Posted on 27 August 2007

RE: Unemployment Insurance – Dancing With the Devil

Jason Alba of Jibber Jobber posed a question today about Unemployment Insurance:

A long-time reader has recently lost their job after just a couple of months (and before that, a long bout with unemployment). Here’s a question from her:

I was let go (fired) because of “unsatisfactory work performance? according to the employer. I am trying to fill out the unemployment form asking my side of why I was let go. I am wondering what I can put on the form that is the truth, but will help me get unemployment.

My Response:Dear Unsatisfactory:

First, a little blah, blah:

The unemployment insurance (UI) program is a joint federal and state program that was established in 1935 to provide an essential safety net for workers who become involuntarily unemployed. Federal law and regulations provide broad guidelines and some minimum standards that the states must meet. Beyond that, the states are free to set the important parameters of their UI programs—eligibility requirements, benefit levels, and financing. As a result, the unemployment insurance programs vary across all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The unemployment insurance program is financed through state and federal payroll taxes paid by employers. Economic Policy Inst.

There’s a few things you need to be really honest with yourself about, and just know that–nothing personal–the company who fired you is going to fight tooth-and-nail to keep you from getting unemployment, but if you deserve and need and choose to use UI, you should not be ashamed to ask and petition, etc.

What you should say on the application that’s “true” is exactly what you said here… maybe something like, “I was fired involuntarily, for not being able to do a job that was impossible to do thanks to extended overtime and impossible work-hours I never agreed to. The company set me up to fail, then fired me when I did exactly what they planned.”

Then, you need to be able to back those things up. Get very clear on your sources–WHO told you WHAT and WHEN, and then get your story clear and stick to it.

If the company has documentation that you agreed to the hours they worked you, and that they at least one time have documentation that they worked with you to change your behavior (if you were, indeed, unsatisfactory) and you committed to their plan to fix the “problem” and then still failed — well, you’ve got about a snowball’s chance…

But if they never coached you, tried to work with you… but simply summarily terminated you because you simply “didn’t get enough done”, then you have serious grounds for a claim — ESPECIALLY if the bar of “enough” was raised so high that no sane, normal person could do it.

It is worth it to note that if you were regularly working OVERTIME, and you were a salary worker (where you don’t GET overtime), and you were earning less than approximately $50K a year (it varies from state to state), or were working in a job where there are no deeply specialized skills (as in something you MUST have a degree or certificate to do.. like Engineering or being a CPA) and you were not a manager, the company is suddenly on some shaky legal ground and could be liable not only for unemployment, but also BACK PAY for overtime.

GREY AREA: The grey area here is if they DID coach you and work with you to change your performance, and you didn’t change… but you file the claim anyway hoping they didn’t DOCUMENT that coaching well… then it’s up to your conscience if you should pursue it.

SUMMARY: Get clear on the facts of what happened. Emotions aside, what did they DO and NOT DO, and what did you DO and NOT DO. If they truly set the bar too high, didn’t warn you about being fired, and expected you to work more hours than reasonable… you have a solid claim on your hands.

Also, don’t let this get in between you and your NEW job. getting caught up in things like this can really sour your attitude and really make interviewing a nightmare… don’t let ‘em smell the blood!

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