If you were fired for misconduct, you won’t be eligible for Iowa unemployment benefits.  But the person who fires you isn’t the one who decides whether what you did to get fired was legal misconduct—Iowa Workforce Development makes that decision when you apply.  If there’s an issue, an administrative law judge might be the one to decide.  The takeaway is that even if your boss says you were fired for misconduct, you might still be able to get unemployment benefits. Yes, that is true, if you don't know the law then find a lawyer who does. 

Take the case of Worker A was fired from Wells Enterprises for fighting on the job.  He and his co-worker, Worker B, had been having difficulties, when Worker A arrived to work and found that his work gear had been thrown in the trash near his coworker.  Worker A accused the coworker, seated nearby, of touching his gear.  The coworker stepped forward and touched Worker A’s face.  Worker A, thinking he was about to be struck, punched the coworker.  He was discharged soon after.

Iowa Workforce Development determined that Worker A was eligible to receive benefits, but Wells appealed.

Fighting on the job can be misconduct, but fighting won’t disqualify a claimant from benefits if he can prove he acted in self-defense.   The claimant can do that by showing

  1.  “freedom from fault in bringing on the difficulty [i.e., he didn’t throw the first punch];
  2. a necessity to strike; and
  3. an attempt to retreat unless there is no mode of escape or the peril will increase.”

Taking this test and applying it to Worker A, it’s pretty clear that he should have been disqualified, if only for the reason that he threw the first punch.  We don’t know enough about the facts to determine whether he had to hit his coworker, or whether he tried to retreat. 

 But it turns out that Administrative Law Judge Lynette A. F. Donner, who decided the appeal, didn’t have to consider those factors.  Because Wells was the party appealing, it had the burden of showing that Worker A engaged in misconduct, and Wells dropped the ball.  Judge Donner observes,

“[Wells] relies exclusively on the second-hand account from the co-worker and a possible observer; however, without that information being provided first-hand, the administrative law judge is unable to ascertain whether those persons might have been mistaken, whether the observer actually did observe, whether either of them are credible, or whether the employer’s witness might have misinterpreted or misunderstood aspects of the reports….[T]he administrative law judge concludes that the employer has not satisfied its burden to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the claimant in fact punched the co-worker without provocation and not in response to a perceived threat of being struck himself.”

In other words, Worker A well might have been engaged in misconduct that could have gotten him disqualified from receiving benefits.  But because Wells opted to tell its side of the story purely through one person who wasn’t there to observe the incident, Judge Donner had to side with Worker A. 

What you can learn from this is that even if it appears that you engaged in misconduct, you might still be able to get unemployment benefits.  But it helps to have some legal savvy on your side. 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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