Gettin fired for the dole
July 23, 2014 10:45 PM   Subscribe

How common is it for American workers to deliberately get fired in order to collect on unemployment insurance?
posted by willie11 to Work & Money (27 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Almost impossible. Being fired "for cause" means you don't get unemployment. Only being fired without cause (reduction in force, redundancy, re-org, layoffs, etc) gets you unemployment.

Workplace injuries are the more common form of benefit fraud in the US.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:50 PM on July 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

I did something sort of like this, but it wasn't fraud.

The company I worked for got into serious financial trouble last year - to the point where I knew that layoffs were going to happen. It was just inevitable. I also wanted to go back to school, and even had the date set in mind of when I was going to give my notice. During one of the talks with my boss, I explained the situation, told him that I knew the company was in trouble, and if it came to layoffs in the department, to lay me off first. So then I could go to school.

He took me up on that one week later. I filed for UI, and got a better job with a much easier commute, and for a quarter I worked and went to school simultaneously. When I was in school full time, I didn't collect UI; you must be both actively looking for work and be able to take a job if you get one. If you're in school, the assumption is that you won't be able to do that.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:10 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can't get fired and then collect unemployment, at least not in any state that I've ever lived in. If you get truly "fired", as in "you, in particular, are awful and we're no longer going to employ you", then you can't collect unemployment. You are up shit creek without a paddle. Same in most places if you resign voluntarily. UI is reserved for people whose unemployment is not of their own doing, at least in theory.

I've heard anecdotally of people who were supposedly on the cusp of getting fired — the company was building a "performance case" against them, etc. — and somehow spun it into a "layoff" that allowed them to claim UI benefits. I've never known anyone personally to do that, though, so it could be the HR equivalent of cow-tipping for all I know. Seems like it would be a very case by case thing.

Accepting a layoff voluntarily is fairly common, in contrast (as spinifex23 did). In a large enough organization there are always going to be people who are thinking of leaving for their own reasons, so if you need to drop headcount a bit you can always ask around and see if anyone volunteers to be RIFed. They get unemployment benefits which they wouldn't otherwise be eligible for (if they'd just resigned) and the company doesn't have to involuntarily terminate anyone, which is good for morale. Everyone wins.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:45 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

"For cause" is actually a little more stringent than just "for some reason other than we don't have money to pay you"--there are some kinds of "you aren't good enough at this" that you can successfully argue. But it would be very hard to just deliberately underperform in some fashion that would reliably get you laid off but not qualify as cause. Also, it's a big risk--you only get so much time on unemployment, for example, so if you have a really hard time finding a new job when you decide to go back to work, you're in trouble. And your unemployment eligibility at the next job is based on your income in the recent past, so if you spent much of that time out of work, you could find a new job, get more legitimately laid off, and find yourself without benefits you sorely need.

Basically, just a combination of factors make this a really dumb plan, so it doesn't happen much.
posted by Sequence at 11:51 PM on July 23, 2014

I know a shit ton of people who work jobs that are basically seasonal, like construction or field tech jobs, where the pattern is to work X months per year and collect unemployment the rest of the year every year forever. That's different than getting fired for cause, but there is also an element of fishiness in that everyone knows the jobs are seasonal and yet the unemployment thing gets treated like a person who was working at a factory and got downsized, and the next year the exact same thing happens.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:58 PM on July 23, 2014 [7 favorites]

I don't think people do this very often, but I don't have access to statistics.

I was actually fired and still got unemployment, so it's not as simple as some people are saying above. My former employer contested the claim saying that I quit because I previously requested a 35 hour work week, but ultimately I got unemployment.

I was fired because I wasn't a great fit for the company, but there weren't any disciplinary or deliberate underperformance issues. When I talked with the investigator, I just told them that I was trying to do a good job (which was true) and that I requested shorter hours because the rest of the company was on a 4-10 schedule and I couldn't focus that long, so I was making a lot of mistakes.

