What are Unemployment Benefits?
Unemployment benefits are offered through California’s Employment Development Department (called the “EDD”). Employers pay a tax to the EDD for every one of their employees. That tax covers, in part, unemployment insurance benefits paid to eligible terminated employees. The purpose of the tax is to provide the employee with some compensation while unemployed.
How much do benefits pay?
Benefits do not pay as much as you earned at your old job. Benefits range from $50.00 per week to $1,129.00 per week. It all depends on the amount paid while employed. High-wage earners get paid more than minimum wage earners. Benefits last up to one year. Benefits are now paid to the employee through an individual debit card at Bank of America, not by check.
Can I get benefits if I was fired “for cause”?
In most cases, yes. Unemployment benefits are not paid to employees fired for “misconduct.” However, the legal definition of “misconduct” is narrow. Misconduct is more similar to deliberate and obvious wrongdoing. Examples may include drinking on the job, falsifying records, stealing from an employer, fighting with other employees, and insubordination. Ordinary poor performance, employee mistakes, and most “for cause” terminations do not justify a denial ofbenefits.
As an illustration, Arnie is a construction worker for Wave City Construction in Santa Cruz. Arnie is assigned the job of digging post holes for a residential fencing job. Arnie is clearly and repeatedly told by his boss, Gilbert, to not break any underground water and gas pipes. Arnie is even provided a metal detector to locate the pipes in advance. Unfortunately, Arnie ruptures a water line. The customer is very upset and terminates its large contract with Wave City Construction. Arnie truthfully admits to his mistake, but Gilbert fires Arnie on the spot.
Was Arnie fired for cause? You bet. Did Arnie make a very expensive mistake? Sure. Did Arnie deserve to get fired? Probably. However, Arnie would still be eligible for unemployment benefits because his poor performance does not sink to the level of misconduct.
What does the employee need to do to receive and keep getting benefits?
First, an employee must apply for benefits, which can be done online. Then an employee must actively look for a new job and be “able and available” to accept work. An employee’s job search efforts are tracked by the EDD through a form provided by the EDD that needs to be completed and signed every week.
It is critical that employees honestly and accurately document their efforts to find a new job and that they timely return any information to the EDD.
If an employee locates “suitable employment” in his or her customary line of work, the employment benefits cease.
What should I do if my benefits are denied?
Even though most employees are eligible to receive benefits, benefits are sometimes denied by EDD. There are typically three reasons behind the denial of benefits. First, the EDD is the perhaps the largest, busiest, and most unruly bureaucracy in California. The first line employees at EDD will often spend just a few minutes on a case before deciding to approve or deny benefits. The employees at EDD can make mistakes leading to a denial of benefits.
Second, vindictive or cheap employers will often contest an employee’s right to benefits. Some employers will provide false information to the EDD about poor performance or misconduct to cause a denial of benefits. Employers also have a financial incentive to contest your benefits.
Third, the denial could have been legitimate. For example, benefits could be properly denied if an employee voluntarily quits their job.
If benefits are denied, you should immediately contact an employment law attorney to help you. In the process of answering your questions about unemployment benefits, an employment law attorney may be able to identify valuable claims for wrongful termination or unpaid overtime that you never knew you had.
Employees have thirty days to appeal a denial of benefits. Employees will then have an opportunity to present their case in-person to an administrative law judge in a mini-trial. The trial is held in an office-like environment at one of the many EDD facilities, including one in Salinas (for Monterey-based employees) and one in San Jose (for Santa Cruz-based employees).
Are you a Monterey, Salinas, San Benito, or Santa Cruz County employee who has been terminated? Contact the Law Office of Brian Mathias for a consultation.