In Iowa, if you quit your job and apply for unemployment benefits, you can only get them if you have good cause attributable to your employer—i.e., if your employer more or less made you quit by changing the rules of your employment. Della Nichols (not her real name) quit her job at a winery because she thought her boss was changing the rules, i.e. making her come in every day instead of giving her a certain number of days off per week. While it isn’t clear whether the employer was actually changing the rules on her, Ms. Nichols didn’t ask to him to clarify what he meant.
Administrative Law Judge Vicki Seeck determined that Ms. Nichols had quit he job voluntarily, without good cause attributable to her employer. At Ms. Nichols’s performance evaluation in January, her boss told her to make a list of things she could do “to make the wine tasting room successful every day.” Ms. Nichols interpreted this to mean that she was for the first time expected to work every day, and asked a human resources representative what to do. The representative told her to ask her boss what he had meant.
But Ms. Nichols didn’t ask her boss to clarify. She “felt that [her boss] belittled her and the other employees and treated all of them as if they were ‘worthless.’” Instead, she quit.
Being intimidated by your boss is no laughing matter, but this case makes pretty clear that you’re expected to act like an adult. If Ms. Nichols had spoken up, she would have either known for sure that she was being forced to work every day. She might then have been able to quit with good cause attributable to her employer, and then be eligible for unemployment benefits. Or Ms. Nichols might have been told that she had misunderstood, that her schedule was not changing after all, and she would have kept her job and the wages that came with it.
One other item that Ms. Nichols could have done differently: the only evidence that her boss belittled her, and generally treated employees as though they were worthless is her own testimony. If Ms. Nichols had had a lawyer, she would probably have been able to present this information differently—i.e., with more witnesses, concrete examples, documentation. This could have changed the case. If an employer truly is belittling his employees or somehow engaging in illegal action, it can sometimes be sufficient good cause to quit. Unfortunately, because Ms. Nichols didn’t have a lawyer, we don’t know how this approach would have been decided.
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