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Social Services Mon Jul 26 2010

Screwed Over: My Unemployment Experience

I'm going to relate a story to you for the sole reason of awareness. I know I'm not the only person that this sort of thing has happened to, but I happen to have access to an outlet through which my story can be heard by a larger audience than most.

I was laid off from my job in February of this year. The money had run out, they told me, and in a month they'd have more contracts and I'd be able to come back to work. So I laid low, kept the spending down, and waited until the furlough was over. I returned to work promptly in March, happy to be back. It wasn't always the most enjoyable job, but having been laid off a year before from another job, I was well aware that to have is better than to have not.

At the end of the week the business manager pulled me aside. Bad news. The contracts they had anticipated fell through. It had nothing to do with me or my performance, he said. It was just a lack of money. They were going to have to lay me off indefinitely.

It was a small company, a sort of "mom and pop" operation, so I inquired about my applying for unemployment. I didn't know whether or not it would cost them any money for me to collect unemployment benefits; I didn't want to further their dire economic straits. The business manager said he'd look into it. He got back to me quickly, telling me who to call, where I could go, and even how much my benefits would be. Things seemed to be as positive as they could be in those circumstances.

I then began to look for work, but in the industry that I've been pursuing (TV and film) work is sparse unless you're very well connected, especially in Chicago. I decided in May, nearly two months after being laid off, that I should go ahead and start taking unemployment to keep myself afloat. Savings had been depleted so this was my last hope before raising the white flag and moving back in with my parents. So, for the second time in two years since graduating college, I applied for unemployment.

A week later I received a letter in the mail. I thought it was going to be my state debit card, or maybe a pamphlet about "how to be a job seeker." It was not. The letter informed me that my benefits had been denied because it was found that I had been "discharged" from my last job "due to misconduct/insubordination." I was baffled. I assumed it must have been some ridiculous bureaucratic error at the Illinois Department of Employment Security, since that was so completely opposite of what had actually happened. I called the business manager who laid me off and told him about the letter. "I'll look into it and get back to you" he said. I figured it would be some annoying paperwork, but it would be easily remedied.

Dammit. Wrong again. After filing my appeal at the I.D.E.S. office in Maywood, I called the business manager to see if he had found out anything. What followed was one of the most disappointing conversations I've ever had.

"I asked around and I found that there had been some problems with you and your attitude," he said, hesitant and clearly uncomfortable. "I think you should just drop it and move on. Find another job. I don't think I should say anything else." Shocked, I inquired for more detail. This was a completely different version of reality than what I remembered; I was fairly sure I wasn't living in a J.J. Abrams television show. He was lying to me -- lying about me -- because of money.

His responses to my questions were variations on the same theme. I had been insubordinate in some unspecific way in the past, and he had somehow retroactively fired me, or something. "You should just drop it," he said. "Move on."

There was no paper trail to prove my side or his. The company was four people total; we didn't do performance reviews or formal disciplinary actions. Getting laid off didn't involve a memo on corporate letterhead, it happened as I drove with him to pick up his wife's minivan.

Rarely do people get to experience such a mix of pain and pleasure. Pain from having been so grievously wronged by someone you trusted, your name and reputation slandered with almost no simple recourse available for vindication. Pleasure from knowing -- without a shadow of a doubt -- that your anger is the righteous kind. This is not a grey area. I know I'm in the right. It's an odd kind of empowering powerlessness.

I had my appellate phone hearing last week, and am supposed to receive the decision later this week. Although the money would certainly help alleviate my mounting credit card bills, at this point I'm more concerned with the truth. Either way, I finally feel like I can listen to Rage Against the Machine legitimately. I can thank them for that.

This isn't an uncommon occurrence. I know I'm not alone. Do you or someone you know have a similar story? Or are there any attorneys out there willing to throw their two cents into the mix, or even I.D.E.S. employees? Post it in the comments and let's get a dialogue going.

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LaShawn Williams / July 26, 2010 8:51 AM

Damn. Since I cannot use a stronger expletive, "damn" will have to do it.

Dennis Fritz / July 26, 2010 11:16 AM

What an awful situation. I feel for you. I think the lesson to be drawn here is to never, never, never regard an employer as a friend. That doesn't mean you and your employer cannot be friendly--i.e. get along amicably. But we should always keep in mind that at the end of the day, money trumps all in any employer/employee relationship.

