I was recently let go from my job. I’m filing for unemployment, but I hear from my former co-workers that my old boss may try to “fight it.” Does he have any control over whether I get benefits? And why should he care if the state wants to cut me a check? —Some Guy at the Bar
Not all Dr. Know questions come to me by email—some are asked in conversations over drinks, some are texted to me by acquaintances, some are shouted at me through car windows by strangers on the freeway. (Not sure why they were asking, but I learned to drive in Illinois.*) All these forms are acceptable.
That said, answers delivered in such settings are not guaranteed. If you’re reading this, Guy, please substitute the following for any in-person suggestions I may have made involving flamethrowers and capitalist pigs.
Oregon’s system of “at will” employment draws a distinction between “for cause” termination—where it’s felt you could have avoided getting fired if you’d wanted to—and “no cause” termination, which includes things like layoffs over which the employee has no control.
Employees let go without cause usually collect benefits; those terminated for cause often don’t. (This is why you can’t just poop on the boss’s desk every day until you get fired and then go home and wait for your check.) As you’re now learning, employers and workers don’t always agree on what constitutes “cause,” and it often takes an administrative law hearing to separate the temporary layoffs from the desk-pooping incidents.
Employees want to believe they’re innocent because it means they deserve weekly checks, while employers like to think workers had it coming because they don’t want to see their insurance rates go up.
You see, just as we don’t want to incentivize workers to get fired, we don’t want employers shedding payroll anytime they have a tough week, so places with a lot of no-cause terminations have to pay higher unemployment insurance premiums to the state.
This is probably why your boss cares what happens. It’s like when you wreck your car and try to prove it was the other guy’s fault so your car insurance doesn’t go up, except you weren’t both drunk at the time of the incident (unless you work in the restaurant industry).
*Also, the examiner who issued my first driver’s license was later fired for giving a license to a blind guy. True story!
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.