Being on unemployment actually totally sucked as well, so I'm not sure that there's a strong incentive for anyone to try to fake being bad at their job just to get a few months of benefits.
posted by ohisee at 12:00 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can't get fired and then collect unemployment, at least not in any state that I've ever lived in. If you get truly "fired", as in "you, in particular, are awful and we're no longer going to employ you", then you can't collect unemployment.

This gets repeated in every thread about unemployment in the U.S. and it's just factually wrong. "For cause" is a major violation like not showing up for a week without notice, assaulting a co-worker or boss, etc. "You, in particular, are awful and we're no longer going to employ you" is a golden example of something that would 100% guarantee you to get Unemployment in any state. If it's just their opinion that you're doing a bad job, that's not cause.

There is a line to be walked when attempting a George Costanza move like this, but it can be done. Most big companies do not bother to contest unemployment claims anyway. Even if it's not strictly "on purpose," it definitely happens that people slack off because they wouldn't exactly mind being let go.

As mentioned above, there's also the case of contract/temporary work which, as long as you're on a W2 and not a true independent contractor, will make you eligible when the job ends. And big companies who are more interested in preserving a good image have been known to ask for volunteers for layoffs in exchange for generous severance deals.

All that said, even the maximum Unemployment award in any US state is not exactly going to have you living like a millionaire ($450/wk in CA last I checked). Most people don't look forward to living off that, but if you know you have to leave a job anyway, it's preferable to quitting and getting nothing.*

*It is possible to quit and still get Unemployment if you can prove "Constructive Termination" - that the company made conditions so intolerable that you were forced to leave - but this is very difficult to prove.

posted by drjimmy11 at 12:12 AM on July 24, 2014 [29 favorites]

You can't get fired and then collect unemployment, at least not in any state that I've ever lived in. If you get truly "fired", as in "you, in particular, are awful and we're no longer going to employ you", then you can't collect unemployment. You are up shit creek without a paddle. Same in most places if you resign voluntarily.

Not completely true. In Illinois, you are ineligible for unemployment if you were fired for misconduct or for committing a felony or theft on the job. Not being a good fit for the job/making too many mistakes/having a boss who doesn't like you and wants to bring in their own person, etc. does not count as misconduct. They also do an investigation if you state that you were fired, and the burden of proof is much more so on the employer. (You also can't collect if you're out of work due to a labor dispute.)

There are also some circumstances in which you can get unemployment if you resign: if the resignation is due to sexual harassment (or another good reason related to the job), domestic violence, health issues, or if you're accompanying a spouse in the military. It's pretty much a case-by-case basis.

That said, deliberately trying to get fired in order to be on unemployment is a bad plan. You're only eligible for 26 weeks in any given benefit year, you're getting less than half of what you made on the job (and the amount is capped), and you have to be available for work and looking for work while you're unemployed. If you go on vacation for a week, you are not eligible to collect for that week. You have to apply for a certain number of jobs per week, and the state can ask you to provide proof that you've done so. You can be disqualified if you can't prove that you've done this if asked, or if you turn down a suitable job offer.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:22 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

That's different than getting fired for cause, but there is also an element of fishiness in that everyone knows the jobs are seasonal and yet the unemployment thing gets treated like a person who was working at a factory and got downsized, and the next year the exact same thing happens.

That's really not fishy at all. It's built into the rates those companies pay for unemployment tax, which includes temporary layoffs as well as permanent ones. Companies that do a lot of seasonal layoffs pay through the nose, because the rates are based on how many of your employees end up making claims. Factories actually used to do temporarily layoffs all the time, I guess at some point that started getting less common.
posted by Sequence at 3:21 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I can't imagine anyone doing this. Benefits are based upon your pay. So if you're lucky you might get about 25%-35% of what you were making. For example the CAP in Georgia is $330 per week! There are no other intrinsic benefits in conjunction with unemployment. No health insurance, no rent support, nothing. Just a check every week to keep the wolf from the door. BTW, that's taxed!

That's not to say that you couldn't sign up for other benefits, but that's really a full-time job in and of itself.

