If you’re out of a job in Iowa, there are a number of hoops you have to jump through to get unemployment benefits.  If the reason you’re out of work is because you quit your job, you’ll have to concern yourself with an additional hoop: the question of whether you quit with good cause attributable to your employer.  What this means is that if the reason you quit is essentially your employer’s fault, you’re in the clear. 

            Now, it’s not really as simple as that, and it can be worthwhile to think carefully about your case, direct questions to Iowa Workforce Development, and/or consult with a lawyer about the particulars of your case.  But one thing that’s laid out in law is that if you quit your job because of unsafe, intolerable, or detrimental working conditions, you’ve quit with good cause attributable to your employer—meaning that, all other things in your favor, you’ll get unemployment benefits.

            Those words are pretty vague though.  We’ve discussed them before and we’ll undoubtedly discuss them again.  Today we’re focusing on the presence of an infectious disease in the workplace—Is it unsafe?  Intolerable?  Detrimental?

            Scott McHugh (not his real name) was one of six or seven employees at his workplace.  His employer was suffering from a severe MRSA infection, a highly unpleasant skin infection that can cause fevers and is resistant to many antibiotics.  Two employees caught MRSA as well.  The employer made plans to stay away from the workplace to prevent the infection of any more employees, and notified the employees of those plans.  However, those plans feel through, and the employer returned to the workplace part-time.  He did not have tests to determine whether he was free of the virus.

            Mr. McHugh didn’t want to get sick, and he didn’t want his young children to get sick either.  He quit his job when he found out that his employer’s plans to stay out of the workplace had fallen through.  Mr. McHugh applied for unemployment benefits and was granted them; his employer appealed.

            Administrative Law Judge Teresa K. Hillary issued a decision on August 1st determining that Mr. McHugh was eligible for unemployment benefits.  She found that the employer’s coming into the workplace after planning to not do so while infected with MRSA constituted his creation of unsafe and intolerable working conditions, so Mr. McHugh quit with good cause attributable to his employer.

            What can you take away from this?  For starters, if you quit your job because of a communicable illness getting passed around the workplace, you’re more likely to get unemployment benefits.  But it looks as if MRSA is a particularly damning infection—if the illness in question was the common cold or something that was common in the community already, maybe Judge Hillary would have come out differently.  There’s also the question of the importance of the employer’s actions.  Judge Hillary places some weight on the fact that the employer told his employees he was going to take certain actions to prevent them from getting infected, and then reneged on those plans.  If there had never been plans at all, then the employer would not have “created” the unsafe or detrimental condition.

            Need some help with your Iowa unemployment case?  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.

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