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Lombardi Law Firm

Unemployment benefits and your obligation to accept suitable work


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7/23/2014
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If you’ve received Iowa unemployment insurance benefits, then you should know that if you’re lazy, they’ll be taken away.  You’ve got to continue to fulfill certain work search requirements.  You’ve got to call up Iowa Workforce Development every week and ascertain that you’re still looking.  You’ve got to log the contact information of every employer you contact.  And if you get a job offer, and it’s “suitable”, you have to take it.  Fail to accept suitable work without good cause, no benefits for you.

            But what is suitable work?   If you’re trying to figure this out, the first thing you should look at is the wage.  There is a cutoff point for what wage is considered suitable for you.  Here’s how you calculate what wage you have to accept:  First, find out what your “average weekly wage”, or “AWW” is.  You should have received a document showing your AWW when you first qualified for unemployment benefits.  Next, look at a calendar and figure out which week of your claim you’re in.  The longer ago you made your claim, the lower the wage is that is considered suitable.  A wage is considered suitable if it is (a) not less than minimum wage and (b)

  • 100% of your AWW if offered during the first five weeks of your claim OR
  • 75% of your AWW if offered during the sixth through twelfth weeks of your claim OR
  • 70% of your AWW if offered during the thirteenth through eighteenth weeks of your claim OR
  • 65% of your AWW if offered after the 18th week of your claim.

            So let’s say your AWW is $400.  In the first five weeks of your claim, a job paying less than $400 weekly would be considered unsuitable.  From the sixth through twelfth weeks of your claim, a job paying $300 could be suitable, but a job paying less would be unsuitable.  From the thirteenth through eighteenth weeks of your claim, a job paying $280 could be suitable, but any job paying less would be unsuitable.  And from the eighteenth week onwards, a job paying $260 would be suitable, but any job paying less would be unsuitable.  If these numbers scare you, remember that work paying less than minimum wage will never be suitable.

            It’s easy enough to figure out what wage is considered unsuitable, but if a job’s wage doesn’t render it unsuitable, there are a number of other factors to take into account, and it’s not up to you, the claimant, to apply them.  The Department, Iowa Workforce Development, is the party that decides whether these factors indicate that a job is suitable, essentially by looking at the job duties and working conditions.  Factors include “the degree of risk involved to the health, safety, and morals, the individual's physical fitness, prior training, length of unemployment, and prospects for securing local work in the individual's customary occupation, the distance of the available work from the individual's residence.”

            The trouble in all of this is that you’re the one being offered the job.  There’s a good chance you won’t be able to call up Iowa Workforce Development and ask their opinion of whether a job you’re offered is suitable or not—you might have to make a snap decision by applying your best judgment.  No matter your decision, you have to let Iowa Workforce Development know about the offer and your decision.  And if you opted to turn down an offer for a job that they consider suitable work, you might have your unemployment benefits cut off.

            You should not be afraid to appeal this decision.  Iowa Workforce Development has, several times, cut off unemployment benefits for a claimant’s failure to accept suitable work, when that claimant had a perfectly legitimate reason for his or her choice.  In your appeal, you need only show the administrative law judge that you had good cause to turn down the job offer.  Here are some examples of what administrative law judges have considered good cause: you recently started working a different job; the job offer conflicted with the schedule of a course you had recently registered for; you used to work for your prospective supervisor and refused the offer because you feared him; you lacked the training for the job.

            If you thought you had good cause for turning down an offer of suitable work, there’s a good chance you actually did.  Need help with your appeal?  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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