I got fired for performance problems; can I still collect unemployment?

Question

I was just fired from my job as a restaurant server. I’d been having some problems at work, and customers complained that I was too slow or that I brought them the wrong orders. I tried really hard to improve, but I was overwhelmed on busy nights and just couldn’t keep up. After six months there, my boss told me that I wasn’t “a good fit” for the job and fired me. Can I still get unemployment even though I was fired because of my performance?

Answer

Just because you were fired for performance issues doesn’t mean that you’re out of luck. Each state has its own eligibility rules for determining when a worker can collect unemployment benefits. In most states, employees who are fired for routine or run-of-the mill performance issues, such as being a “bad fit,” lacking the necessary skills, or not meeting the company’s standards are usually still eligible for benefits.

In a majority of states, the employee must have engaged in some sort of work-related misconduct to be barred from receiving unemployment. The type of misconduct that will result in disqualification varies from state to state. Some states require “serious” misconduct, which includes committing a crime on the job, failing a drug or alcohol test, or violating safety rules. Other states include lesser offenses, such as being excessively late or absent, or being openly insubordinate and defiant at work.

In your case, it sounds like you were fired because you couldn’t keep up with the fast pace of restaurant work, despite your best efforts. Because this probably doesn’t rise to the level of misconduct, chances are good that you’ll be able to recover unemployment benefits, as long as you meet all of your state’s other eligibility requirements. For more information on eligibility and filing for unemployment, see Nolo’s Collecting Unemployment Benefits page.

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