, Steven!

Does Being Wrongfully Terminated Affect Unemployment Eligibility?

­A helpful guide by attorney Steven I. Azizi, partner at Miracle Mile Law Group, LLP.

Under CA law, meeting certain criteria could make you eligible for unemployment benefits. However, you must actively be looking for a job in order to get unemployment. Unemployment benefits help those who have been recently fired get through some of the toughest times. But what about if you were wrongfully terminated from your job and seeking unemployment benefits. A common question the lawyers here at Miracle Mile Law Group receive is how wrongful termination lawsuits affect eligibility for unemployment insurance. It’s a fair question to ask, and one this article will help answer.

What is Wrongful Termination?

California, like many other states, is considered an “at-will” employment state. This means you can be fired for almost any reason that is not illegal. If you were fired for an illegal reason, then you may have a case for wrongful termination. But what is considered an “illegal” reason?

Wrongful termination is an umbrella term for being fired for either a) a protected characteristic or b) a protected activity.

A protected characteristic includes your: age, race, religion, disability, marital status, gender, sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, among others. In order to be successful in proving this prong of a wrongful termination lawsuit, you have to show that a substantial motivating factor for your termination was based on one of these characteristics. You can do this by either direct evidence (words, texts, emails, etc.) or through indirect evidence (for example, an older employee is replaced by a younger and cheaper counterpart).

On the other hand, a protected activity includes reporting your employer over a violation of law they committed, taking a protected leave of absence, or reporting discrimination or harassment (whether it happened to you or someone else). These laws are also known as “whistleblower” statutes and regulations. They are designed to encourage workers to speak up about toxic, unsafe, and dangerous working conditions.

How Do I Qualify for Unemployment?

Employees who are out of a job do not automatically qualify for unemployment. You have to meet certain factors to receive the benefits:

  1. Your past wages must have met a certain minimum requirement during the last quarter in which you worked.
  2. Your termination cannot have been your fault. If you quit, it must have been for good reason.
  3. You must actively be on the job hunt.

If you think you meet these criteria, then you should file your claim as soon as your hours are reduced, or you lose your job. The longer you wait the less chances you have to receive benefits. You’ll need the following information to file a claim with the Employment Development Department (EDD):

  • Employer’s information: company name, address, and your boss’ name
  • Last date worked
  • Gross earnings
  • Standard Form 8 (this can be found online)
  • Citizenship status

If you are ready to file a claim, visit the EDD’s Unemployment Insurance application page to get started.

How Does Being Wrongfully Terminated Affect My Chances of Receiving Unemployment?

The usual circumstances in which people apply for unemployment benefits is when the employee gets a) laid off, b) quits, or c) is terminated/dismissed. However, it is common for wrongfully terminated employees to get denied for unemployment benefits.

If you were wrongfully terminated, then a court will likely find that you were terminated at no fault of your own. But what if you quit your job because of a hostile work environment, retaliation, or discrimination? That does not mean you automatically will be denied for unemployment.

In California, there’s a concept called “constructive discharge.” Constructive discharge essentially means that even though your dismissal was voluntary, the work conditions were so toxic that a reasonable person in your situation would have no other choice but to quit. Some examples of what could lead to a constructive discharge claim includes:

  • Your employer fails to reimburse you for travel expenses
  • An employee faces constant sexual harassment
  • A worker receives a text message from the employer saying, “there’s no room for you here, just quit.”
  • Messages between the employer and the employee showing that the employee’s boss is going to make his or her life a “living hell”

Another important thing to remember is that if you try to bring forward a constructive discharge claim, you must give the employer a chance to fix the problems.

A Final Note on Wrongful Termination and Unemployment – Know Your Rights

Being wrongfully terminated can lead to anxiety and depression due to the psychological harm that it inflicts. Things are not made easier when you get denied for unemployment benefits. First thing you should if you feel you were wrongfully terminated is to call an employment lawyer in your state and city before time runs out. Most of these lawyers offer free consultations and could help you get your life back together.