Qualification for Unemployment Benefits

People often believe that they are not entitled to unemployment benefits if they were not laid off from work. However, you may also qualify for unemployment benefits if you were fired for reasons other than misconduct or quit for good cause. This article is written to inform you of the rules regarding eligibility for unemployment benefits and when you should file an appeal if your application for unemployment benefits has been denied.   

What is Misconduct?

If you were fired for misconduct, you cannot obtain unemployment benefits. However, if you were fired for reasons that are not considered misconduct, you are eligible (as long as other criteria for qualification are met, such as hours worked, etc.). 

Misconduct is defined by RCW 50.04.294 as:

  1. Willful or wanton disregard of the rights, title, and interests of the employer or a coworker. Willful or wanton disregard includes:  
    • Insubordination showing a deliberate, willful, or purposeful refusal to follow the reasonable directions or instructions of your employer;
    • Repeated inexcusable tardiness;
    • Dishonesty, such as falsification of company records, theft, or lying;
    • Repeated and inexcusable absences; 
    • Deliberate acts that are illegal, provoke violence, or violate a collective bargaining agreement;
    • Violation of a company rule that you knew about; or
    • Violations of law during employment.
  2. Deliberate violation or disregard of reasonable standards of behavior; 
  3. Carelessness that causes or would likely cause your employer or a coworker serious bodily harm; or
  4. Carelessness showing an intentional or substantial disregard of the employer.

Gross misconduct is a criminal act committed during employment or conduct that demonstrates a flagrant disregard for your employer or coworkers. Obviously, if you are fired for gross misconduct, you are not eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Misconduct does not include inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure to perform, inadvertence or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion.

Applying these definitions, if you were fired for unsatisfactory performance, you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. However, if you were fired due to  bad or dangerous behavior, excessive absenteeism, or you engaged in theft or assault at work, you are disqualified and cannot receive unemployment benefits. 

What is Good Cause for Quitting?

If you had good cause for quitting your job, you are eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Pursuant to RCW 50.20.050, the following constitute good cause reasons for quitting your job: 

  • You accepted another job;
  • You have/had an illness or disability or due to the death, illness, or disability of a member of your immediate family;
  • Relocation for your spouse’s employment outside the existing labor market area; and you remained employed as long as was reasonable prior to the move;
  • To protect you or family members from domestic violence or stalking;
  • Your compensation was reduced by twenty-five percent or more;
  • Your usual hours were reduced by twenty-five percent or more;
  • The worksite changed and caused an increase in distance or difficulty of travel and the commute was greater than is customary in the labor market;
  • Worksite safety deteriorated, was reported to the employer, and was not corrected;
  • Illegal activities were reported to the employer and were not corrected; 
  • The work violates your religious convictions or sincere moral beliefs; or
  • You entered an apprenticeship program approved by the Washington state apprenticeship training council. 

What Should You Do if You Believe You Qualify for Unemployment Benefits?

If you have not applied for unemployment benefits because you did not believe you were eligible to receive them, you should apply as soon as possible. You may be able to receive benefits dating back to when you first became unemployed.  If you were denied benefits and are still within the appeal period, you should appeal the decision. If you are uncertain regarding whether you qualify for benefits or need legal representation for your appeal, give us a call. We have helped dozens of individuals qualify for benefits and/or successfully reversed the denial of their benefits on appeal.  When you call, please be prepared to provide relevant documentation relating to your termination of employment and application for unemployment benefits.  We look forward to speaking with you.