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Can You Get Unemployment If You Get Fired?

A man looks dejected and sad as he slumps over his box of office stuff after being fired from his job.

If you’re wondering Can you get unemployment if you get fired? you’re not alone. In fact, getting fired can happen to the best of us. Whether you’re entitled to unemployment benefits after being terminated depends in large part on the reason for your firing. We’ll discuss how unemployment benefits work, the difference between being laid off and being fired, and whether you can get benefits if you were fired for performance reasons.

How Do Unemployment Benefits Work?

Unemployment benefits are a joint state and federal stopgap solution that provides short-term payments to unemployed workers looking for a new job. State law determines whether, how much, and for how long a prior employee can receive benefits by looking at payments and hours worked during a “base period” of employment. The benefits program provides 26 weeks of federal payments, with some states matching, exceeding, or even providing fewer weeks of payments than the federal portion.

Who Qualifies For Unemployment Benefits?

Unemployment benefits are available to those who are temporarily unemployed, through no fault of their own. Qualification for benefits primarily hinges on why the employee was let go, which begs the question: Can you get unemployment if you get fired? Not typically, but it depends.

While the basic structure of unemployment generally stays the same from state to state, each state sets its own eligibility requirements, benefits, and filing procedures. For example, according the the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA), you must satisfy the following three eligibility requirements to receive payments:

  • You are not at fault for your termination
  • You must have been paid a minimum amount of wages
  • You must be able and actively seeking employment

Unemployment Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for unemployment benefits in the state of your residence, you must:

  • Be unemployed or working part-time
  • Have worked in the state you’re applying for during the past 12-18 months
  • Be legally eligible to work
  • Be available for work
  • Have earned a minimum amount of wages as determined by your state’s guidelines
  • Actively seek full-time employment every week you collect benefits

Can You Get Unemployment If You Were Fired for Performance Reasons?

The answer to this question depends on the state in which you live and the specific circumstances of your firing. Generally speaking, if you were fired for poor performance, you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits either entirely or for a short time (disqualification period). What defines “poor performance” varies from state to state.

Common performance-based scenarios rendering an individual ineligible for unemployment benefits include:

  • Theft. Any employee fired for stealing from the business in question or from coworkers is ineligible
  • Positive drug or alcohol test. In most states, failing a drug or alcohol test or refusing to take the test disqualifies you
  • Violating safety protocols. Employees who make a careless mistake may still be eligible for benefits, but employees who intentionally go against safety protocols may be disqualified
  • Excessive absenteeism. Employees who often don’t show up for their scheduled shifts may be ineligible
  • Breaking the law. Employees who commit crimes on the job, like sexually assaulting a coworker or destroying company property, can be disqualified

What Are the Rights of Fired Employees?

Can you get unemployment if you were fired but have reason to believe it was an unlawful termination? Usually yes, if it was in fact an unlawful firing. But, it may require legal action. It’s important to know that all employees have certain protections under the law.

Because employment is typically ‘at will,’ employers can terminate employees at any time for any legally defensible reason. If, however, an employee believes the basis of the termination was discriminatory or retaliatory, they can contest the termination by filing a wrongful termination claim.

Finally, employees who are fired may be entitled to severance pay or continuation of their health insurance coverage.

Other rights include:

  • Receipt of the final paycheck
  • Advance notification before the closing of a business or a mass layoff

Understanding the rights of fired employees can help to ensure that they are treated fairly and receive the compensation to which they are entitled.

Can Employers Contest an Unemployment Claim?

Generally, employers can contest unemployment claims if they have grounds to believe that the claimant is not eligible for benefits. For example, if an employer believes that an employee was fired for misconduct, they may contest the claim on those grounds. Employers may also contest claims if they believe that the employee quit voluntarily or is still working part-time for the company.

However, if you were ‘constructively terminated,’ meaning you were intentionally forced out by the actions or decisions of your employer, they may not be able to contest your claim. Simply put, you’re alleging wrongful termination in such an instance because you were left with no other decision than to quit.

What Is the Difference Between Being Laid Off and Being Fired?

The key difference between being laid off vs. fired is ‘fault.’ If you’re fired, you’re found at fault. If you’re laid off, the company is found at fault. Most layoffs occur when companies must cut costs, reduce staffing, or due to other reasons such as mergers and acquisitions.

Still Unsure Whether You Are Eligible for Unemployment Benefits? Speak to a Professional Today

Many factors can impact an unemployment benefits decision. If you’re still wondering, Can you get unemployment if you were fired? speak to an expert today for answers.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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