Brandon / July 26, 2010 11:51 AM

I wonder how much of an increase he saw in his unemployment insurance rate.... Integrity is the word that is missing here.

Jack Vermicelli / July 26, 2010 12:44 PM

It's not cool that your former employer lied about you, but it's also wrong if someone is forced to provide income to you when you're no longer in their employ. After all, if you had quit, you wouldn't've been held accountable for their lost labor.

Jones / July 26, 2010 1:36 PM

I got laid off from a media company last September, and was receiving health insurance coverage from them via COBRA (which should last for 18 months). The company wasn't sure how to be profitable so they closed up shop, moved to Canada, and started investing in "clean energy" (instead of media production.) Because they moved to Canada they could terminate COBRA early. It sucked.

Betts / July 26, 2010 1:40 PM

Since you are new to the process, and to the working world in general, any employer can attempt to deny paying for your benefits but the bar for denial is very high.

I've gone thru this situation before and it gets your blood boiling (especially when the employer is blatantly lying), but it will rarely result in denial of benefits. By the end of the week, you'll hear that you will indeed get benefits and all will be well until you get another job.

Employers pay unemployment insurance and their rates are, in part, based on how many times their former employees turn up on the unemployment rolls. If the firm becomes a turnstile for employees then they are charged higher rates. If the company is barely hanging on and has let go other staff, then they may be at the end of their rope and are attempting to shield themselves from paying higher rates. If that is the case, their operating margins are too small and they won't last in the long term anyway. Dead, just not knowing it yet.

Remember, you pay into the system as well as any employer, so whenever you lose a job, you should apply for benefits the very next day. Especially with the longevity of unemployment these days.

Last piece of advice is - if your industry isn't hiring, go elsewhere. You've got until Thanksgiving to find something and after that, firms are not going to be doing much. If the 2001 tax cuts are not extended, and it looks like they won't, small businesses won't be adding people to the payrolls until they figure out what their new business outlook is. That could take quite a long time.

Best of luck.

Anna Tarkov / July 26, 2010 1:53 PM

A similar thing happened to me. I worked for a company FT, then was downgraded to PT. The PT arrangement was discussed and I thought we were on the same page. Then I got my next paycheck and I was paid a fraction of what I was owed. When I inquired about it, I was asked to provide proof that I worked the number of hours I said I did. I provided all the info and got ignored. I then decided I couldn't do any more work for this company until I got paid. When I tried to apply for unemployment, they initially approved it. But then I got a notice saying it was denied because the way they saw it, I left on my own and didn't make enough of an effort to collect the money which was owed to me. It was basically my word against my former employer and apparently the latter won. In a sense, it's true. I could have harrassed them a lot more, gone to the office, threatened to sue, etc. But I didn't want to go to those measures. So... no unemployment for me.

I hope things turn out better for you with your appeal. Good luck.

Mark A. Fredrickson / July 26, 2010 2:35 PM

Why do well-educated people want to handle everything on their own when competant counsel could have represented said claimant?

M / July 26, 2010 2:59 PM

This is very common. Most employers will attempt to deny unemployment claims no matter how the employee was discharged in an attempt to get the employee to back down, and usually it works, because the employee gets scared and doesn't know his rights. It doesn't matter how good your working relationship was before; this is about money, and when it comes to money, people get cutthroat.

This has happened to me, when I was laid off and my former employer told unemployment that I quit, despite assurances from my managers that I would get unemployment. All you have to do is tell the truth in your phone hearing and you will get the money. Unfortunately, you won't be able to collect in the meantime. Either way, you've learned a lesson here. You will be prepared for future jobs/layoffs, and you will be prepared if your former workplace continues to contest your claim (which is possible, if improbable since they have no evidence of your poor performance or attitude). Next time, file for unemployment immediately, don't discuss it with your employer, and be prepared to fight for it. Even people whom you thought were your friends will throw you under the bus when they find out they'll have to pay out money.

This happens all the time, and isn't even close to being the worst thing that can happen to you with unemployment. Hopefully you won't have to find out how much worse it can get, and how long these things can drag out. IL is notorious for having unreasonable unemployment standards and enforcement. You have to be aggressive.

