Fired from the Borg! Can I get Unemployment Insurance in MA?
January 29, 2009 7:17 PM   Subscribe

Can you get Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance if your fired for a "violation of company policy"?

I worked for a financial services company as a software engineer for over 7 years. I was just fired for a "violation of company policy" (I'll explain what happened below if your interested).

I was told to go home after speaking to company investigators about the "violation" and my boss took my company ID. The next day I got a phone call from my ex-boss who said I was terminated, because of a "violation of company policy". The boss (or now ex-boss) said the company would not contest it if I applied for unemployment insurance.

Yesterday I applied for unemployment, the very nice man on the phone said that someone would phone me in due course about why I was let go, and that they would contact the firm.

My main question is, will I get unemployment insurance for being fired? What recourse do I have if I can't get unemployment insurance?

What I did to get fired, and other trivia (and me ranting a bit):
I was using NX to connect to my Linux desktop at home so I could access my personal e-mail (which is blocked at work).

I started doing this late last year so I could help my sister co-ordinate arranging home-help for my elderly mother, and then my sister broke up with their parter of over 10 years and was devastated and I continued accessing my e-mail via NX to talk to and comfort her. There's a major time difference between us which is why I wasn't doing this after work hours (and Gmail mobile is too hard to use for long e-mails on a small phone).

When I was investigated I was asked did I know why I was there. I admitted to what I had done, and when asked if I knew it was a violation I said yes (I wasn't really sure if it was, but being confronted about it I think I said “yes” because otherwise I wouldn't be there). Unfortunately, I didn't tell the investigators (who were like CSI only nicer) about the mother & sister thing, I only said I was using it to communicate with my family in Ireland, and not why. Afterward I told my boss ... about the mother & sibling thing.

The investigators admitted that they didn't think I'd revealed any company secrets and so on, which I assumed was their primary concern.

On top of that, for 2008 I had a boss that I didn't get on with and ended up with a bad, very bad review for 2008. Before this my reviews were good, and my boss never complained about my work (he was moody and just very difficult to deal with, and treated everyone like servants). Things were looking up when I got assigned to a new manager (whom I respected) . But, then to be dumped like this; and no or little support (and 95% of my money in the 401K that's worth 50% what it was worth last year).

To be honest I'm kinda shitting myself; I'd worked there for over 7 years and thought I was a conscientious employee, maxed out my 401k into the company's 401K and now feel like I'm getting the shitty end of the stick.

Beside my unemployment insurance question, do I have any legal or non-legal recourse about my termination? (I doubt if I do, as I probably signed something when I was hired for just such a thing.) On top of that they'll be doing layoffs any day know (with a severance package), and I suspect I might have been picked to be laid-off (due to the bad review) and suspect this was another reason I was let go.

Any advise is appreciated, and for anyone suggesting a lawyer, I don't think I can afford a lawyer to fight a financial company with their hordes of legal staff.

Posted anon as being terminated and people knowing about it isn't good for one's career, and I'm rather mortified about the whole situation. And sorry for ranting a bit.

Please email me at my throwaway email if you require more info, or want to provide advise (off-forum that you don't want public):

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Long question, short answer:

Apply for unemployment. There's no cost to you if you're denied.

Ask an employment lawyer if you have recourse. You probably do, but it'll require a lawyer. You have zero chance to win against a company even if you are in the right without a lawyer. So, if you aren't willing to get a lawyer, you have no recourse regardless of the law.

As always, suing your employer carries the risk of being perceived as unloyal by potential future employers. Yes, that is also illegal. No, that doesn't stop companies from doing it.

Interestingly, this answer applies to most all employment questions. Maybe I should save it for future use.
posted by saeculorum at 7:43 PM on January 29, 2009

Since I didn't read the bit of your question where you said you have already applied for unemployment, here's a bonus answer:

If they don't contest the unemployment, why wouldn't you get it? It seems to me that they're already treating you pretty well - if they treat data security as well as they seem to, you should already have known not to do what you were doing. For all that, they've already offered to not contest unemployment, which is actually a cost to them since it increases their unemployment insurance rates. You're leaving the same way anyone who was laid off is leaving, so consider it as a lay-off if that makes you feel better.

Also, note that employment lawyers will offer to work for a contingency fee. Employment cases almost always award attorney fees. So, if the attorney thinks they can win, they'll do it because they're almost guaranteed to get paid by your ex-employer.
posted by saeculorum at 7:56 PM on January 29, 2009

The boss (or now ex-boss) said the company would not contest it if I applied for unemployment insurance.

