Common Issues in Qualifying for Unemployment Benefits:

Authored By: Iowa Legal Aid


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 Development (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.

What else needs to be true for me to get unemployment benefits?
•    You must be totally or partially unemployed.  
     o    This means you have been laid off, fired, quit, or had your hours cut.
•    You must be able and available to work.
     o    This means that you are not sick or on medical leave, that you are not out of town or on vacation, and that you have transportation and child care.
•    You must be actively seeking work.

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.

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.  For getting unemployment benefits, it is easier if you are fired. However, there may be reasons why you would like to say you quit rather than you were fired. But if firing seems the best choice for you, then in 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 that seems the best choice for you. 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.

In July 2022, a new law took effect in Iowa that created a list of 14 instances that are considered “misconduct”:
(1) Material falsification of the individual's employment application.
(2) Knowing violation of a reasonable and uniformly enforced rule of an employer.
(3) Intentional damage of an employer's property.

(4) Consumption of alcohol, illegal or nonprescribed prescription drugs, or an impairing substance in a manner not directed by the manufacturer, or a combination of such substances, on the employer's premises in violation of the employer's employment policies.

(5) Reporting to work under the influence of alcohol, illegal or nonprescribed prescription drugs, or an impairing substance in an off-label manner, or a combination of such substances, on the employer's premises in violation of the employer's employment policies, unless the individual is compelled to work by the employer outside of scheduled or on-call working hours.

6) Conduct that substantially and unjustifiably endangers the personal safety of coworkers or the general public.

(7) Incarceration for an act for which one could reasonably expect to be incarcerated that results in missing work.

(8) Incarceration as a result of a misdemeanor or felony conviction by a court of competent jurisdiction.

(9) Excessive unexcused tardiness or absenteeism.

(10) Falsification of any work-related report, task, or job that could expose the employer or coworkers to legal liability or sanction for violation of health or safety laws.

(11) Failure to maintain any license, registration, or certification that is reasonably required by the employer or by law, or that is a functional requirement to perform the individual's regular job duties, unless the failure is not within the control of the individual.

(12) Conduct that is libelous or slanderous toward an employer or an employee of the employer if such conduct is not protected under state or federal law.

(13) Theft of an employer or coworker's funds or property.

14) Intentional misrepresentation of time worked or work carried out that results in the individual receiving unearned wages or unearned benefits.

If your employer alleges that you have committed any of the above examples of “misconduct” it may be difficult for you to get unemployment benefits.  However, you can argue that the employer still has the burden to prove the misconduct occurred and to prove that you had the mental state of intending to harm the employer with your actions.

Do I have to keep looking for work?
In order to receive benefits, you must be able and available for work.
Effective Sunday, January 16, 2022, to maintain eligibility for unemployment benefits, you must register with IowaWORKS, complete at least four valid “reemployment activities” per week, record and certify reemployment activities in the Job Contact Reemployment Activity Log, and file your weekly application for unemployment benefits.  More information about all of this is available on Iowa Workforce Development’s website at:

If I want to go to school, can I still get unemployment benefits?
Generally, you will not be considered “able and available” to work if you are going to school full time.  However, you can make an application for “Department Approved Training” with Iowa Workforce Development.  If your schooling or training is approved, you do not have to be available for work or complete work searches to get benefits.  More information about “Department Approved Training” is available here:

How many weeks of unemployment can you get?
Effective July 1, 2022, a new law in Iowa drastically cut the number of weeks of possible unemployment benefits.  Most claimants are now only eligible for up to 16 possible weeks of unemployment benefits.



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: Nov 17, 2022
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