Unemployment Benefits

 Unemployment Benefits 

Unemployment benefits are based on both federal and state programs. These programs are designed to help a person survive financially while looking for new employment after losing your job.

Unemployment Qualifications
To qualify for unemployment compensation, you must have a record of a minimum amount of earnings over a set period of time. It is usually the 12 months before you lost your job. You also have to be ready, willing and able to work. In most states, you will not be eligible for unemployment compensation if you:

  • Quit without “good cause,” such as because you hated the commute to work
  • Were fired for serious misconduct, like stealing from your employer or physically hurting a co-worker
  • Are self-employed, like an independent contractor, or a student
  • Are on strike from your job
  • Are unavailable to work due to illness or other circumstances

Documentation

As an unemployment claimant, you have a right to work-related documents in the possession of your employer. You may request any documents from you employer you feel prove your eligibility. If your employer refuses to give them to you, you may request a subpoena from Iowa Workforce Development. These documents can include personnel files, employee handbook or manual, or wage and hour sheets. Request these documents early in the process to give you time to receive them.

Appealing Your State's Decision
The State's unemployment compensation department will first decide if you are eligible for compensation based on information you provide and information from your former employer. In most states, you can appeal if initially rejected, but you must do so within several weeks of this decision.  

In Iowa the unemployment process will move quickly. There are multiple appeal rights for both the employer and employee. But all appeals must be requested in writing and timely Each of these deadlines falls very shortly after a decision is reached. It is therefore important any appeal is timely filed. Consult with an attorney early in the process, to ensure the attorney has time to file an appearance and properly prepare for any hearing or appeal necessary.

f it is logistically fair to both the employer and employee, the claimant may request an in-person appeal hearing. Request an in-person hearing when filing an appeal of the fact-finding decision; or file immediately upon receiving notice of the appeal hearing.

If you or your previous employer objects to your state's decision, there will be an informal hearing in front of a government hearing officer. In most states, this type of review board will only look at the evidence given at this hearing. Because this may be your only chance to present your case, it is a good idea to have an employment lawyer present. An experienced employment attorney is familiar with your state's laws and can help you present your best evidence.

Administrative and Court Appeals
You will have a right to appeal the administrative decision to the court system.  There is a short time window to do so. The legal standard for winning in court is usually high. You will be required to prove that either the administrative appeal board ignored the law or that there was not sufficient evidence to support their decision.

Don Not Get Fired for Failing to Communicate with Your Employer

In order to give one the best possible chance at receiving unemployment insurance benefits, maintain contact and communication with one's employer. If a worker becomes sick, sustains an injury, has an allergic reaction, or becomes pregnant, the worker should consult with a doctor. If that doctor advises the worker time away from work due to the health condition is necessary, the worker should get a doctor's note and present it as soon as possible to the worker's employer. If the employer has a policy regarding absences and calling in, the worker should follow the procedures for timely reporting of an absence. Upon being released to return to work by the treating physician, the worker should notify the employer immediately and do so in writing. The employee should do this even if he or she has been laid off or fired by the employer, because the law requires the worker to do so in order to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

For more information on an injured worker's right to be free from discrimination based on a disability, and to take leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, please feel free to contact our firm. These are time sensitive claims making it important for a worker to investigate his or her rights shortly after those rights may have been violated.

Misconduct and Other Reasons to be Denied Benefits

When an employer fires an employee, the employer has the burden of proving the employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits because the employee committed an act of misconduct.

An employer has the right to set whatever standard of performance it deems proper for its business. However, the employer's own standard does not determine whether a discharged employee is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. While an employer's policies may be considered in reaching a decision, an employee's eligibility is a question of law governed by the Iowa Administrative Code.

Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(1)(a) gives the definition of misconduct:

“Misconduct” is defined as a deliberate act or omission by a worker which constitutes a material breach of the duties and obligations arising out of such worker's contract of employment. Misconduct as the term is used in the disqualification provision as being limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interest as is found in deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of employees, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree of recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee's duties and obligations to the employer. On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed misconduct within the meaning of the statute.

Misconduct: Excessive and Unexcused Absenteeism

Under Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(7), a claimant is disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits if the claimant has been excessively absent from work.

Where an employee has been absent due to “illness or other reasonable grounds” and the employee has properly reported his or her illness to the employer, an employee may be found eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Absences resulting from occurrences within an employer's “personal responsibility” have been found to be disqualifying. Examples include: car troubles, lack of childcare and late buses.