Patti S / July 26, 2010 8:36 PM

Mr. McCarthy: I feel for you; been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and paid too much for it. My ex-employer pulled almost the same thing as Anna's. FT to PT to no time, and they said I quit. I did NOT quit; the boss's sister-in-law took over my job....As for competent legal counsel: Yes, IDES will supply you with an of my family members went that route, started calling about 6 monthago, has gotten one, count em, one return call and he's still not sure if he'll be eligible for benefits or not. One thing I did discover during all this grappling is the IDES will attempt to provide you with schooling/re-training tuition monies up to $6,000. If your field is overloaded (which mine is), look into that. My application was approved, now I just have to try and figure out what I want to be "re-trained" in.
Best wishes to all of you.

Texas T / July 27, 2010 9:17 AM

This happened to me when I lived in Texas. My supervisor said they were "changing directions" and no longer needed my services. When I went to apply for unemployment the story changed to "you were fired". Luckily the appeals judge that heard my case over the phone ruled in my favor. They normally rule in favor of the worker versus the employer in these cases. Good luck!

that_girl / July 27, 2010 10:02 AM

Let this part at least be a lesson: Don't wait to apply for unemployment. Even if you do so immediately it can take a few weeks. When I was fired over the stupidest thing, the HR manager told me flat out to apply for it immediately, and even then I had to do a phone hearing. The slightly weird thing is, I had been a model employee, but fired over a dumb series of events leading to a mistake I held ultimate responsibility for. So technically they might have been able to deny me, but after the phone hearing I got my benefits.

Jen / July 27, 2010 10:30 AM

This story, like many others, is troubling. But, as much as it is important to have a dialogue about being laid off and unemployment benefits, there should be a discussion somewhere about the unemployment and chronic underemployment that, escpecially younger people who have graduated in the last several years have been experiencing with no possiblity of benefits whatsoever.

Furthermore, these job seekers haven't had the benefit of years of professional work experience like their elders and are often at the bottom of the totem pole when work does open up somewhere. What do we do about all these people who went to college, took out student loans and worked hard, expecting to embark on a career thereafter but who have been indefinitely forced to wait tables or do other low wage earning jobs that offer no benefits?

These workers don't have the luxury of collecting benefits while holding out for a professional, white collar job to come through. After all, a lot of those (mostly younger) people collecting unemployment benefits could be going out and getting the same jobs we've been settling for for years.

joe / July 28, 2010 1:18 AM


All caps and multiple exclamation marks are 99% of the time completely unnecessary. Welcome to the 1%, or rather the 9-12% depending on where you get your news.
Aside from all the good points previously raised you need to factor into the equation that IDES is populated by the most ignorant unemployable morons this side of DC.You must plan for thier failure, that they will lose your information, that they will ignore your information, or they will incorrectly enter your information, thus delaying your legitimate request. Factor in that unemployment pays in bi-weekly cycles and you can very easily find a month or 2 standing in the way of your bills being paid.

Secondly I want to address this lil nugget: "it's also wrong if someone is forced to provide income to you when you're no longer in their employ."

Fucking fool, if you work you pay into this, whether or not you are ever laid off.
And besides, how many buisness owners are kept up at night by all the myriad ways they have gamed the sysyem at all of our expense.
At least we worked for our little crumbs.

Rocco / May 18, 2011 2:59 PM

i got laid off in Dec 2010, and after being off for about 4 months and hearing that things are gona be bad for quite awhile, i decided to go back to school. while i was laid off i called UI every 2 weeks and collected. when i started school, me being the honest guy i am, put down that im enrolled in school/job training. iv been i school for a month, and ever since i told them, i havent been able to collect. i had a phone interview, that didnt go well bc of how stressed i was of not having money, and they said il get their decision 5-7 business days. well its been 6, no word, and i have such a feeling that they gona deny me and be screwed. bc how can i pay my bills and school if i have no income???


Big D / September 2, 2011 9:12 PM

I lost my job in March 09 and started collecting a few weeks later. In the meantime. I took a job that paid much less and collected partial unemployment. During this time, my new employer sometimes took a month to pay me and bill collectors called for the over extended outfitter company on a daily basis, so I knew I made a terrible decision by joining their "team".

