Can unemployment deny me based on personal emails?
Yes. Generally, if you are discharged, you are eligible for unemployment. You are not eligible, however, if you are discharged for “wilful misconduct.” This is the issue most often litigated at unemployment hearings. The regulations provide a detailed definition of this term.
Recently, a Superior Court judge ruled that personal emails disqualified the applicant. This employee had been previously warned (three times!) to refrain from using her work computer for personal reasons. Nevertheless, she continued to do so, sending 30 personal emails in a 24 hour period. The Administrator originally awarded benefits (we don’t know why) but she later lost before a Referee and again in Superior Court.
While this ruling sounds obvious, it isn’t. Employers usually have a difficult time proving wilful misconduct. They have to show a clear and reasonable employer policy and that it is uniformly enforced. In this case, the ruling might have been different if the applicant showed that lots of people send personal emails and don’t get fired.
We still advise employees not to send or receive personal emails from work.