First of all, anyone can sue for anything, and sometimes people do. But suing for wrongful termination is rarely successful unless a solid case can be built that an employee's rights have been violated and/or a contract willingly breeched. Most states are employment-at-will states, meaning that either the employee or employer can break the working relationship at any time for any reason OTHER than those protected by law, such as age, religion, national origin, disability. I highlight this because many workers want to ignore that this is a 2-way street. They want to be able to punish their employer if they don't like the way they are treated, but rarely consider the way that they treat their employer and co-workers as part of the deal.
It is a commonly held belief that resigning from a position automatically renders one ineligible for unemployment compensation, while being involuntarily terminated assures one of unemployment benefits. This is an oversimplification of the truth.
When an employee willfully resigns for reasons such as returning to school, moving, staying home to provide care to a child/family member, or taking another job, the employer is usually absolved of any responsibility to provide unemployment benefits to the former employee.
When an employee is fired for gross and/or willful misconduct, the employer is usually likewise off the hook for unemployment.
Anything between (especially if there is a disagreement between employer and employee) is a gray area subject to interpretation by an unemployment judge.
So sometimes, an employee will resign, yet still be able to collect unemployment. Sometimes and employee will be involuntarily terminated, yet be unable to collect. It really depends upon the series of events leading up to the dismissal.
Was the employee beyond his/her probationary period? If there were problems with the employee's performance, were they well documented? Did the employee receive adequate training and supervision? Were there corrective actions documented? What was the employee's response to these re-teaching or re-training sessions? These are just some of the factors that an unemployment judge will consider in making a decision.
As an employer, I can assure you that we don't take lightly the decision to terminate an employee. Recruiting, interviewing and hiring is an expensive process. It is usually easier and cheaper to work with an employee, even very intensively, than it is to fire someone and start over. By the time we reach the point of dismissing an employee, we have a mound of paperwork to document the process. Unless we believe the employee to be truly dangerous, we might consider allowing that person to resign rather than be fired. Not because it will impact his/her unemployment eligibility. It won't. Our documentation will support our side in court, but because they can then truthfully answer potential employers' questions that they left the job voluntarily. I won't mislead a future employer in giving a reference, but nor do I want our experience to place a black mark on that person's applications at other jobs where s/he may be a better fit.
Make sense? Or clear as mud :)