They were often short handed so I always was helpful in covering shifts. They are the only company in Ohiopyle offering guided bike trips on the Great Allegheny Passage. I was switched from hourly to Salary since you work 90 hour weeks during the tours. I was desperate for work so I agreed. They took in over 20k from this trip that wouldn't have happened if I didn't agree to work despite telling them I needed updated first aid/CPR. Well, payday comes and was given some lame excuse and had to wait a month to be paid. Well, I got laid off and collected through the winter. Well, my benefit year was up and they based my wages on my hobby job despite Obamas speech on the issue of people getting screwed by taking part time work who were collecting. I was getting $200 less per month.
The new year starts and the same old crap. My coworkers were a young racer boy who felt entitled to do nothing since he raced his singlespeed bike every weekend and the bike shop manager who would punch in and run personal errands all day. When I called him out, my camping gear mysteriously received a treatment of used Toyota oil. Next, I found out we were renting out recalled bikes. I went through great lengths to resolve the issue, but the bike company wasn't helpful. I believe it had something to do with the collection calls I was recieiving. The owners wouldn't call despite people's safety. I had enough so I quit and explained my situation to unemployment. I even provided email correspondence showing my attempts to rectify the situation for a month. My former employer acted like I never told them despite the emails and face to face conversations and put the blame on me? Sure enough, my unemployment was denied for doing what I believe and most people with a conscience would do. I have moved on since they obviously need the money more than me to fund their foreign vacations. In retrospect, taking that job was the worse thing I ever did, despite wanting to be a productive member of society.

Pat Carlson / January 6, 2013 7:54 PM

Samr yhing happened to me. I worked for Walmart for 5 years, just had me yearly review inSeptember 2012 and received a satisfactory. Then in November I was sick and when I returned to work I was fired for too many absentees. Why didn't anyone mention something to me during my review? Now I'm being denied unemployment and having to appeal. Walmart is trying to say that I had 2 coachings from last year and this illness makes 3 ande therefore grounds for termination. This is a bunch of bull.... Any comments??

Pat Carlson / January 6, 2013 7:57 PM

Sorry for the spelling mistakes in my post but I'm so pissed off.

Nicole / February 23, 2013 12:57 PM

The unemployment is just as big a problem. My husband also received something like this story only to have unemployment employees repeatedly lie to him. He has also almost NEVER received paperwork he was supposed to. Even when he appealed through an attorney...good thing he had the lawyer because that is the only way he found out when the hearing was. Mysteriously we never receive paperwork and it is always the same lie "hmmmm...dont know why because we mailed it!" Aftee 20 times to the same person I dont buy it. Here were are almost a full year later and they still have their blackened tentacles wrapped around our lives. Who do you call to complain that an entire agency is engaged in attempting to make sure you and your family remain penniless? Who do you call when a government agency repeatedly and blatantly lies to you? No wonder they say the unemployment rate is improving...they have improved their methods for crushing the people beneath their boots

Hawk / March 3, 2013 5:33 PM

My boyfriend is being sued for colleting 2 weeks of unemployment back in June they are just now sueing 4 days notice on a weekend. They sent a letter. I was pregnant at the time they let him go they wanted him to sit in an office for 2 hr not do anything and we really needed money he told the people that he need hrs and they said ok so in those two week they never called him back so he found another job. We can even afford a lawyer. So he has to use his pay check for this week to pay for everything. It's not unemployment sueing it's the temp agency that's doing it.

Jade / June 19, 2013 5:46 PM

Currently getting screwdriver, You can pay into the government, but you can't get it out.

mike / November 25, 2013 10:48 AM

Wow....this is all to close to home...I was 3 years with a mid size family owned company....great pay...close to home...and really felt direct manager was a god sent.....he was firm...and good at what he did....we have built a wonderful team....we pushed the company into growing profits that had been lost to a failing economy.... 10 months after my 3rd child was born....I was really moving in a direction I was proud of... then the door slammed, I was asked to meet it the upstairs conference was all over....they had some hair brained scheme and told me I was suspended until they investigated my actions....2 days later I was fired for breaking company policy...I never received a formal explanation... and when I filed for unemployment they not only fought it....the company told unemployment that they were considering filing formal charges....I WAS BESIDES MYSELF....I had done nothing wrong....always followed procedure....3 years of perfect reviews and salary increases to match...What went wrong...and how can they do this with NO proof???

