Sondra Irving worked as a medical assistant at the University of Iowa until she became incarcerated on November 28, 2013 through December 24, 2013 and was unable to report to work. Her employer viewed this as a voluntary separation/resignation because she was absent for three consecutive work days without notification to the employer. Ms. Irving applied for unemployment insurance benefits and was denied at the agency level based on their view that she voluntarily quit without good cause attributable to the employer, due to her incarceration. Ms. Irving appealed this to the district court, to the Iowa Court of Appeals, and now to the Iowa Supreme Court as each review has affirmed the agency decision to deny her benefits. Ms. Irving argues that her incarceration was in no way "voluntary" and she cannot therefore be deemed to have voluntarily quit her employment. Had she not been incarcerated (for charges that were later dismissed without a trial), she would have continued to work in her employment position.
You be the Judge: Will the focus of the Iowa Supreme Court include fairness to the employers that pay the benefits? Or will the Court balance the equities in favor of the worker facing an economic challenge due to pending criminal charges? What would you decide?
Ms. Irving's attorney argues that the only reason she missed work was because she could not afford to bail herself out of jail and that denying someone unemployment benefits for missing work due to something out of their control is unjust. The Iowa Workforce Development asserts that many workers have insufficient money to be able to attend work regularly (e.g. due to lack of transportation, childcare) and that they simply do not meet the required conditions for certain jobs so they are not entitled to unemployment benefits.
The Iowa Supreme Court heard arguments last week and will issue a decision in the coming months.