If you lost your job because you committed misconduct, you’re ineligible for unemployment benefits in Iowa. But the question isn’t whether your boss thinks what you did was misconduct—it’s what the folks at Iowa Workforce Development think it is. [Steve Lombardi says, "The general public's idea of misconduct is probably not the same as the legal definition of "misconduct".]
Take the case of Wanda Delacour (not her real name). She worked part-time as a clerk at a gas station convenience store, and cigarettes were among the items offered for sale. Naturally, her boss had a policy that any employee caught selling tobacco to a minor could be fired. Ms. Delacour, who had taken the requisite training classes, knew that. In January, a young man entered the store and asked for a pack of cigarettes, which Ms. Delacour sold him. She thought he looked old enough to purchase tobacco legally because he was tall, and did not ask for his identification.
It turned out that the young man was part of a law enforcement sting operation. After the incident, Ms. Delacour notified the other store in the neighborhood that police were conducting stings, and then she reported the incident to her manager, admitting that she had made a mistake by neglecting to ask for ID. The manager’s supervisor was out of town, and when he returned a week later, the manager notified him of the situation. Ms. Delacour, who had continued to work without having received warning, was promptly fired.
Ms. Delacour obviously made a huge mistake when she failed to ask for ID. She neglected to do what she knew she was required to do. But is that misconduct under Iowa law? On June 4th, Administrative Law Judge Lynette A. F. Donner decided that it was not. Here’s a refresher on how Iowa defines “misconduct”:
“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. Misconduct as the term is used in the disqualification provision as being limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interest as is found in deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of employees, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree of recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer's interests or of the employee's duties and obligations to the employer. 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’s up to the employer to prove that an unemployment claimant committed misconduct. And what Ms. Delacour did—affirmatively neglecting a duty which she knew she owed to her employer—was in fact misconduct, to her employer. But it wasn’t misconduct under the law. Judge Donner stated, “While the claimant is guilty of an isolated incident of poor judgment, the evidence does not point to repeated instances or carelessness or negligence.” Ms. Delacour gained points with the judge by voluntarily telling her manager what she had done. Then there’s the fact that she was allowed to stay on another week after the incident. As Judge Donner pointed out, “If the conduct is so egregious as to require immediate termination why was the claimant allowed to continue working for another week?”
Ms. Delacour was allowed unemployment benefits despite her mistake. That’s a good sign for Iowa employees whose jobs require them to make snap decisions, but it shouldn’t be taken for granted. Ms. Delacour made a big mistake, and if her manager’s supervisor hadn’t been out of town, she might have been fired on the spot and not be eligible for unemployment benefits after all. In other words, this decision isn’t a free pass out of your job duties.
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.