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.


Can I Sue for Wrongful Termination?

Today’s guest post comes from attorney Nicholas Feinstein, writing on the topic of wrongful termination.  If you’ve been fired and were wondering about any potential legal recourse, read on.   Thanks. – Milton


Getting canned from a job rarely leaves a person feeling warm and fuzzy. If you have been let go from a job, feelings of anger and resentment are inevitable, especially when the termination seems unjustified. Although many members of the recently-fired would like to exact retribution on their former employers, only a few actually have a legal claim for wrongful termination.


To maintain a successful claim of wrongful termination in the U.S., you must demonstrate that you were let go for an unlawful reason under a specific state or federal law, which may include anti-discrimination or whistleblower statutes. If you prevail, you could be reinstated in your old position (but do you really want to go back?) or receive money damages (that’s more like it).


At-will employment


If you have just been fired, it is important to remember that in every state other than Montana, employment is “at-will,” meaning that, generally speaking, an employee can be fired for any reason or for no reason at all. (If you’re one of the 0.3% of Americans that lives in Montana, you are in luck: you can only be fired for good cause.) The big exception to the at-will rule is that an employee cannot be let go for illegal reasons.


Employment contracts


When an employment contract is in place, the at-will rule no longer applies. In that case, whether the termination was proper or not depends on the terms of the agreement. Employment contracts vary widely- some allow for termination for any reason (much like at-will employment), while others stipulate that the employer can only sever the relationship for particular reasons that are specified in the contract.


If you have been let go prior to the end of your employment contract and the termination doesn’t jive with the terms you agreed to, you may have a case for breach of contract. Although not technically a wrongful termination lawsuit, claiming breach of an employment contract offers many of the same remedies.


When is termination unlawful: Discrimination


Discrimination, in its many forms, is one of the most common reasons people have for bringing wrongful termination lawsuits. Anti-discrimination statutes exist on both federal and state levels, with federal and state protections often overlapping with each other.


Nationally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. This also covers discrimination based on pregnancy and childbirth. Note, however, that Title VII does not apply to most employers with 15 or fewer employees.


Additionally, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act protects workers over 40 years old, and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against disabled employees. Employment discrimination is also illegal when based on military service, history of bankruptcy, or citizenship status.


Each individual state also has its own set of anti-discrimination laws that apply in the employment context, many of which complement or overlap with the federal protections listed above. Certain states extend discrimination protection to additional groups. For example, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and political affiliation are all covered by anti-discrimination statutes in at least a few states.


Not surprisingly, California appears to be the most employee-friendly state with regard to discrimination, with laws on the books protecting all of the above characteristics, as well as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of medical condition and military discharge status.


When is termination unlawful: Retaliation


Another broad category of wrongful termination lawsuits is retaliatory firings. Various federal and state laws allow employees to engage in certain activities without fear of losing their jobs. For example, an employee may not be penalized for exercising their right to take up to 12 weeks of maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is also illegal for an employer to retaliate against workers who join or vote for a union.


There are also laws in place to protect employees from retaliation when they report problems at work. Therefore, an employee may not be fired or otherwise punished for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace. An employer also cannot terminate an employee for reporting or participating in an investigation into discrimination, nor can they fire someone for making a workers’ compensation claim or reporting an OSHA violation.


A subset of anti-retaliation laws is bolstered by so-called “whistleblower” statutes, which provide added protection for employees who blow the whistle on their employers for fraud, workplace safety violations, environmental misconduct, and other illegal activities. Some whistleblower statutes include additional incentives for reporting wrongdoing, including in some cases a share in the government’s damages in the event of a successful prosecution.


The above are just several examples of activities that are protected by anti-retaliation laws nationwide. Each state has its own retaliation laws in addition to the federal statutes.


A note about constructive discharge


All of the above examples of wrongful termination include one obvious requirement: you must have been terminated from the job. In other words, you can’t sue for wrongful termination if you quit or resigned.


The exception to this rule occurs when your employer makes your work conditions so intolerable that you are effectively forced to quit. This is called “constructive discharge” and may take the form of a drastic and unwanted change in work schedule or location, a significant demotion or reduction in salary or benefits, or anything else that makes the work environment unbearable.


The particular elements of constructive discharge are defined differently in each state, but the effect is more or less the same: if your resignation is found to be a constructive discharge, it is as if you have been fired. Any claims you may have for wrongful termination are still on the table, even though you technically left your employer voluntarily.


A final word on wrongful termination


Although hurt feelings are not enough to maintain a successful lawsuit, there are certainly situations where getting fired is not just upsetting, but also illegal. However, many individuals choose not to pursue wrongful termination claims, often due to the belief that they will be blacklisted in their chosen field, or because they would rather just move on to the next job. Either way, it is important to be aware of your options after getting let go.