Q: Employer claimed my firing was performance-based, but fired two of my subordinates the next day citing COVID-19.
I was a production manager overseeing six staff. I had no idea I was going to be let go. Hadn't received any bad performance reviews nor disciplinary action. They even sent me to additional management training only two weeks earlier. And I regularly worked 50+ hrs/wk (salaried). It seems highly suspicious that I was fired for performance, and my subordinates for COVID-19. They gave me nothing in writing, and I wasn't asked to sign anything. Does their "reason" for performance vs. COVID-19 affect my claim for unemployment benefits? If so, how? If not, what should I note under the event details when I file?
A: Unfortunately unless you have an employment contract with guaranteed income for a set period of time, you cannot sue your employer for the loss of your job, other than pursue unemployment. A layoff for virus would entitle you to receive unemployment, and moreover, any moment the US government is going to hopefully make law which would pay you for loss of income to some extent. You can dispute the termination, that it was not for performance, and that would be up to the hearing officer if they challenged the claim. If you did not have any role in hiring, firing, disciplining, or interviewing, then I suggest you may want to have your exempt classification from overtime pay reviewed. A title and a salary does not determine exemption under the FLSA.
Bruce Alexander Minnick agrees with this answer
As I recall, the legal standard of proof used to decide eligibility in unemployment claims is whether the employee was discharged for some kind of "misconduct at work" (like fighting, stealing or habitual tardiness) or misconduct outside of the workplace that reflects badly on the employer (like repeatedly being arrested for drunk driving or committing some crime, etc.) So, depending on what the performance issue is in your case, you may prevail if you seek benefits.
Having said that, IMO any employee considering filing for unemployment should hire a lawyer BEFORE trying to apply online; why? Because Florida's online application system is intentionally designed to limit the number of successful claims by asking "loaded" questions that discourage people applying for unemployment benefits.
Hiring a lawyer BEFORE applying is one way to maximize your chances of obtaining benefits; and since the law limits the amount a lawyer can charge you, the fees are very reasonable.
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