So just like people on welfare don't have more babies to get more money (that would be CRAZYPANTS) it would be the rare individual who would say, "I'm going to chuck my job with benefits to live off of a pittance."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:04 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was once fired in Illinois for "poor performance" and was able to collect unemployment, so you do have to check your state's laws. I didn't deliberately set out to get fired, but I did deliberately underperform, because it was a horrible job that I had no motivation to do.

Most companies take a while to fire underperformers and have policies like a certain number of warnings, a written performance plan, etc. Trying to deliberately get fired and still be eligible for unemployment is enough of a time investment, for so little reward, that you might as well just look for another job instead.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:35 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a lawyer and one of my practice areas is unemployment benefits. I have a hard time believing that this is common at all. There might be a few people who attempt it, thinking it's a good idea. But in reality, as others have said, the benefits are tiny and temporary, you might not get them at all, and you have to go through some amount of hassle to collect them.

Unemployment laws vary state-by-state. In some states, you can't collect 26 weeks of benefits but something much lower. In general, it's harder to get benefits if a former employee quits than if that employee is discharged. The easiest way to get benefits for a former employee is through being discharged for no fault of his or her own.

What counts as "fault" or "cause" or "misconduct" also varies by state. If an employee attempts to get fired by doing something awful and outrageous, it might be a lot harder to qualify for benefits. If an employee just slacks off for a long time to get fired, then the former employee might have a chance at benefits unless the employer is diligent about documenting the employee's actions and providing written warnings and opportunities to improve. This is all general information, and varies tremendously from state to state. This isn't legal advice.

After the employee gets fired, the employer might oppose a former employee receiving benefits, because it's the last employer who will have to top up its account at the unemployment trust fund with any benefits that the former employee uses. If the employer opposes the payment of benefits to the former employee, this will delay the process for a while as a decision-maker in the government gathers information about the former employee's eligibility. Then either the former employee or last employer could appeal that decision. In my experience, the appeals are super-short compared to many other kinds of proceedings (taking 6-8 weeks and about an hour of time for the actual hearing). But if a person's goal is easy money, the appeals process will contribute to making that goal improbable.
posted by Handstand Devil at 5:05 AM on July 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

In many states you can collect unemployment if you are fired for performance reasons. In Maryland, for example, you are disqualified if fired for misconduct, which would be an integrity issue, job abandonment, etc. Just being bad at your job does not disqualify you. The reasoning of several answers above, there, is faulty.fore

However, it's likely to be extremely uncommon, as the appeals process does drag out, so it's not easy money, and it's also a significant reduction in pay. Plus, you lose certain benefits, and have to result to COBRA for health care.

Perhaps a young person who isn't too worried about benefits and is otherwised supported by their parents or student loans might be in a situation to make such a play, but it would still be a very long con for very little reward.
posted by spaltavian at 5:27 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mod note: I appreciate if folks just want the information in this thread to be accurate, of course. But this needs not to turn into a discussion, so in that light it would be ideal if we could avoid addressing other answers just to correct them. And to be clear: anyone can answer any question on Ask Metafilter, but this one does seem to be all but screaming for some kind of firm data if any is available. Again, anyone can answer, and personal experiences are absolutely fine, but please try to focus on the question as presented is all. Sorry to be a stickler for protocol here. Thanks guys.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane (staff) at 5:49 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have hired people who solely came to work so that they could qualify for unemployment compensation when I fired them for unexcused absences.
posted by prk60091 at 5:52 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can't get fired and then collect unemployment, at least not in any state that I've ever lived in. If you get truly "fired", as in "you, in particular, are awful and we're no longer going to employ you", then you can't collect unemployment.

Just chiming in to point out this is false. I was fired from a job after a couple of years because "it didn't seem to be a good fit". It was all very friendly, as far as firings go. The owner of the company fired me personally, gave me the name of a recruiter, wished me the best, shook my hand, etc. I started collecting unemployment insurance right away. Then my employer tried to get all the unemployment money back and suddenly here were all these things I did wrong! We went before a judge and I got to keep the money I had collected (I wasn't collecting anymore at that point).

