If you’re fired for misconduct, you’ll be denied unemployment benefits in Iowa.  Excessive absenteeism—missing work, being late, or leaving early—can easily constitute misconduct.  The gist is that in order to be misconduct, an act or omission must show “willful and wanton disregard of an employer’s interests” or significantly careless behavior.  Because the law doesn’t want to punish well-meaning people, there’s an exception for excused absences—for example if you have a doctor’s note, your absence won’t be considered an act of misconduct.

Ahmed Valentino (not his real name) was an employee caught up in a horrific situation.  While he was employed in Iowa, his wife and toddler son lived in Uganda and were forced to flee through Sudan.  The wife was killed but managed to save the son.  Mr. Valentino needed to go to Africa and make arrangements for his son’s care.  Naturally he had to leave his job for a bit.  He requested and was granted a leave of absence at the beginning of February, told to maintain monthly contact with his employer.

Mr. Valentino did as he was told.  Although there were communication difficulties, he called his employer in February, March, and April 3rd.  The last time he called, he didn’t give a date he could return to work.  Mr. Valentino flew back into Des Moines April 24th, but by then he had already been terminated for not showing up or calling in on April 14th, 15th and 16th, and sent a letter saying as much  He called his employer and told him he was ready to return to work on Monday the 28th.  That was when Mr. Valentino learned of his termination.

Mr. Valentino took the letter to his union, and his employer agreed to reinstate him on May 19th.  However, his old position was no longer open—Mr. Valentino was assigned a different job.

Before being reinstated, Mr. Valentino applied for unemployment benefits.  He was awarded them on May 20th.  His employer appealed that decision, arguing that Mr. Valentino was discharged for misconduct, having racked up unexcused absences.  But in her decision dated July 1, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Julie Elder disagreed.  “While ideally the claimant should have called the employer and asked for an extension of his leave prior to April 14, 2014, under these circumstances it is understandable why he was unable to do so.”  She cited the tragedy in his family, difficulties in communication, and Mr. Valentino’s efforts to communicate with his employer despite difficulties.  In the end, she decided that Mr. Valentino’s failure to call in in mid-April did not rise to the level of misconduct.

Mr. Valentino’s unique and tragic story was part of enabled him to receive unemployment benefits.  But there’s a story behind every unemployed worker.  Were you fired because of circumstances beyond your control?  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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