Can You Collect Unemployment If You Get Fired While on Disability?

The disabled can still work and qualify for unemployment compensation benefits.
The disabled can still work and qualify for unemployment compensation benefits. (Image: Images)

According to census information compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2009, there were approximately 27 million disabled U.S. residents, and just over 6 million were working or looking for work. Finding suitable employment for the working disabled is a challenge in the best of times. Losing a job for whatever reason in a down economy is particularly financially devastating for a disabled worker. The importance of clearly understanding the factors that influence approval or rejection of unemployment compensation claims cannot be overstated.

Factors Influencing Unemployment Compensation Decisions

Each state is free to create its own unemployment compensation laws within a broad framework of federal guidelines. Generally, eligibility for benefits is determined by four issues. First, claimants must establish eligibility by earning a certain amount of wages within a set time frame, starting before the claim filing date. Second, the applicant must be available on a full-time basis and able to do the work for which she is qualified. Available and able mean she can be a consistent full-time worker whose performance is not limited by illness or work limitations. Third, she has to show evidence that she is actively looking for employment. Fourth, the worker must have lost her job through no fault of her own.

Disability Definitions

The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the working disabled from workplace discrimination. However, knowing how an individual became qualified for disability payments in the first place will help determine if he can satisfy the "available" and "able" criteria under state eligibility laws. For example, if his disability status is diagnosed as "partial," it means he can perform some work satisfactorily. A "total" disability finding means he is not able to engage in any substantial gainful activity. A "temporary condition," such as a broken leg, means he can work full time after recovery.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

A worker who lost her job and is receiving benefits under SSDI had to meet a very strict disability standard to qualify for benefits. For example, a doctor had to certify that the patient was disabled due to a physical or mental impairment or total blindness, and that the disabling condition had lasted or was expected to last 12 months or result in earlier death. In this instance, that worker would probably not qualify for state unemployment benefits, because her disability would not meet the "willing and able" requirements for unemployment compensation.

Workers' Compensation Disability

Social Security Disability does not pay benefits for temporary or partial disability, but state workers' compensation plans do. That makes it easier for a laid-off worker who is collecting temporary partial disability benefits to also qualify for unemployment compensation. According to the legal self-help organization Nolo, a temporary partial disability is described as, "one that prevents you from doing some of the duties of your job for a limited amount of time." With this definition, states are more likely to approve unemployment compensation claims because the worker is still able to perform some substantial gainful work.

Qualifying for Unemployment Compensation

Generally, a worker who quits voluntarily or is fired for just cause is not eligible for unemployment compensation, unless she can successfully argue that her termination was not justified and happened through no fault of her own.The "Unemployment Handbook" website gives several examples of unjustified employee terminations For example, if she is fired for claiming sexual abuse or for reporting her employer's illegal or unethical conduct, that is unjustified termination. Another unjustified dismissal is if an employee is called for jury duty or military unit activation and is fired on the grounds of unauthorized absence. Unjustified benefit denials should be reviewed by the state's appeal board, and legal assistance should be obtained from the state's legal aid society or attorneys who will take the case "pro bono," free of charge, or on a contingency basis; meaning, if you don't win you don't have to pay an attorney's fee.

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