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Unemployment Insurance Benefits: When Do You Qualify?

 

With rates of unemployment in California hovering around 12%, issues regarding unemployment insurance come up frequently. The process for applying for unemployment insurance is generally easy, and applications can be filled out and processed online. There are many questions that come up in regards to how to apply, how much you can receive, and more. However, the focus of this blog is on who, exactly, is eligible to receive unemployment insurance. How does the Employment Development Department (EDD) decide who gets unemployment and who doesn’t? Unemployment benefits come from a variety of sources, including both federal and state statutes. Federal law governs the creation of unemployment benefits, but they are in turn administered and distributed by state-run agencies. In California, that agency is the EDD.

Clearly, the first step to receiving unemployment benefits is to be unemployed. This can loosely be defined as someone who is physically capable of working, actively looking for work, and ready to start a new job as soon as they find one. This can further be defined as someone who is completely jobless or working less than full time due to no fault of their own. If you’re not physically capable of working, you’d be more likely eligible for either workers' compensation or state disability insurance depending on the nature of your illness/injury.

Some people take these standards to mean that if they goofed on the job and were fired because of substandard performance (as opposed to job cuts due to budgeting issues by the company), they are ineligible for unemployment insurance. This isn’t exactly true. Even if an employer has a good reason for firing an employee, the EDD makes decisions on a case-by-case basis, and the employer has to convince the EDD that they laid off their employee for reasons amounting to “gross misconduct.

What exactly is “gross misconduct?” Showing up late here and there or putting in a sub-standard effort on the job is probably not enough to rise to this standard. “Gross misconduct” is more like stealing from the company, selling drugs at the workplace, assaulting a co-worker, or any behavior that is willful, destructive, extremely negligent (like accidentally burning your office building down), or flat-out illegal.

Remember – even if you’re not sure your conduct rises to the level of “gross misconduct,” it’s worth it to file a claim because the EDD, not your employer, makes the decision on a case-by-case basis. Even if your employer claims that your behavior was in fact “gross misconduct” and you get denied unemployment benefits, you have a right to appeal the denial through the state unemployment office.

Article written by Monica Baranovsky, Intern for Law Offices of Diana Maier.