Iowa

Common Issues in Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits:

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The sudden loss of a job can be a devastating experience. The income of the job is gone but bills still must be paid. Unemployment benefits can help many people who lose their jobs to get by until they are able to find work. Losing a job can mean facing several issues while trying to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Should I apply for Unemployment Benefits?
In general, if you lose your job, you should apply for unemployment benefits right away. This is true whether you quit or were fired. You may be able to get unemployment benefits even when you do not think you qualify. To apply, go to any Iowa Workforce Development office. You can also apply for benefits online at www.iowaworkforce.org.

If you lose your job, you generally will be eligible for unemployment benefits so long as you meet three requirements:

  1. You must have earned enough income from employment, either at your last or prior job(s), to qualify for benefits;
  2. You must not have voluntarily quit without good cause; and
  3. You must not have been fired because of "misconduct."

In many cases, you can qualify for benefits even if you quit your job or were fired. If you have any question in your mind at all if you might be eligible for benefits, you should apply for benefits. Do this right away after you are no longer working.

Can I get unemployment benefits if I quit my job?
Most of the time, you cannot get unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job. But there are exceptions to this rule. In some cases, you will have a good reason for quitting your job. If you have good cause for quitting your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

For example, if there is a substantial change in the terms of your employment, you may be eligible for benefits. This could include major changes in:

  • The hours or shifts you work;
  • How much you get paid;
  • Where you work;
  • The type of work you do.

Minor changes do not qualify. You may also have good cause for quitting your job if you leave due to unsafe, unlawful, intolerable or detrimental working conditions. You may also have good cause if you left your job instead of exercising a right to bump or oust a fellow employee with less seniority or priority.

Other cases where you may have good cause for quitting employment and may still be eligible for benefits include when you have to leave employment due to your health or to take care of an immediate family member with health problems. To be eligible for benefits in these cases, it will be important to provide medical documentation of the health problems to your employer as soon as possible. If possible, do this before leaving employment. If you or your family member recovers to the point where you can return to work, you must tell your employer right away that you are ready to return. If you are recovering from your own health problems, you will need to provide your employer with certification from your doctor that you have recovered enough to return to work. If your regular work is not available when you offer to return to work, you may be eligible for benefits.

As you can see, many different situations can arise where you would be eligible to get unemployment benefits even if you quit your job, and were not fired or laid off. The facts in each case are different. This article cannot cover all of the situations where you might be eligible for benefits even though you quit your job. Remember, if you have any question in your mind at all as to whether you still might be eligible for benefits, even though you quit your job voluntarily, you should apply for benefits.

I am not sure whether I quit my job or I was fired.
Sometimes it is not totally clear whether you quit your job or you were fired. You should apply for unemployment benefits if you are not sure. Your employer may try to stop you from getting benefits by saying you quit, even if you were actually fired. You will then have to show you did not quit your job.

The best way to make sure you get unemployment benefits is to eliminate all confusion as to whether you quit or were fired at the time when you end your employment. If you face a difficult situation at work, unless your safety is in danger, you should clearly state to your employer that you are not quitting your job. You should tell your employer you are not leaving unless the employer is firing you or suspending you. It would be best to have a witness to the meeting, to decrease the chances that your employer will later try to claim that you quit and were not fired. Before leaving, you could even demand that the employer put in writing the fact that you are being fired rather than quitting.

Keep in mind that situations involving termination of employment can be heated. Use your best judgment. If your employer calls security or the police, cooperate fully. However, make it clear in the presence of security and the police that you are leaving because you are being fired, not because you are quitting. If your employer decides to suspend you rather than fire you, you should report back to work at the conclusion of your suspension. If the suspension is for a week or more, you should apply for unemployment benefits.

Will I get unemployment benefits if I was fired?
The answer to this question is: maybe. You will get benefits unless the employer shows that you were fired for "misconduct." "Misconduct" is a legal term which only describes certain types of particularly bad behavior. To be fired for misconduct, you must have committed a deliberate act or omission which was harmful to the employer. The act must constitute a material breach of the duties of an employee to an employer, demonstrating a willful or wanton disregard of an employer's interest. If you are fired from your job due to misconduct, you cannot get unemployment benefits.

Not all things you might do to cause you to get fired would be deemed to be misconduct and prevent you from getting unemployment benefits. For example, many times people will be fired from their jobs for reasons like:

  • Making an honest mistake;
  • Having a "good faith" error in judgment; or
  • Just not being very good at the job.

In general, none of these situations would constitute misconduct and prevent you from getting unemployment benefits. Also, you cannot be denied unemployment benefits based on acts of misconduct which occurred in the past, and which did not result in the termination of your employment. You can only be denied unemployment benefits if you are terminated based upon a current act of misconduct. You can still get unemployment benefits if you are fired from your job in many, if not most, cases. This means you should always still apply for unemployment benefits even if you are fired.

Helping low-income Iowans maintain household income is a priority for Iowa Legal Aid. This includes assisting clients who have legal problems with unemployment benefits, including filing appeals. Call 1-800-532-1275 to reach an intake worker who will help determine if you are eligible for help from Iowa Legal Aid.