That said, I don't think it is common to deliberately get fired to try this but certainly people are advised to not just quit if it looks like they are going to get fired/company is in trouble.
posted by mikepop at 6:00 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Based on the screeners I had to take at temp agencies, it is a thing to take jobs with the intent of collecting worker's compensation- claiming an injury happened at work when it didn't or not following safety procedures and getting injured (these agencies did placements for factory-type positions as well as offices). Lots of questions about that mixed in with the usual ones to see if you'll admit you use drugs or steal. This was Oregon, other states may have less favorable WC laws.
posted by momus_window at 6:12 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can get fired and collect unemployment. I did it in Pennsylvania. I wasn't a dick (just lazy and incompetent) so the company didn't feel like punishing me. They were friendly, I was friendly, it just didn't work out. Collected my check every two weeks!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:29 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're looking in the wrong place. Unemployment coverage is hard to get onto. As noted above, you have to leave your job in just the right way and then you have to create a continuous paper trail of looking for a new job. If you're doing it because you're lazy, being on unemployment is too much like work. It's also time limited, and it's not much money. It's a small percentage of what you were making so if you're working poor, unemployment isn't really going to help much. And if you're better off, it's capped so it still isn't going to help much. I actually was laid off once, and I figured, "okay, unemployment will fix this until I find another job." I looked into how much I could actually get and all the hoops I'd have to jump through to get it, and just never bothered. Which I figure is pretty much the intention.

What Americans use as the dole is disability.
posted by Naberius at 6:31 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I found myself in a "quit or be fired" situation last fall after a messy leadership transition at work, and I chose to be fired - not because of unemployment but because I would not have received severance pay if I'd quit. I was in an at-will position, which allows for a kind of no-fault termination at the supervisor's discretion, but I still ran into a hiccup when trying to collect unemployment. The state requested my personnel file from my employer and interpreted from its contents that I had been terminated for cause. I had to go through a phone deposition with the unemployment office and spent three weeks waiting for their decision. My ex-employer said if I were turned down and appealed the decision, they would not contest my appeal, but thankfully that wasn't necessary because I was approved. (All my sobbing during the deposition must have been compelling evidence in my favor.)

Then later I had to meet with another unemployment office employee to go over my job search record, to prove that I was actually looking for work. During that meeting, I was scolded for keeping my records in a spreadsheet rather then using the form that was provided (which didn't actually leave enough room for my activities.) This meeting is now a requirement of anyone who files for unemployment in NC because our governor views anyone who claims unemployment to be a lazy parasite.

In short, it's a fair amount of work and a heavy dose of indignity to claim $350 max a week.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:52 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Recently "let go" here in New York State. The hoops to jump through to get unemployment are pretty high - it took me two whole days to get things started, including filing a claim online and following up through their phone system (HORRIBLE! UTTERLY TERRIBLE AWFUL EXPERIENCE!!!) This includes dropped calls, leaving my number and waiting waiting waiting to get callbacks, etc. There was additional follow up required through yet another phone number which made me provide financial information day by day for all the different jobs I had for the past year. Coming from salaried jobs I had no idea how to calculate my pay per day or what days I had off, so it required me to dig through a lot of old paperwork, timesheets, emails, and do a lot of math to figure it all out.

Since I wasn't laid off because of lack of work but rather for performance issues, my claims have been pending for the past month and I haven't received any money whatsoever. This required additional phone calls to find out what's going on - did my direct deposit not work? Did I miss a step in the elaborate filing process? The website told me nothing and the only information I was given on the site and after all my phone calls was that my case was pending and that I just needed to wait. (Let me tell you when you see your bank account dwindling as the days go by, it is really hard to just wait.) I did however receive a call last week from a man asking questions why I was let go to corroborate my story with my employer's story. Since the stories we told were similar I was told there will be no further hold on my case and my claims should be processed. I still have yet to receive any benefits and if nothing comes through soon I will probably have to follow up yet again with more phone calls through their horrible god awful want-to-hang-myself phone system.

