Employee Rights When a Job Ends

Leaving a job is not easy. If you are fired, downsized or laid off then you are likely nervous about the future and your own financial security. If you are leaving of your own free will to relocate or start a new job you might also be nervous and uneasy. In either case there are things that you need to be aware of so that you receive everything to which you are entitled to by law.
The first thing to remember when you are laid off is that you are entitled to receive your regular pay from the time you are notified of the layoff until the effective date of the lay off. The federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) requires most employers who employ 100 or more employees to provide 60 days advance notice of plant closings and mass layoffs. Employees must continue to be paid and to receive their benefits during that time. Some states also have laws that require certain employers to give specific amounts of notice prior to layoffs. Collective bargaining agreements and individual contracts may also provide specific notice requirements concerning layoffs.
After the notice period has ended and the employee’s job is complete, the employee may be entitled to unemployment benefits. The purpose of unemployment benefits is to help people who are unemployed, through no fault of their own, meet their financial obligations while they continue to look for another job.
A laid off employee, especially one with a family, is often worried about the cost of health care while he or she is between jobs. Accordingly, the federal government enacted the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) which allows certain employees the option of continuing with the health care plan that they had under their former employer. Employees who qualify for COBRA will likely pay more for the same coverage since the employer will no longer be paying a share of the insurance premiums. Former employers may legally charge former employees up to 102 percent of the cost of the premiums. Typically, former employees must notify the plan’s administrator immediately after termination and can remain on COBRA insurance for up to 18 months.
When you resign a position you are usually not entitled to unemployment benefits, although exceptions may apply. The reason is that unemployment benefits are meant to provide income to people who are not working through no fault of their own. So, if it was truly your decision to resign then you would not be entitled to benefits.
Health insurance is different, however, and COBRA does apply to people who resign on their own and who are entitled to COBRA benefits. 
Fired for Cause
If an employer fires an employee because of the employee’s gross negligence or illegal activity then many of the rights and benefits afforded to employees who are laid off or who resign are forfeited by the employee. That means that the employee may be denied unemployment benefits and COBRA benefits in addition to any notice requirement prior to the firing.
The government has been careful to provide workers with a safety net if they find themselves between jobs. While workers still need to find work and find it quickly, these benefits can allow them to do so without losing their homes or filing bankruptcy and are, therefore, especially important in difficult economic times when many workers are facing the same challenges.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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