If you recently quit your job or were fired, you may think you won't qualify for unemployment. However, there are mitigating circumstances you may consider. If your story falls under these categories, you may be eligible for a little help from the state.

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This is the time of year when many of us start decking the halls. But for many unfortunate folks, December can be a time of unemployment as many companies decide to cut costs for the coming year by reducing staff.

If your position has recently been eliminated due to “lack of work,” you will most likely be eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) compensation through the state’s Employment Security Department (ESD). But what about a job loss for other reasons? The rule of thumb says if you quit or were fired for cause, you will not be eligible for UI benefits. But according to ESD, the real answer is “it depends.”

If you voluntarily quit: In most cases, this will make you ineligible for UI claims. However, there are several “good-cause” reasons that could convince ESD to accept your claim:

  • Health. If a family member became sick or disabled, requiring you to take care of them, or if your own health problems made it impossible to work.
  • Change of location. Perhaps you moved outside of work area to be with your spouse or domestic partner. Or maybe your employer changed the location of your job, making your daily commute unreasonably long.
  • Self-preservation. If you left to protect yourself or family members from domestic violence or threats of violence. Also, if you pointed out a safety violation or illegal activity at your workplace, and your employer took no action to stop it.
  • Change in job requirements. Your employer substantially reduced your pay or hours of work, or changed your usual duties to something that violates your religious or moral beliefs.

If you were fired: This can be a difficult circumstance to overcome, but there are exceptions. For instance, if your boss fired you for not having the necessary skills to complete your duties, your claim may be deemed valid. They key is whether you were fired for “misconduct,” which falls under these general categories:

  • Wanton disregard for your employer. This can include insubordination, repeated unexcused tardiness or absences, or lying to your boss.
  • Deliberately breaking company rules. This can include disregarding standards of behavior that your employer has a right to expect.
  • Carelessness or negligence. Behavior that shows a substantial disregard for your employer, or behavior that will likely cause serious bodily harm to your employer or co-workers.
  • Criminal acts. Instances in which you broke the law in connection with your work.

Remember that there are few hard and fast rules about UI eligibility. Whether you quit voluntarily or were forced to leave, ESD will make an individual decision based on your unique circumstances. Be prepared to fill out a lengthy questionnaire describing the details of your case, and expect to see a delay for several weeks until you hear an answer. But don’t automatically assume that “I quit” or “you’re fired” are the only words determining your fate.

Randy Woods is a writer and editor in the Puget Sound business publishing arena and a veteran of the local job-search scene. Email him at randywoods67@gmail.com.