So yeah! Getting laid off to make 3/4 less than I was (or nothing, as the case is right now) is something I had in mind all along! Sure, I was miserable at my old job. Yes, I wanted out. Yes, I'm glad he fired me and yes, I'm glad I can still claim unemployment. Thankfully I had enough money from previous employment to generate the UI, and thankfully poor performance is still covered by UI. Poor performance is a debatable hot button issue, and it makes sense that they hold the claim and verify it with all parties involved. Would I try to make this happen again on purpose? Hell no. It's a last resort sort of thing and they are making the hoops higher and the obstacle course more elaborate than ever.

Let's not forget the additional stress of having to put student loans on deferment and forbearance (this took another day of work, online claims, faxing forms, phone calls, etc.), stressing about how the credit card is going to get paid next month, or how on earth I'm going to be able to afford to eat when they haven't deposited any UI money into my account yet. Maybe people with less debts would be all about the "free" money (not really free, it's a federal tax that all employers pay) but I don't really know that many Americans that can handle that kind of drastic pay cut with the sort of financial demands that paying rent/mortgage/loans/food/etc can bring.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 7:42 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here is a study/essay from the St Louis Federal Reserve Bank on unemployment insurance fraud. Quits represented 7% of fraud cases and fired-for-cause represented 13%. "Overpayment due to quits is small relative to the overpayment due to concealed earnings."

It should also be noted that in many instances employers agree to not oppose an unemployment claim if the employee resigns in lieu of termination, generally waiving other claims the employee may have against the employer in the process (this kind of bargaining is prohibited in certain jurisdictions and may have federal tax consequences).
posted by melissasaurus at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I recently heard of someone doing this, essentially to get a government funded paternity leave. He had an agreement with his boss to hire him back after the leave. Made sense to me. The parental leave setup in the USA is terrible.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:23 AM on July 24, 2014

Based on my experience- Lots. An I love how everyone says you can't get unemployment if you were fired! As a business owner, I can tell you that (in the state of Floriduh) you can threaten your supervisors with bodily harm, destroy equiptment, get fired for cause and still, depending on the state employee reviewing the case, get unemployment. In fact, out of the 7 employees we have fired over the last few years, every single one of them who applied got unemployment.

3 of them expressly asked/prodded us to fire them so that they could collect UE.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:32 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

The company I worked for got into serious financial trouble last year - to the point where I knew that layoffs were going to happen. It was just inevitable.

This is how I left MetaFilter. I went from being a full-timer here so having a super part time job elsewhere. And the difference in what I was getting paid means that I can collect unemployment. And it's a huge massive hassle and I am constantly threatened with being sent to jail every week when I file if I am not being honest about contacting three jobs per week looking for work (in order to continue to collect UI. I could stop looking for work if I wanted to and then not collect UI). Which is fine as far as I am concerned, but my anecdata is that the system as it works in Vermont is actually pretty well geared towards getting you back into the workforce, not letting you collect a check for not working. I was also lucky in that mathowie didn't challenge my filing for UI (I knew he wouldn't) but in some states this is definitely a thing.

I also know people in situations like the ones Dip Flash describes in places where seasonal work is common and there were special rules for me because one of the part time jobs I had was at a school (and there are rules about whether the ten month school year counts as "two months off" for the purposes of UI). I could see the appeal. Over the long term, the amount of money I get in UI isn't a ton of money, but it would allow me to pay my rent and bills (just barely) for a few months to get on my feet if it was money I absolutely needed. I'd personally much prefer working, but I can see it both ways, how people might not. You can read an awful lot of stats about unemployment insurance in Vermont at this page. If you look at the data since 1977 you can really see the seasonal ebb and flow of claims over the months of the year.
posted by jessamyn at 11:28 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

I live in Maine, where the maximum benefit is around 200/week. Not worth it.
posted by theora55 at 1:32 PM on July 24, 2014

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