KDGrayson / June 12, 2014 3:08 AM

I have had 1 bad experience with an employer lieing to deny my unemployment simply to be cruel.
1st I was called into the office by the Geb manager and my dispatcher, both had concluded by the shedules I was the only possible culprit, Alleging I had a road rage incident breaking a windshield and CHP was called etc etc!
I asked when this was and discovered the day it happened the dispatcher was riding with me to see some cars a customer had!
After that on a Sat they had me go fill a truck with gas but weeks later forgot and saw I had bought gas a few days prior and could not use that much! luckily I recalled it, then alleging I was driving crazy yet novbody ever wrote me a ticket yet!
Sierra Pacific heat and air in Rancho Cordova

Reddo Deen / June 26, 2014 11:23 AM

I had the same situation with Louisina. To make a long story short, I was laid off because the company had completed a high dollar contract with the Federal Government. I filed for benefits. I was denied. They had hoped I would give up. I appealed, a year later I received my benefits. Now I am going through the same BS with my home state. Your best weapon against being denied is NEVER GIVE UP. I am appealing this decision for the reason of me being laid off from no fault of my own. I am over 50 and worked for a business that employed family and family friends. I have 29,years experience in my occupation. More experience than my fellow employees ages. I am not giving up and will fight tooth and nail for what I deserve to support my family. NEVER GIVE UP.

Martin / August 31, 2014 10:10 PM

One thing that hasn't been pointed out yet, keep good records. A letter to support your story is priceless when it comes to lying employers. My former employer was foolish enough to give me signed documents, then try a different story with the unemployment office. Needless to say I received benefits and their appeal made them look foolish.

Pamela / October 11, 2015 7:25 PM

NY State Unemployment is horrible to deal with. Any letters claimants sent to them MUST be by certified mail only. Thay will claim they didn't get your letter. I was awarded unemployment by an Appeals Judge (you are reading this right). I claimed online, for months, then I would get a message stating" We are unable to process your claim", this went on for 2 months. I tried their phone number at least 5 times, but "due to the unusually hight volume of calls, we cannot talk with you at this". Numerous uncetified letters went unresponded to. My certified letter ending by giving me a court date. The unbiased female Judge denied my unemployment saying "she didn't claim". NO, I couldn't wouldn't let me! It's all a scam. And yes, I am so frustrated.

ohio / November 23, 2015 11:32 AM

I have been working for the Fed Gov in central ohio for the DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) and was wrongfully terminated after attempting to report gay bashing that was happening to me both physically and verbally for the past 4 years. My bosses collaborated a series of lies and I was fired. I was then denied unemployment and I am still in the process of trying to get it. They are a higher authority than the state gov and they are the Dept of Defense, so they will win no matter how unjust and hateful. Some of them even bragged about how they get away with murdering people in other states. I am terrified and all I want to do is work. I have 2 engineering degrees but strangely immediately after gaining interest from an employer, even in another state, on a potential job, they shut it down with some obvious BS explanation. I didn't do a damn thing to deserve this besides report the gay bashing. Winter is fast approaching and I have nowhere to go and no money. No unemployment compensation to speak of. No family or friends will help me because they are scared of the Dept of Defense' murderous retaliation. I have been harassed by the maintenance people in my apt complex and they have broken into my home and stolen the documentation I was keeping to prove my case with a DC/NY based law firm. I have paid them the only thousands I had left and received absolutely nothing. As it turns out, the lawyers were ex-military and are protecting the federal criminals that work in the DLA. I will probably freeze to death this winter. If you want my opinion, figure out how to get money no matter what you have to do to get it. And don't ever take a federal job if you are a minority.

Lumie Soucek / November 30, 2015 10:34 PM

We have the same problem in South Carolina with Wal-Mart fired employees. I am going to sue the State of South Carolina with out a lawyer. So far 3 people are interested to sign the lawsuit.

Nora / December 12, 2015 6:25 PM

I have a story to relate about unemployment I have been laid off so many times due to temporary work and shady companies and unemployment did not understand this. It kept sending me letters about how they said i was discharged due to blah blah and then the ones that i left the jobs i left voluntarily due to misconduct of rowdy genuinely bad children and another because the manager wanted to sleep with me which I cannot tell unemployment was hard to explain and peets coffee which closed down and then wealth financial advisors which laid me off to being unsociable to the woman hr. I know all about unemployment mishaps. They even asked me to submit a work search record right? I did and it was very detailed and guess what they mailed me saying:

"Was the claimant actively seeking work?The evidence shows the claimant did not conduct a realistic and independent search for suitable work Since the work did not reflect a genuine attempt to secure employment, the claimant is not actively seeking work and is ineligible for benefits from 11/01/2015 through 11/14/2015 and will be determined ineligible until she meets the eligibility requirements."

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