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If I Lose My Job Because I Was Arrested Can I Get Unemployment?

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Most employers want reliable workers, and if you miss a shift – or several – because you were in police custody following an arrest, you may find yourself out of work. You may be ineligible to receive unemployment benefits if your employer fires you because you of an arrest. Each state administers its own unemployment system and places different qualifications on beneficiaries, so your eligibility for unemployment compensation hinges on your state’s laws.

Reasons for Unemployment

Unemployment benefits are a program jointly administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and state agencies. While the Labor Department allows states wide range to define their own eligibility standards and set benefit rates, it mandates that all eligible workers must be unemployed through no fault of their own. Many states interpret this to mean that employees must have lost their jobs when the employer eliminated their position or moved to a different geographical location or the employer ceased conducting business.

Other Interpretations of the Law

Because states determine the definition of no-fault unemployment individually, in some areas, you may still qualify for benefits. In California, for example, workers may be eligible for benefits unless they lost their job for “gross misconduct,” a term that implies behavior that potentially damaged the employer’s ability to continue to turn a profit or exposed them to liability. Because of the wide range of definitions of eligibility between states’ programs, you should file an initial claim, noting your arrest was the cause of your separation from your employer, and allow your state’s unemployment program to determine your eligibility.

Available for Work

Federal regulations also require that beneficiaries must be available for work to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. If you’re arrested and not released on bond, or arrested, convicted and serving a prison sentence, you’re not available to receive unemployment benefits because you can’t accept a new position should it be offered to you. Although telephone claims systems may make it possible to file an initial claim while in custody after an arrest, the state will deny your claim because of your inability to accept work while behind bars.

Employment Contracts

Some employers or state licensing agencies make a policy of dismissing workers placed under arrest or found guilty of a crime. If your employment contract stipulates that the employer can release you from work because of an arrest or a conviction, and your employer exercises this option, you are ineligible for benefits regardless of your state’s laws. As a matter of broken contract, the state considers the separation from your employer a fault of your own.


Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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