Workplace Rights

Weekly (7/13/20)

Topic of the Week  General Information About Unemployment Insurance

1. What is the difference between the "willful misconduct" and the "just cause" standards?
2. I was fired without any warning. Does this mean I should apply for unemployment benefits?
3. How soon may I start collecting benefits after I apply?

What is the difference between the "willful misconduct" and the "just cause" standards?

Under the "willful misconduct" standard, an employee who is a poor performer and made many costly mistakes at work would still be entitled to benefits, since his inability to perform the job is not willful misconduct. Under the "just cause" standard, which looks at whether the employer had a good reason to terminate an employee, an employee's substandard work and errors would provide the employer with cause to fire the employee. Whether your state uses a "just cause" standard or the more lenient "willful misconduct" standard may have a bearing on whether you receive unemployment.

A "faultless" termination would involve a company that has downsized and eliminated the employee's position for economic reasons. In this scenario the employee did not do anything wrong, and there was no "just cause" for the termination. Although the employer may have had a valid business reason for its decision, the individual employee was not at fault and so is entitled to unemployment compensation.

Breaking company rules or violating company policy can constitute "willful misconduct" or just cause for termination. Doing personal business on company time, behaving rudely to a customer or client, or failure to show up for work without excuse can all be willful misconduct or just cause for termination.

Each case is different. Just because your employer cites some rule violation as the reason for your termination does not necessarily mean that you were fired for "cause" or misconduct, and that you won't be entitled to unemployment compensation. You have nothing to lose by filing for unemployment benefits and letting the state decide whether to pay your claim or not. You also have appeal rights if the claim is denied, as discussed below.

I was fired without any warning. Does this mean I should apply for unemployment benefits?

Yes. You are entitled to compensation if you lost your employment through no fault of your own. However, the states use different standards in determining fault. In many states, the employer will have to prove that an employee was engaged in willful misconduct during his or her employment. If it is shown that the employee engaged in willful misconduct, he or she will be deemed ineligible to receive benefits. In other states, an employer needs to show only that it had "just cause" for terminating an employee.

How soon may I start collecting benefits after I apply?

Under current law, all applicants for unemployment compensation must serve a "waiting week." Since you cannot get benefits for the first week of unemployment that occurs after you file for benefits, you should apply as soon as possible after your job ends--even if you are not certain of your eligibility. Depending on how long you worked before losing your job, you can then collect benefits for up to 26 weeks (which may be further extended under certain circumstances under federal law).

Sometimes, but not always, an employer will contest a terminated employee's eligibility for unemployment compensation. Whether you receive unemployment compensation depends on a number of factors.

Thought of the Week

"At issue is how to balance protecting businesses from lawsuits, while enabling justice for customers and workers who in a time of rapidly rising unemployment may not have the option of leaving their jobs for something safer."

–Associated Press

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Weekly Comic by Jerry King

Blog of the Week

Top Five News Headlines

    List of the Week

    from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


    • In 2019, there were 28.4 million foreign-born persons in the U.S. labor force, comprising 17.4 percent of the total.
    • Hispanics continued to account for nearly half of the foreign-born labor force in 2019, and Asians accounted for one-quarter. 
    • Foreign-born men were more likely to participate in the labor force than native-born men (78.0 percent compared with 67.4 percent).
    • Foreign-born workers were more likely than native-born workers to be employed in service occupations; natural resources, construction, and maintenance occupations; and production, transportation, and material moving occupations. 


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