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Can a furloughed employee in California get unemployment benefits? Ask the lawyer

If you are laid off, your employment is terminated. You are probably eligible for unemployment benefits, assuming your employment termination is not for cause.

Q: I am going to be furloughed for a while. Just what is “furloughed”? And, can I get unemployment benefits?

-L.A., Torrance

Ron Sokol

A: If you are laid off, your employment is terminated. You are probably eligible for unemployment benefits, assuming your employment termination is not for cause (see the question and answer below). Being placed on furlough is akin to an unpaid leave of absence. You retain your job and benefits associated with it (other than salary), but you stop working for a period of time. An employee on furlough in California is eligible to receive unemployment benefits.

Q: COVID-19 has now resulted in a lot of us being let go. My situation is a bit different because I was told I was being fired “for cause.” Can they now challenge my right to unemployment benefits?

-B.W., San Pedro

A: Workers in California generally are “at will.” This signifies your job can be ended for any reason (as long as the reason is not illegal). If you are let go from an at-will position, you are likely eligible for unemployment benefits. If you are fired for cause, however, you may not be eligible. For cause means the employer fired you based on serious misconduct. Examples include violation of the employer’s code of conduct, committing violence, harassing a co-worker, or failing an alcohol or drug test. Once you apply for unemployment benefits, the former employer may challenge your application. An administrative hearing is held at which the employer has to prove your termination was indeed based on genuine misconduct. If successful, your benefits will be denied.

Resource

California’s Labor and Work Force Development Agency provides useful guidance online concerning employer and worker issues related to COVID-19.  In your web browser, type:  “labor.ca.gov.”

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at RonSEsq@aol.com or write to him at Ask the Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 400 Continental Blvd, Suite 600, El Segundo, CA, 90245.

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