Am I entitled to unemployment benefits?

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Am I entitled to unemployment benefits?

I went out on medical leave 11 months ago due to severe mental health issues. I’m on SDI. I was just feeling recovered about 2 months ago when I received a letter from my employer saying that I had voluntarily terminated. This has put me in a tailspin. I suffered the death of my sister contemporaneously and I don’t know what to do. Should I respond that I didn’t leave voluntarily? I don’t feel able to look

for a new job, and need the umbrella of UI. Do I have a right to it? I was poorly treated by my employer and wonder if any of that is actionable. Well I know it is but I don’t want to get into any of that; I have little money and less strength. I need time and I don’t know what to do.

Asked on October 10, 2018 under Employment Labor Law, California

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 2 years ago | Contributor

Being out for 11 months (which is what your question seems to state) is far longer than you could have used any sort of protected or guaranteed-by-law leave, like Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave--for example, FMLA leave, even if you had been eligible for it, is only 12 weeks or 3 months. We suspect that this was also far longer than you had paid time off (PTO) to cover your absence. SDI provides payment or income replacement, but does not hold or guaranty your job. If you stayed out of work past using up all FMLA leave or PTO, that could be considered resignation: not coming into work when you have to (when you no longer have leave or PTO to stay out, for example) is as much a statement of resignation as would calling your manager and saying "I resign." Legally, if you did not come back into work when you had to, that constitutes quitting or resigning.
The employer is not required to hold your job for you forever; based on what you write, you were out of work for too long and your employer could have taken your absence as a resignation before it did; by waiting as long as it did, it was actually being generous to you. 
Since what you did could be seen as resignation (or if the employer wanted to, it could consider that you were terminated "for cause" for excessive absenteeism, which has the same legal effect as voluntary resignation), you would not be eligible for unemployment benefits.


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