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Your Rights to Unemployment Benefits

During his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama made it a point to address Congress' failure to renew an emergency aid program that expired on December 28. The "Emergency Unemployment Compensation" program was passed in 2008 to help laid-off workers deal with the recession. Normally, states and the federal government would work together to provide workers with a fraction of their salary... 

During his 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama made it a point to address Congress' failure to renew an emergency aid program that expired on December 28. The "Emergency Unemployment Compensation" program was passed in 2008 to help laid-off workers deal with the recession. Normally, states and the federal government would work together to provide workers with a fraction of their salary prior to being laid off. Starting in 2008, the federal government agreed to pick up an extra 13 to 20 weeks of "extended benefits" and added additional benefits to make it easier for states and workers to receive benefits.

But how exactly do you go about applying for unemployment benefits? What happens if your former employer disputes your right to receive these benefits? How do you protect yourself?

Claims for unemployment insurance benefits should be initiated through the Missouri Division of Employment Security, which is a part of the Department of Labor & Industrial Relations (the DOL). The DOL even provides an online claims filing process for laid-off workers. You may qualify for unemployment benefits if: (1) You lose your job through no fault of your own OR quit for a valid reason related to the work or the employer; (2) You earn at least $2,250 (at least $1,500 during one of the calendar quarters, and at least $750 during the remainder of the year) from an insured employer during your base period, or earn at least $19,500 during two of the four quarters.

After filing a claim for benefits, your employer may challenge your right to receive benefits, which could delay your receipt of benefits by 4-6 weeks. Some of the reasons an employer may challenge your right to receive benefits may include that you: (1) Quit or resigned; (2) Were fired; (3) Were suspended; and/or (4) Are on a leave of absence. If the Division determines you were discharged because of "misconduct" connected with your work, quit for reasons not attributable to your employer, or that you refused a suitable work offer, you have the right to appeal the Division's decision. Your appeal will be heard by the Unemployment Appeals Tribunal if you file your appeal within 30 days of the Division's decision.

In our experience, many employees face denials based on a former employer claiming one of two things occurred: (1) The employee engaged in misconduct in connection with their work; and/or (2) The employee voluntarily left their employment for a reason not attributable to any fault on the part of the former employer.

Missouri defines "misconduct" as "an act of wanton or willful disregard of the employer's interest, a deliberate violation of the employer's rules, a disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of his or her employee, or negligence in such degree or recurrence as to manifest culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interest or of the employee's duties and obligations to the employer." If the conduct leading to your termination by your former employer does not rise to the level described in this definition, then you may not be disqualified from receiving benefits.

Missouri defines "good cause" sufficient to allow an employee to leave their employment and still receive benefits in the following way:

[T]he circumstances motivating an employee to voluntarily terminate employment must be real not imaginary, substantial not trifling, and reasonable not whimsical, and good faith is an essential element. The standard as to what constitutes good cause is the standard of reasonableness as applied to the average man or woman, and not to the supersensitive.

Essentially, if the average, ordinary person would consider the reasons given for leaving your employment sufficient to have caused them to do the same, you may not be disqualified from receiving benefits.

Unemployment benefits are relied upon by millions of Americans to bridge gaps during hard times and millions more Americans are denied benefits because of their unfamiliarity with the process, thereby making a difficult time even more difficult. In certain situations, we can help.

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