There are a bunch of requirements you have to fulfill to be eligible for Iowa unemployment benefits, but the three biggies are that you are able to work, available for work, and looking for work. Of those three, the one that is the least clear is “available.” What does it mean? You need to know, because if you become unavailable and get paid anyway, you’re going to have to find a way to repay any benefits you have been paid.
There are a number of situations that can make you unavailable, including illness, injury or hospitalization, incarceration, being in school, being on vacation, or dealing with a lack of child care or transportation. You are required to report any situation that might make you unavailable to Iowa Workforce Development; you could find yourself facing fraud charges otherwise.
Mary (not her real name) filed for unemployment benefits after her hours were reduced at The Printer, Inc. She was still employed part-time, but on an as-needed basis. Her unemployment benefits claim was effective February 9, 2014. Over the next seven weeks, she worked for Printer about thirty-seven hours a week. During that time she called in sick slightly more than four days, left work four hours early once, and on one occassion chose not to work.
On April 1st, Administrative Law Judge Beth A. Scheetz determined that Mary was not available for work and found her ineligible for benefits on that basis. For any time that Mary called in sick to work, she was considered ill and therefore not available. And as for the day Mary chose not to work, she was considered not willing to work and therefore not available. Because of Judge Scheetz’s decision, Mary will almost certainly have to pay back any employment benefits she has received.
If she had had a lawyer at her hearing, things might have turned out differently. For example, the judge’s decision leaves her side of the story a big mystery: what does it mean to say that Mary “chose not to work”? Why did she leave early? And when she called in sick, was she truly sick, or was she applying to or interviewing at other jobs?
The answers to these questions would have given us more insight into the judge’s decision, and possibly changed the outcome of the case. If Mary had had a lawyer, we would know more about her side of the story—because her lawyer would have ensured that her voice and her story were heard.