Laid Off? You May Have to Fight for Unemployment Benefits
You probably know that if you are fired, you can't collect unemployment from the government. Although qualifications can vary from state to state, generally, only people who are laid off from their jobs will qualify for unemployment benefits. But did you know that, even if you are laid off, your employer can challenge your right to receive benefits?
Sneaky employers have always done this. It's not obvious at first why any business would want to prevent an employee caught up in massive job lay-offs from feeding their families until they find another job. After all, the money is coming from the government, right? (See also: Help! I Lost My Job!)
Well, yes and no. The money that is used to pay unemployment benefits comes from unemployment insurance fees that employers pay into (similar to other government taxes). Whenever an employer lays off a bunch of workers, and these workers file for unemployment benefits with the government, the employer's unemployment insurance rates go up. It's still cheaper than paying the actual salaries of the laid off employees, but many employers who are trying to cut costs are willing to do anything to prevent rising insurance rates of any kind.
The way to do this is to challenge the laid-off workers' rights to collect benefits by claiming that the employee was fired for poor performance, rather than laid off due to the company's financial difficulties. If a worker is let go for performance-based reasons, the employer doesn't have to pay additional unemployment insurance for them. So, companies are increasingly telling the government that laid-off workers were actually fired for negligence, poor performance, or as a recent laid-off employee from Verizon was accused, "detour and frolic."
The bad news is that employer disputes of unemployment benefits claims are up — the good news is that employers aren't only any more successful in their disputes than normal. They only win roughly 1/3 of their challenges, a figure that has remained consistent since the 1980s.
If your employer challenges your right to unemployment benefits, you will likely have to get involved in some sort of mediation, either in court or through a similar process that involves a small hearing. How this works varies from state to state, but here's a handy map for finding your state agency that deals with unemployment benefits.
You can't do anything to prevent your employer from being a jerk, so if you know you might be caught up in layoffs in the coming months, here is what you can do to prepare for battle:
1. Collect, print, and save all examples of superiors or coworkers praising your work or worth ethic. Emails, written notes, yearly performance reviews, letters of commendation — anything to prove that you were a valuable employee will be helpful in making your case to your state unemployment agency. If you can collect information that proves what your position was within your company, be it an employee contract, formal written job offer, or employee roster with job titles. On a similar note, be aware of any potential rebukes that your employer could mention if they should appeal your unemployment claim.
2. When you are notified of the layoffs, do your best to be gracious. No one likes losing their job, but responding angrily will not help you. It's best to leave without burning any bridges.
3. File for unemployment benefits as soon as you are eligible. If you are quick enough, you might stay ahead of the pack and get approved for benefits before your employer gets their wits about them.
4. When you do get laid off, ask your employer to state the reasons for your dismissal in writing. Some employers only provide a verbal apology and a box to pack your stuff in, but it never hurts to ask for a more formal letter of dismissal.
5. If you are a part of a massive layoff at a large company, the kind of layoffs that warrant articles in the news media, clip and keep articles that mention the layoffs. If you were let go along with a few hundred or thousand other employees, you may have a better chance of proving that your lack of unemployment was not due to any negligence on your behalf, but rather, was a function of a lousy economy.
6. Be honest. Don't lie about your compensation, work history, or position. Any inconsistencies in your application that your employer can dispute will only hurt your case.
7. If you can, ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation either before or immediately after you are let go.
8. Even though it's tiresome to hear, get your resume updated as soon as you can. Be sure to actively seek employment in a broad range of industries. Most unemployment benefits require that you constantly search for a new job. Keep a copy (electronic or printed) of every job application you submit.
9. Remember — unemployment benefits really aren't that great, and will run out fairly quickly. If you CAN find another job with decent pay and benefits, you should consider taking it. After all, finding a new job when you are already employed is easier than finding a new job when you are jobless.
Have you had to fight for your unemployment benefits when your former employer challenged your filing? What did you do to prove your case?