Oftentimes the first question I am asked when I receive an inquiry from a person who has just lost their job is whether they are entitled to unemployment benefits. Generally, you are eligible for unemployment benefits if you (1) are a resident of New Jersey ; (2) have worked and earned income in New Jersey; (3) are able to work; (4) are actively looking for a new job; and (5) you lost your job through no fault of your own. If you were fired, you will be scheduled for a claims examiner interview. The examiner may request certain documentation, and will determine if you are eligible for benefits based on unemployment laws and regulations.

If the examiner determines that you were fired or discharged from your job due to “misconduct," i.e. something that was not in the best interest of your employer, you may be disqualified from collecting benefits. Under the Unemployment Compensation Law, there are three types of misconduct: simple, severe, and gross.

A finding of simple misconduct results in a disqualification from the week the firing or suspension occurred and continues for seven weeks. Following the disqualification period, you may be eligible to receive benefits. Examples of simple misconduct are absences without written warnings or insubordination.

If you are found to have committed severe misconduct you are disqualified for benefits until you obtain new employment for four weeks, earn six times your weekly benefit amount, and lose your employment through no fault of your own. Examples of gross misconduct are repeated violations of company rules with written warnings and destruction of company property.

Finally, if the claims examiner determines that you were discharged for gross misconduct, which is essentially conduct that would be considered a crime in New Jersey, you may be disqualified for benefits indefinitely.

A person who resigns from employment can qualify for benefits so long as the resignation was for "good cause attributable to" the work. For instance, under unemployment benefit law, the underpayment of wages in violation of the Wage and Hour Law can constitute such good cause.

It is important to keep in mind that the claims examiner’s determination is appealable and is not binding in a subsequent lawsuit. In other words, you can still bring an action against your former employer for wrongful discharge even if you were denied unemployment benefits. However, if it is determined by the agency that you received benefits to which you were not entitled, you may be required to return the benefits.

For more information and filing forms go to the New Jersey Department of Labor website: http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/ui/ui_index.html