The Iowa Court of Appeals heard an appeal based on an administrative law judge's denial of the employee's unemployment benefits.
An Iowa employee applied for unemployment benefits after being terminated from her position as an assisted-living care provider. She was warned more than once about her failure to provide proper care and respect the patients. The employer cited her for unsatisfactory performance, violation of company policies, rudness to individuals, and failure to follow instructions. The employee did not modify her behavior to the satisfaction of her employer and she was terminated. The initial fact-finding interview resulted in awarding the employee benefits, but the employer appealed and the administrative law judge at the appeal hearing reversed, denying the employee benefits. The ALJ based this decision in part on a written statement from a witness that saw the employee engaging in the prohibited behavior. This written statement was not admitted into evidence but was read into the record at the hearing. In the decision, the ALJ noted that the employee's actions showed a failure to treat the client with dignity and respect, violating the company's policy and allowing termination based on misconduct.
The employee appealed to the Employment Appeal Board, which affirmed the ALJ and denied benefits. The employee then appealed again to the district court, which also affirmed. The final appeal to the Iowa Court of Appeals followed, in which the employee argued that the ALJ erred in relying on the hearsay statement of the witness who saw her engaging in prohibited behavior and also erred by not specifying credibility findings. The Court of Appeals' standard of review of an agency decision is "severely circumscribed". In affirming, the Court stated that the ALJ was not required to specifically set forth its credibility findings. In addition, a reviewing court can only disturb the factual findings of an agency with fact-finding authority if the findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record before the court. As such, the Court of Appeals found that the ALJ's finding that the hearsay statement was substantial to find misconduct occurred was proper. Many Iowa cases have found that hearsay evidence is admissible and may consitute substantial evidence for an ALJ's opinion (Clarke v. Iowa Dep't of Revenue & Fin., 644 N.W.2d 310, 320 (Iowa 2002)). Futhermore, the employee in this case failed to object to the admission of hearsay evidence on the record and such objection is thus waived.
It is important to have legal counsel at every step of the unemployment benefit appeal process to ensure that the proper steps are taken to preserve your claim for benefits and to thoroughly understand the facts of the case in order to present the best arguments.
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