We’ve discussed the intersection of workers’ compensation claims and unemployment benefits claims before.  But what if you’ve got permanent work restrictions due to your work-related injury, and your employer just doesn’t have any work available that fits those restrictions?  Does that make you unemployed?  What exactly is your status, and what does it say about your eligibility for Iowa unemployment insurance benefits?

            Ruth Thomasino (not her real name) was injured on the job and ended up with work restrictions precluding her from walking, standing or working on slippery or uneven surfaces or heights.  Her doctor also allowed her to use a crutch and a boot if it made her comfortable to do so.  Ms. Thomasino opted to do so.  But it just so happened that her employer didn’t have any work available that would enable her to use the crutch or boot, and it furthermore didn’t have work available that was suitable for Ms. Thomasino in light of just her bare work restrictions.  She wasn’t fired and she didn’t quit, but she certainly wasn’t working.

            Ms. Thomasino applied for unemployment insurance benefits and began looking for work.  She was quite capable of doing sedentary work, such as telemarketing or reception.  At one point, she was even offered a job as an assistant manager, although that offer was put on hold for unrelated reasons.  

            In the meantime, Ms. Thomasino’s employer contested her claim for unemployment benefits.  There were two issues that needed to be cleared up: first, whether she was “able and available” for unemployment benefits, and second, whether she was disqualified from receiving benefits for an impermissible separation from employment.

            For the first issue, it’s important to know that if you’re unable to work, or unavailable to work, you can’t get unemployment benefits in Iowa.  An injury can potentially make you unable or unavailable to work.  However, you don’t have to be able and available to work every single job—you just need to be “physically and mentally able to work in some gainful employment, not necessarily in the individual's customary occupation, but which is engaged in by others as a means of livelihood.”  We already know that Ms. Thomasino was able to do sedentary work, and she certainly had the time to be available for it.  Administrative Law Judge Lynette Donner decided this issue in Ms. Thomasino’s favor.

            The issue of separation from employment isn’t as clear.  The law is that if you were fired for misconduct or if you voluntarily quit your job without good cause attributable to your employer, you can’t get Iowa unemployment benefits.  But Ms. Thomasino wasn’t fired, and she didn’t quit.  Judge Donner noted that Ms. Thomasino was essentially being treated as though she was on a leave of absence that she didn’t request.  While a voluntary leave of absence would normally not qualify a claimant for unemployment benefits, this was an involuntary leave.  For that reason Judge Donner determined that the separation from employment, such that it was, wouldn’t disqualify Ms. Thomasino from getting benefits.

            Ms. Thomasino’s case is not straightforward, and it is a wonder she was able to handle it without an attorney.  If you’ve got a workers’ comp case or an unemployment case—or heck, both—do yourself a favor and look into getting a lawyer. 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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