Common Issues in Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits:


The sudden loss of a job can be devastating. The income of the job is gone but bills still must be paid. Unemployment benefits can help you get by until you find a new job. This article answers common questions about qualifying for unemployment benefits. 

Where do I apply for Unemployment Benefits?

You can apply for benefits at the closest Iowa Workforce Develpment (IWD) office or online at

I did not work very long for my employer. Can I still get unemployment benefits?

You might be able to get benefits. IWD will look at your wages from your last job and your prior jobs to see if you qualify.

Can I get unemployment benefits if I quit my job?

Most of the time, you cannot get unemployment benefits if you quit your job. But there are exceptions. If you have a good reason for quitting your job, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.  

For example, if your employer made major changes to your job, you may be eligible for benefits. This could include changes in:

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

It is also a good reason to quit if your job becomes unsafe. Poor working conditions can be a good reason to quit. Illegal, harmful or intolerable conditions are examples of poor working conditions.   

If you quit instead of exercising a right to bump or oust a fellow employee with less seniority, that can be a good reason.

Being forced to quit for health reasons can be a good reason. Also, quitting to care for an immediate family member with health problems can be a good reason. You must give medical documentation of the health problems to your employer as soon as possible. You should give it before you quit.  If you or your family member recovers, 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 a note 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.

Many times an employee will be eligible for unemployment benefits even though he or she quit. This article cannot cover all of the situations where you might be eligible for benefits even though you quit your job. If you have any question about whether you still might be eligible for benefits, even though you quit, you should apply for benefits.

I am not sure whether I quit my job or I was fired.

Sometimes it is not 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 then have to show you did not quit your job.

Communicating with your employer can clear up whether you quit or were fired.  If you have a confrontation with your employer, 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. Take a witness to the meeting, so that your employer will not later try to claim that you quit and were not fired. Before leaving, you could even request that the employer put in writing the fact that you are being fired rather than quitting.

Keep in mind that often employees and employers argue when a job ends. 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 when the suspension ends.  If the suspension is for a week or more, you should apply for unemployment benefits.

Will I get unemployment benefits if I was fired?

Maybe. You will qualify for benefits unless the employer shows that you were fired for "misconduct." "Misconduct" is bad behavior. Misconduct must be deliberate. It can be something you did. It can be something you did not do that you were supposed to do. It must be harmful to the employer. If you were fired for misconduct, you cannot get unemployment benefits.

Many employees are fired for things that are not misconduct. They will get unemployment benefits. Examples of things that are not misconduct include:

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

In general, these situations are not misconduct and you can get unemployment benefits. Also, you cannot be denied unemployment benefits if your employer waits a long time after your bad behavior before you are fired for it. Many people are fired and get unemployment benefits. This means you should still apply for unemployment benefits even if you are fired.

Do I have to keep looking for work?

In order to receive benefits, you must be able and available for work. You must also make a minimum of two job contacts each week. The job contacts are required, even if you lost your initial claim. You must meet the work search requirement while your appeal is pending. If you fail to do this, you may not receive benefits. This work search requirement may be waived by IWD if you are temporarily unemployed and expect to go back to work for your employer within a reasonable period of time.

Job contacts may be made in person, online, by mail or faxing resumes or applications. Telephone calls alone are not acceptable. The work search must be a reasonable and honest effort to find suitable work. You must be willing to accept a reasonable wage for the job for which you are applying.

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..

If you are having problems, you may wish to call Iowa Legal Aid.

Iowa Legal Aid provides help to low-income Iowans. 
To apply for help from Iowa Legal Aid:call 800-532-1275. 
Iowans age 60 and over, call 800-992-8161 or 
apply online at
If Iowa Legal Aid cannot help, look for an attorney on “Find A Lawyer” on the Iowa State Bar Association website   A private attorney there can talk with you for a fee of $25 for 30 minutes of legal advice.
*As you read this information, remember this article is not a substitute for legal advice. 
Last Review and Update: Feb 06, 2015