Unemployment insurance is an important program that is designed to ensure that Californians who are unemployed or underemployed maintain financial stability. Employers pay into the system, and then employees who meet the eligibility requirements can file a claim if they are fired for no fault of their own.
In theory, employers should not contest valid unemployment claims. In reality, employers often contest these claims, both as a way to keep their tax rates low and to defend against wrongful termination claims.
If you have been wrongfully fired, then you may be eligible for unemployment.
What Are Unemployment Benefits?
In California, the Employment Development Department (EDD) administers the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program. Generally, if you are out of work or have had your hours reduced, then you may be eligible for UI benefits.
The UI program is funded by employers through an unemployment tax on up to $7,000 in wages paid to each employer. The tax rate varies based in part on the amount of benefits paid to former employees. For this reason, many employers aggressively fight unemployment claims.
To qualify for unemployment, you must have earned enough wages during the base period, which is a 12-month term that the EDD uses to see if you have worked enough to establish a claim. You must also be:
Totally or partially unemployed
Unemployed through no fault of your own
Physically able to work
Available for work
Ready and willing to accept work immediately
In other words, it isn’t enough to simply be unemployed or underemployed – you must also be ready, willing, and able to work. In most cases, you will also be required to register for CalJOBS and create an online resume.
There are several different types of unemployment claims, including regular unemployment, partial, and claims that are specific to certain types of employment. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance through the CARES Act.
Why Was My Unemployment Claim Denied?
After filing a claim, you will receive a notice from the EDD. If your claim is approved, you will receive a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award. If it is denied, then you will receive a Notice of Determination, which will explain why your claim was denied and provide information on the appeals process.
There are a number of reasons why your UI claim may be denied, such as:
You were fired for misconduct
You quit your job voluntarily, without good cause
You don’t meet the earnings requirement
You refused suitable work
In some cases, your employer may falsely claim that you either quit your job voluntarily, or that you were fired for misconduct — when you were actually wrongfully terminated.
Wrongful termination occurs when an employee is fired for either a protected characteristic (like race or religion) or a protected activity (such as taking leave or reporting discrimination or harassment). In some cases, a worker may be constructively discharged, which is when an employer creates or allows working conditions that are so intolerable that a reasonable person would feel that they had no choice but to quit.
What Can I Do If My Unemployment Was Denied After I Was Wrongfully Fired?
If you were wrongfully terminated, your employer may contest your unemployment claim. They may do so in order to gather more information about your side of the story, or to establish their own story and potential defense if you do file a wrongful termination lawsuit. For these reasons, it is important to consult with an Orange County employment lawyer as soon as possible after being wrongfully terminated or constructively discharged.
If your unemployment benefits claim is denied, you have 20 days to file an appeal with the EDD. You must file this appeal by mail to the address shown on the Notice of Determination. In the appeal, you will have an opportunity to briefly explain why you believe that you are entitled to benefits. An attorney can help you draft this appeal, especially if you have already retained an attorney for your wrongful termination claim.
Once your appeal is received, the EDD will review it and decide to grant benefits or to send the claim to the Office of Appeals. If the EDD confirms that you should receive benefits, then you don’t need to do anything else. Otherwise, the Office of Appeals will scheduled a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
At the hearing, the ALJ will ask questions, review documents, hear arguments from each party (or their attorney), and make a decision within a few weeks. If the decision is unfavorable, then you have 20 days to file an appeal with the Appeals Board. You can then appeal a decision of the Appeal Board’s decision to the California Superior Court.
Throughout the appeals process, you should continue to file weekly claims for unemployment and follow the unemployment rules (such as job seeking). If you win your appeal, then you will be entitled to receive benefits from the date that your application was granted.
In wrongful termination cases, an employer may pull in evidence from your unemployment claim to use in its defense, which is why it is critical to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after you are fired. Your lawyer will craft a comprehensive strategy to protect your rights and preserve your legal options.