One basic rule of unemployment benefits in Iowa is that if you’re fired from your job for committing misconduct, you can’t get benefits.  There’s a bit of hemming and hawing over what misconduct is, but it all comes down to the definition provided in Iowa law:

“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.

Plain old mistakes or carelessness aren’t misconduct, unless the instances really pile up.

            Let’s look at the case of Michelle Baker (not her real name).  She received a part time job as a case manager, and was fired after five weeks.  She was told that the reason she was fired was that she was “not a good fit” for the company and that her “personality was too big”.  Naturally she applied for unemployment benefits, and she was granted them.  Her employer appealed the decision, saying that she was actually fired for misconduct.  Here’s a list of Ms. Baker’s alleged actions that her employer considered to be misconduct:

  • Dress code violations, including wearing a very short skirt to a meeting
  • Leaving that meeting abruptly, shaking her head
  • Failing to complete work, but being observed sending e-mails
  • Forwarding documents from the work computer to her personal computer in violation of company policy
  • Failing to provide time expense and tracking forms
  • Failing to know how to access company training sites

            Obviously some of those alleged instances of misconduct are more egregious than others.  The head-shaking incident and Ms. Baker’s lack of knowledge of how to access company training sites in particular show that the employer was really reaching.

            Administrative Law Judge Julie Elder issued a decision in the appeal on September 2.  She stated, “The claimant may not have been a good fit with this employer. However, the employer should accept responsibility for her failure in this position as well, as most of the issues described could be considered training issues…Failure in good performance due to inability is not considered misconduct under the meaning of the law.”  Basically, what Judge Elder said to the employer was “Sure she messed up.  But you’ve given me nothing to show it wasn’t your fault!”

            Maybe your employer gave you a long list of reasons why you were fired, and you’re feeling hopeless about the possibility of getting unemployment benefits.  It’s worth your while to apply anyway.  Need a hand?  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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