An employer's attendance policy is considered in determining whether an employee's absences are excessive and/or unexcused, but it is generally not the deciding factor.

Misconduct: Falsified Work Application

Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(6) states an individual who “willfully and deliberately” makes a false statement on an application for work and the false statement could result in endangering the health, safety or morals of employees at the workplace or result in legal liabilities or penalties for the employer, is committing an act of misconduct.

This rule has been expanded by the courts to include misrepresentations made during the interview process.

The courts have held the misrepresentation must be related to job performance in order to bar eligibility from unemployment insurance benefits.

Misconduct: An Employee's Refusal to Sign a Written Reprimand

If an employee is given a written reprimand, an employer can require the employee to sign the reprimand to acknowledge receipt. Misconduct may be found when the employer has a policy in place requiring an employee's signature for acknowledgment of receipt only, the employee is aware of this policy, and the employer fires the employee for failure to sign.

However, an employee need not sign a written reprimand to show agreement with the substance of its accusation, if the employee does not agree with it.

An employee may indicate disagreement with the reprimand in a note next to his or her signature. The employee may also request the employer to include a statement written by the employee of his or her side in the file along with the written reprimand.

Misconduct: Workplace Drug-Testing

In order for an allegedly positive workplace drug test to disqualify an employee for unemployment insurance benefits, the drug test must have been performed in compliance with either the Iowa Private Sector Drug-Free Workplace Act or applicable federal law. If the drug test was illegally administered, it cannot provide the basis for finding disqualifying misconduct.

Whether a drug test complies with state or federal law is usually a legal question.

If an employee is fired due to a drug test, under Iowa law the drug test must have complied with the procedural requirements set forth in the Iowa Code. If the employer failed to follow those provisions, the employee may have a wrongful termination lawsuit. If an employee has questions regarding whether a drug test was legally performed, he or she may contact our law firm for a free consultation.

Misconduct: Insubordination

A finding of insubordination can occur in a variety of discharges. The administrative law judge will apply the general rule, asking whether the former employee continuously failed to follow reasonable instructions. However, if failing to perform a task occurs in good faith or for good cause, the claimant will not be disqualified. The administrative law judge will look at the circumstances surrounding the employer's instructions and the reason why the employee refused to follow the instructions, in making the determination.

Misconduct: Language

The use of improper language in the workplace may be found disqualifying misconduct where it is profane, offensive, threatening, and/or disrespectful. The administrative law judge looks at the workplace environment, workplace policies, and the nature of the relationship between the individuals involved in the exchange of allegedly improper language to determine unemployment insurance benefits eligibility.

Misconduct: Fighting

If an individual engages in a fight at the workplace, it may be deemed disqualifying misconduct. The administrative law judge looks at who instigated the fight, or, who was the aggressor. Generally, where an individual is the instigator, disqualifying misconduct is found. If the claimant was the recipient of the first blow and then defending him- or her-self, the claimant may still be found eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. However, if the claimant was involved with an improper verbal exchange which led to the fight, benefits may be denied.

Misconduct: Off-Duty Conduct

If an employee is fired for off-duty conduct, the analysis of the hearing officer will focus on whether the employer has a work rule in place forbidding the type of off-duty behavior leading to the discharge.

Misconduct: Gross Misconduct

If the claimant is fired for an indictable offense and has either been convicted of said offense or has admitted to committing said offense, the claimant will be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The employer must have known of the act and discharge the claimant for the act which the claimant was later indicted on.

Misconduct: Carelessness & Negligence

Making a mistake or mistakes in the performance of one's job will generally not disqualify one from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. The mistakes must demonstrate a “carelessness or negligence of such degree of recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design.”

Quits or Discharge Due to Injury or Illness

When a worker becomes sick, injured, or pregnant, it can be a difficult time. Depending on whether or not the worker suffers from a work-related illness, disease, allergy, or injury, it can change the burden on the worker should he or she lose his or her job due to the illness. The worker should ask his or her treating physician if the health condition is work-related. If the health condition is work-related, the worker should ask the doctor to put it in writing and provide a copy of the doctor's note to the employer as soon as possible. If the condition is work-related, the worker very likely has workers' compensation rights.

(For more information on workers' compensation rights in Iowa, please consult Iowa Workers' Compensation Law or feel free to contact our law firm.)

Before resigning from one's employment due to a medical condition, a worker must provide the employer with notice of these facts:

Quits or Discharge Due to Injury or Illness: Work-Related Health 

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