If they don't contest it, that means you get it. The only ways I know of to not get it are the employer contesting it, or giving a really dumb answer to a question like "no, I'm not looking for work."
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:08 PM on January 29, 2009

Oh and I know the horse is already out of the barn, but if you happen to find yourself facing another dickish security policy like this:

Get a smartphone!!!!! Please. A blackberry or iphone will let you check your personal email while being completely, utterly off your company's network and equipment.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:10 PM on January 29, 2009

Is it possible to assume that everyone on MetaFilter is not a lawyer unless they state otherwise?

Since you said "financial services company," I'm going to assume this is a company subject to data retention and monitoring laws/rules. Therefore, the company policy you violated may be rather severe because they need to monitor all of the information coming into or going out of their network and that's the primary reason personal e-mail is blocked. Either way, using utilities to bypass firewall/policy restrictions is usually a Bad Thing(tm), regardless the reason though in this case your employer likely had these in place because getting slapped with a huge fine for failing to follow those laws isn't worth it.

I'm not saying you should be some uncaring automaton who exists solely for the working pleasure of your employers, but the people who pay you do have the expectation that their policies will be followed, even if you don't agree with or understand the reasoning. Therefore, you will probably have a shaky position for any employment claim, and the risk of that negativity following you (especially in "this economy," to use a catch-all scare tactic) for a few years might be too high a cost to bear. If your ex-employer isn't contesting unemployment, take the UI and move on.
posted by fireoyster at 8:35 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm a lawyer, but not yours, and I don't know the answer - call these folks:

and they can give you information for free (and potentially representation, if you are truly broke).
posted by moxiedoll at 8:39 PM on January 29, 2009

The boss (or now ex-boss) said the company would not contest it if I applied for unemployment insurance.

There's your answer.

BTW, roll your 401(k) balance into an IRA so you can make reallocation decisions without having to go through your ex-employer.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:14 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don't know the law in your state, but everything I know about unemployment insurance is that you don't get it if you were fired for cause. Is it possible that the company is saying they won't contest the unemployment, simply because they know it would never get to that point? That the unemployment office will say "you were fired for cause, that disqualifies you for benefits no matter what your company said"?

They could also be saying that if you choose to lie to the unemployment office and say you were laid off, they will back you up.
posted by gjc at 5:09 AM on January 30, 2009

From the Massachusetts DUA website:

Will I be able to collect UI benefits if I am fired?
Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151A, governs the unemployment insurance program. According to the law, you may be eligible if you were fired for poor performance. However, if your employer is able to show that you were fired for deliberate misconduct or violation of a company rule, you may be disqualified.

You were fired for cause and will not be eligible for unemployment insurance as determined by state law. Sorry.
posted by briank at 6:28 AM on January 30, 2009

You were fired for cause and will not be eligible for unemployment insurance as determined by state law. Sorry.

In practice, the only way MA would know this is by the employer contesting unemployment. Since the employer is not contesting unemployment, then the asker will very likely be eligible for unemployment insurance. Who knows what the "official" reason the employer decided on for his termination.
posted by Falconetti at 6:58 AM on January 30, 2009

Bostonian here.

Through friends/acquaintances, I've heard of HR at different companies "fire" someone, but file it as a layoff officially so they can collect. It's kind of a nicer gesture seen for longer term employees who screwed up and had to be terminated under company policy, but didn't fuck up severely as to have criminal charges pressed against them.

I've also known of people who were just fired, were not given the assurance of "we won't contest unemployment insurance" and still were able to collect. Don't ask me how or why, just one of the many nonsensical joys of Massachusetts.

Apply for it. They said they won't contest it. Worst case scenario, you are denied unemployment benefits. Best case scenario, you have an unemployment check.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:02 AM on January 30, 2009

You were fired for cause and will not be eligible for unemployment insurance as determined by state law. Sorry.

This is completely wrong. It ignores the words of the statute, applicable case law, and the burden of proof required by the employer. Please don't give armchair legal advice.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:27 AM on January 30, 2009

My experience working in HR (in Wisconsin) tells me that unemployment is a crazy, crazy system. We've fired employees with multiple attendance warnings who have gotten UI (court argued we couldn't prove they weren't sick when they were out of the office, despite a clear attendance policy) and fired employees with less 'evidence' that have been denied UI.

Apply for it and see what happens. My guess is if your boss isn't concerned that you divulged any company information, s/he may 'forget' to respond to the UI charge and you'll get your money. You lose nothing by applying and getting it denied. If you can prove that your non-work activities didn't occur on work time, you'll have a better shot of winning.

Also, chalk it up to a lesson learned that if you disagree with company policy, work to change it, change your actions or seek other employment.

Good luck!
posted by Twicketface at 9:59 AM on January 30, 2009

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