You can get Iowa unemployment benefits if you quit your last job “with good cause attributable to your employer”—i.e., if it’s somehow you’re employer’s fault that you quit.  There are a few different ways your quit can be your employer’s fault, including if you were working in unsafe, unlawful, intolerable, or detrimental working conditions.  For example, if you faced racist remarks from your co-workers every day, or if your work environment was making you sick and your employer knew and wasn’t working to change that, you could quit with good cause attributable to your employer.

A female employee worked for Ingraham Construction performing secretarial duties for the company owner and president.  On January 15, 2014, the president noticed that she had made a mistake on a document that would consequently have to be corrected.  He asked why “the hell” the mistake had happened; the employee apologized, explained, and said she would fix it. 

“[The president] replied that he was ‘tired of having to check and double check’ the claimant’s work. The claimant responded, ‘That’s fine. As of tomorrow you can find someone else to put up with this crap.’ [He] replied, ‘if that was so then get the fuck out now.’ The claimant stated, ‘Sure, right after I fix the permit I messed up,’ and he yelled, ‘No,’ and grabbed the permit information and folder, remarking he would do it himself to make ‘sure the damn thing is done correctly.’ The claimant then packed her belongings and left.”

 On February 5th, Iowa Workforce Development determined that the employee had quit her job voluntarily, without good cause attributable to her employer.  She appealed, and on April 3rd, Administrative Law Judge Julie Elder affirmed that decision.  In the words of Judge Elder,

“Even assuming everything the claimant testified to is true, and the administrative law judge found her to be the more credible of the two witnesses, yelling at an employee for an error is not necessarily unlawful, intolerable or detrimental working conditions as those terms are defined by Iowa law. While [the president] should not yell and swear at an employee who makes a mistake because it is unprofessional and disrespectful at best, given that the parties work in the construction industry and both admitted to the use of profanity at times, the claimant’s retelling of the events that caused her to voluntarily leave her employment, namely [the president]’s yelling, does not constitute good cause attributable to the employer for her leaving.”

There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case.  It seems as if the employee had made a number of mistakes, but what if she had been able to produce evidence that she had not done so, and was singled out for harassment?  What if she had argued that she was discriminated against as a female in the construction industry? Would the decision had turned out differently?  And suppose this wasn’t the construction industry, where profanity is apparently to be expected.  Would Judge Elder have decided the case differently? 

The facts of the case may be exactly those laid out in the Judge’s decision, but if the employee had had a lawyer maybe we would be able to hear more of her side of the story, and maybe her arguments would have been different.  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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