The Unemployment Insurance Program

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Who is Eligible for Benefits?

Unemployment insurance is a program that gives benefits to some workers who become unemployed. If the worker has not worked enough recently, he or she may not be insured and so not receive any benefits. Persons claiming unemployment file a claim though Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) Much information about the program as well as applications and appeal forms can be found on the web at
The basic eligibility requirements are the same for everyone. To be eligible for unemployment insurance benefit payments you must:
  • Be totally or partially unemployed;
  • Have worked and earned a minimum amount of wages in work covered by unemployment insurance in the last 15 to 18 months (Iowa Workforce Development will determine this);
  • Have lost your job through no fault of your own;
  • Be able and available for work;
  • Be registered for work at your local Workforce Development Center, unless your work search is waived ; and
  • Be actively seeking work.
There are three ways for a worker to become unemployed:
  1. The employer fires the worker;
  2. The employer lays off the worker; or
  3. The worker quits.
When Is the Worker Eligible for Benefits After Being Fired?
The worker is eligible for unemployment benefits unless the worker is fired for "misconduct." Misconduct is different in every case, but it generally means doing something on purpose not in the employer's best interest. Typical examples of misconduct are:
  • Being rude to a customer.
  • Not showing up for work due to car problems on multiple occasions.
  • Being late too many times.
  • Fighting with a co-worker.
  • Drinking on the job.
There are two major exceptions to misconduct. First, if the worker is unable to do the work, that is not misconduct. For example, the business changes over to a computer system, and the worker cannot understand the computer system and cannot do the job any more. This should not be considered misconduct. If the employer fires the worker, the worker should get benefits.
Second, if the worker makes a single mistake, that usually is not misconduct. For example, the worker's job is to file medical records, and she does a good job for four years. One day the worker misfiles some records. This probably is an "isolated instance" of negligence or bad judgment and not misconduct. Therefore, if the employer fires the worker, the worker should receive benefits.
When Is The Worker Eligible for Benefits after Being Laid Off?
If the employer lays off the worker, the worker should be eligible for benefits. For example, many construction companies lay off workers in the winter, and they should receive benefits. If the employer closes altogether, the worker should receive benefits.
Sometimes the worker believes he has been laid off, but he has not been. For example, the employer says "Do not come in tomorrow; I don't need you any more." The worker may think he has been laid off, but the employer may argue that he was fired for not showing up to work (and so not eligible) or quit without good cause (and so not eligible - see the next part of the article on quitting).
It is very important for the worker to make it clear to the employer that she is being laid off (and not quitting or being fired). If possible, the worker should get a statement from the employer stating that she has been laid off.
If you work for a agency that provides temporary help to employers it is required that you go back to the temporary agency within 3 days of an assignment ending and make yourself available for other assignments in order to be eligible for unemployment. Even if the temporary agency knows that your current employer does not want you any more you should report to the temporary employer and ask for a new assignment.
When Is the Worker Eligible for Benefits after Quitting?
The worker will get benefits unless he quits "without good cause attributable to the employer." Good cause is different in every case. Good cause includes:
  • Forced to work in unsafe conditions.
  • Required to do something illegal.
  • Made to work very different hours.
For example, the worker was hired to work the second shift, and the employer wants her to work the first shift. If the worker quits due to the "change in the contract of hire," she should be eligible for benefits.
Sometimes the employer will tell the worker: " You can quit or I will fire you." If you are force to resign under this circumstance, IWD will consider you to be fired and the employer will need to prove misconduct. The decision to quit or be fired is a difficult one. For unemployment purposes, if you quit, it can be harder to get unemployment because you must show why you should get benefits. If you are fired, the employer must show why you should not get benefits. But there are other reasons that may make you decide to quit rather than to wait and get fired. For example, you may not want to have to tell your next employer that you were fired or you may be concerned that the working conditions are unsafe.
Are There Other Eligibility Requirements?
There are two additional major requirements. First, the worker must look for work. IWD will send the worker forms to show that he has been actively looking for work. Second, the worker must be "able and available." Able means physically and emotionally ready to work. For example, if the worker breaks a leg, he may not be able to work. Available means having the time to work. For example, if the worker is going to school full time, she probably is not available.
Even if you have been denied unemployment benefits but you still have your case on appeal continue to do job search and turn in you job search to IWD. If you do not, you may not be eligible even if you eventually win your case.
Are All Types of Workers Eligible for Unemployment Benefits?
Most jobs are covered by unemployment benefits, but not all. Workers who are not covered include students who are on a work study program, and people who work on farms (unless the farm is a very big one).
Who Makes These Decisions?
IWD makes these decisions. The employer does not. If a worker is fired or quits, the worker may be eligible for unemployment benefits. The worker must apply at the local Job Service office. After the worker applies by filing a Claim for Benefits, Job Service will make a written decision. The worker will get a copy of the decision in the mail.
If the worker disagrees with the decision, he or she can ask for a fact finding interview. A Iowa Workforce Development Representative will do the interview over the telephone or in person at the Iowa Workforce Development office. The interview is very limited and informal. Generally only the Iowa Workforce Development Representative asks questions. Most of the time there are no witness except for the worker and one person for the employer. Sometimes, no one shows up to represent the employer.
