If you lose your job, it’s reasonable to file for unemployment benefits. Your employer might protest your claim, and if that happens, Iowa Workforce Development will probably arrange a fact-finding interview to figure out whether you should get benefits or not. If they deny you benefits, you can appeal the decision, and if they grant you benefits, your employer can appeal the decision. The appeal will probably be in the form of a telephone hearing conducted by an administrative law judge.
If you were fired from your job, your employer might argue that you should be denied unemployment insurance benefits because you were fired for misconduct. If the Judge agrees with your employer, you’ll be denied benefits (a decision you can appeal). But it’s important to remember that what your employer deems to be misconduct isn’t necessarily what the law deems misconduct—meaning, you can mess up on the job and legally be fired for it, but you might still be able to get unemployment benefits.
Ellen Graham (not her real name) worked as a cashier, and she was fired because her cash drawer was short by $93. Surveillance footage didn’t reveal her actually stealing the money and her employer didn’t accuse her of stealing it—it was merely unexplained. She had had two other cash shortages in recent weeks, one of $121 and the other of $26. While there was certainly a question of Ms. Graham’s handling of cash, her employer was unable to pinpoint a problem.
Ms. Graham wasn’t given additional training. And while every cashier was supposed to count their cash drawer at the end of a shift, that frequently didn’t happen. That might have been fine, but Ms. Graham did not always have the time to count the money in the cash drawer at the beginning of her shift—the last one of the day. The implication was that Ms. Graham was likely to be blamed for any cash mistakes her coworkers made throughout the day. In fact, the day before she was fired, the woman who worked the shift before her was caught stealing from a supervisor.
Did Ms. Graham’s employer have good enough reason to fire her? Yes—it might seem unfair, but employers can generally fire whomever they want, and Ms. Graham’s employer seems to have had some modicum of reasonable suspicion. But did Ms. Graham’s employer show that she committed misconduct deserving of a denial of unemployment benefits? No, not at all:
“‘Misconduct’ is defined as a deliberate act or omission by a worker which constitutes a material breach of the duties and obligations arising out of such worker’s contract of employment…On the other hand mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed misconduct within the meaning of the statute.”
It looks as if Ms. Graham’s employer was trying to get the Administrative Law Judge to believe that she had either stolen the missing money, or materially breached an obligation to keep track of the money. The thing is, the employer didn’t show anything other than, at best, mere negligence or inadvertencies on Ms. Graham’s part. Administrative Law Judge Dévon M. Lewis found that Ms. Graham was deserving of unemployment benefits. Her employer simply hadn’t carried its burden to show misconduct.
If you have a factfinding interview or an appeal coming up in your unemployment benefits case and you aren’t sure quite how to handle it, the Lombardi Law Firm is interested in hearing from you. 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.