You may remember an Iowa unemployment insurance benefits case that we recently discussed. Bill Lang (not his real name) had worked at his job for quite a number of years, when one day last fall his hours were cut from about 30 hours a week to 20 or 25. Even though he had no reasonable expectation that his hours would increase, Mr. Lang hemmed and hawed, unsure of whether to quit and thinking that perhaps he’d start getting more hours in the spring. Months and months later, he quit. He applied for unemployment benefits, claiming that although he had quit his job, he quit with good cause attributable to his employer. The administrative law judge disagreed. Mr. Lang was denied unemployment benefits because he took so long to quit his job that he was considered to have acquiesced to the changed job conditions.
Now just to recap, you can’t normally get unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job. But if you can show you quit with good cause attributable to your employer—i.e. your quit was basically your employer’s fault—then you’re back in the game. There are a few different ways you can show this, and one of them is by showing a substantial change in the contract for hire—for example, show that like Mr. Lang’s, your hours were cut. The idea here is that your job has changed to the point that if you had been offered the job with its current conditions, you never would have accepted it in the first place.
Alex Wilson (not his real name) got a job as a truck driver in May. At the time he was hired, he told his employer that he wouldn’t be able to work overnight hours, because he had to be able to care for his wife at night. So the employer gave Mr. Wilson daytime hours only—for the first week. But in the second week, Mr. Wilson received some hours that would require him to spend overnights away from home. He let his boss know, again, that he simply couldn’t work those hours, and the boss remembered the fact, but not the reason why.
Mr. Wilson agreed to work away from home one day that week. But the following week, the employer again assigned him overnight hours. Mr. Wilson quit.
Mr. Wilson applied for unemployment benefits. He was denied benefits because he had voluntarily quit his job. But he appealed, and Administrative Law Judge Beth A. Scheetz saw things his way. In her decision dated August 7, 2014, she reversed the prior decision and granted him Iowa unemployment insurance benefits.
The short explanation for this decision is that Mr. Wilson quit his job with good cause attributable to his employer. He was hired with the understanding that he would not have to work certain hours, and the rug was pulled from under his feet almost immediately after starting his job.
Now look at how different this is from Mr. Lang’s case. Mr. Wilson didn’t wait months—he quit before he’d even worked three weeks. He did agree to work overnight once, but at least according to Judge Scheetz, that didn’t count as acquiescing to the changed job conditions. He certainly didn’t acquiesce to the extent of working under the changed conditions for months, as Mr. Lang did.
The thing is, it’s easy for us to say, “Wilson did right, Lang did wrong” but it’s not as simple as that. While Mr. Lang may have been reluctant to quit a job he had had for many years and perhaps was quite attached to, Mr. Wilson couldn’t have had any such attachment. And while Mr. Lang was dealing only with a loss of money and a change in hours, Mr. Wilson had an additional impetus to quit: the need for someone to take care of his wife. Mr. Lang could deal with a decreased income, but Mr. Wilson simply needed someone to be there for his wife.
Every unemployment case is different. To make sure your side of the story is heard, you need someone who can represent your interests. I like to say to my clients, "Help me to help you." If we can help you, call the Lombardi Law Firm to speak with attorneys Steve Lombardi and Katrina Schaefer. We can be reached at 515-222-1110 or by emailing us at [email protected] and [email protected] We look forward to your call.