The Iowa Workforce Development Representative will make a written decision. A copy is sent in the mail to both the worker and the employer. Whichever side loses can appeal the decision - either the worker or the employer. The appeal must be in writing and no special form is needed. It must be postmarked no later than 10 days from the date of the claims deputy decision. The written appeal can also be delivered to the Iowa Workforce Development office within 10 days.
The appeal is a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The hearing can either be in person or over the telephone. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. In most cases, the telephone hearing is scheduled for a few weeks later. On the other hand, most of the time the in person hearing is scheduled about one to three months later. Some people think the telephone hearing is impersonal and would rather be able to see the ALJ and the employer. Others do not want to be in the same room with the employer and prefer a telephone hearing.
If either side wants an in person hearing, the party should say so in the appeal. If no one asks for an in person hearing, a telephone hearing will be scheduled. If either party has a change of mind and wants an in person hearing, that person should contact Iowa Workforce development right away.
The ALJ hearing is usually the most important step in the appeals process. That is the last time (in nearly every case) that the worker or anyone gets a chance to talk ("testify"). After the ALJ hearing, the appeal is limited to arguing about the evidence at the ALJ hearing. New information is almost never added later.
The worker should prepare for the hearing. The worker should write down everything that is important. Otherwise, the worker may forget to say something. As noted above, most of the time new information cannot be added after the ALJ hearing. If the worker plans to ask the employer questions, the worker should write these questions down before the hearing so the questions are not forgotten. If the worker has copies of documents, the worker needs to bring copies to the hearing. If the hearing is over the telephone, the worker should mail or fax copies as soon as possible. IWD must receive the copies prior to the hearing. The copies should go to:
Iowa Workforce Development
Appeals Section
1000 E. Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50319-0209
Fax: (515)242-5144.
Be sure to include the appeal number. Also, send copies to the employer. Sometimes a worker wants the employer to provide copies of some documents (for example, safety records or employee file). Then the worker can ask the ALJ to subpoena the records. The worker should write to the ALJ right away, and no later than 5 days before the hearing.
What Happens at the Hearing?
The hearing is informal. If it is in person, it will be at an Iowa Workforce development office. Hearings are not held in every Iowa Workforce Development office. For example, hearings are held in Cedar Rapids, but not Iowa City. The hearing will be tape recorded. The ALJ will swear in the witnesses. Both the worker and the employer can have witnesses. The ALJ will not make a decision at the hearing. The ALJ will make a written decision about two weeks later. However, the ALJ is under no set timetable to make a decision.
Either the worker or the employer can appeal the ALJ's decision. To appeal, the letter must be postmarked within 15 days of the date of the ALJ's decision. The letter should be mailed or faxed to:
Employment Appeal Board
4th floor-Lucas Building
Des Moines, IA 50319-0209
Fax: (515)281-7191
There is no special form to appeal. You should state you believe the decision is wrong.
The Employment Appeal Board is a group of three people who review the ALJ's decision. Neither the worker nor the employer testify again. The worker and the employer can only argue in writing about whether the ALJ's decision was correct. The Employment Appeal Board will send the worker either a copy of the CD of the hearing or copy in writing of what was said to help the worker make the written argument. After the worker gets the CD or transcript, he or she will have a very short time to mail (usually only one week) the written argument. The worker can ask the Employment Appeal Board for an extra week to submit the written argument. This request must be submitted to the Employment Appeal Board in writing prior to the original deadline for submitting written argument. If the request is submitted on time, the Employment Appeal Board will give the worker an extra week to submit written argument. In only a few situations can new information can be added. An example would be that a witness had emergency surgery and could not be at the hearing.
The Employment Appeal Board will send the worker and the employer a written decision. If one of the parties disagrees, two options are available. One, the party can ask for a rehearing and have the Employment Appeal Board review its own decision. This written request must be postmarked within 20 days of the decision and mailed or faxed to the Employment Appeal Board. Two, the party can file a petition for judicial review in district court. Filing in district court will be hard to do without a lawyer. The petition for judicial review must be filed within 30 days of the Employment Appeal Board decision. If the worker asks for rehearing, and the rehearing request is denied, the appeal is then to district court. The appeal to the district court must be filed within 30 days of the denial of the rehearing request.
The district court judge will make a written decision many months later. Again, neither the worker nor the employer testifies in court. The district court case is all done in writing except for perhaps a short oral argument. If the worker or the employer disagrees with the district court judge, an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court can be filed. The Notice of Appeal must be filed in the district court within 30 days of the district court judge's decision.
The Iowa Supreme Court must review many appeals. Cases involving child custody and other types of cases are given priority. The Supreme Court may not make a decision for about one year from the date the appeal was filed. Neither side can appeal the Supreme Court's decision. The Supreme Court could give the case to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which is below the Supreme Court. If so, if one of the parties disagrees with the decision by the Court of Appeals, that party can ask the Supreme Court to review the decision.
The appeals process can be complicated. Each decision will have important information about deadlines and about how to appeal. The worker usually does not have much time to appeal, and there hardly ever is an exception to the appeal deadlines. If the last day of the deadline falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday, the deadline is extended to the next working day. Remember that all the deadlines listed in this article apply to the employer, too. That means even if the worker wins, the worker may have to defend the employer's appeal.
If you have questions about unemployment benefits or if you want representation, contact Iowa Legal Aid at 1-800-532-1275.
Last Review and Update: Apr 11, 2011