You can be eligible for unemployment benefits if you were fired, as long as you weren’t fired for misconduct.  But what’s misconduct?

Take the case of Wendy Hunter, a single mother with a number of medical issues, who worked the night shift so she could care for her ailing father during the day.  While dealing with her own burgeoning medical problems, she took several short periods of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to address her father’s need for surgery.  Ms. Hunter’s employment was terminated supposedly due to expiration of her allowable FMLA leave.  But at that point, Ms. Hunter had been back at work for over a month and had no plans to take any more FMLA leave.  When she claimed employment benefits, her employer argued that she had been fired for misconduct.

Iowa courts have discussed the meaning of the term “misconduct” many times.  One definition is “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.”  Case law is also pretty clear that in order for an action to constitute misconduct, it has to be volitional—i.e. a conscious choice of some sort.  What part of Ms. Hunter’s using up her FMLA leave was misconduct?

None of it was.  An administrative law judge found that Ms. Hunter had not engaged in misconduct and as she also fulfilled all the other requirements, she was entitled to unemployment benefits.  When Ms. Hunter filed for workers' compensation, the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission took that decision into account and also applied its own definition of misconduct, “the intentional refusal to perform work."  The Commission determined that Ms. Hunter did not engage in misconduct by that standard either.  Tellingly, the Commission notes that “[t]he only event to transpire between [Hunter]'s return to work and her termination is notification to defendants that [she] retained counsel.”  In other words, the Commission smelled a rat.

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.

Source.  Decided October 24, 2012.

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