Fired for Gross Misconduct
Employers are generally permitted under employment law to fire employees for what the employers deemed to be "gross misconduct." Employers are also generally permitted to deny benefits otherwise required by law, such as unemployment benefits and COBRA extended health insurance benefits, to employees whom they've allegedly fired for gross misconduct.
Gross Misconduct Definition
According to BusinessDictionary.com, the definition of gross misconduct is "Indiscipline so serious (such as stealing, or work place violence) that it justifies the instant dismissal of an employee, even on the first occurrence."
Some U.S. courts have set a standard for when employees were denied COBRA benefits because they were fired for gross misconduct, by defining the term to mean this or close: intentional, wanton, willful, deliberate, reckless or in deliberate indifference to an employer’s interest.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the definition of gross misconduct for denying COBRA benefits generally excludes "being fired for most ordinary reasons, such as excessive absences or generally poor performance".
In regard to a denial of unemployment benefits, the DOL defines misconduct as "an intentional or controllable act or failure to take action, which shows a deliberate disregard of the employer's interests."
Gross Misconduct Law
As you can see, the definitions don't get specific (the first doesn't count under the law anyway) and there is no Federal "gross misconduct employment law" to clarify beyond what the DOL's glossary entry says.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) doesn't clarify either, even though the law permits employers to deny COBRA benefits to employees whom they've allegedly fired for gross misconduct. In fact, neither the law nor its regulations define the term at all, as the DOL's glossary entry indicates.
Some state unemployment laws or related regulations get a little more specific than the others in defining what gross misconduct (or just misconduct) means; but, generally, the laws and regulations make most to all specifics a matter of interpretation by employers, state unemployment offices and, ultimately, the courts.
Subsequently, employers may subjectively define what fired for gross misconduct means in regard to denying otherwise-mandatory employee benefits as a result; then, if it goes as far as employee lawsuits, the courts will decide if the employers defined the term within reason.
In any case, a court will likely consider several factors to decide whether or not an employee was lawfully denied mandatory benefits after allegedly getting fired for gross misconduct. Examples include the employee's overall employment record, extenuating circumstances, evidential strength, and whether or not the employee's act of gross misconduct:
- Was illegal and to what extent
- Actually harmed the employer's business, clients or other employees
- Was sufficiently documented by the employer as an act of gross misconduct, with a clear warning that it justified discharge followed by a denial of benefits
- Occurred close enough in time to the employer firing the employee for same, to have established a clear "cause and effect"
- Was handled in the same manner that the employer handled like acts of gross misconduct committed by other employees
Whether or not your employer legally fired you in the first place is a matter that a court will decide based on the doctrine that employment is "at will" in the U.S. Consult an attorney for legal advice about getting fired for gross misconduct.