The Unemployment Benefits Process

Unemployment claims are administered by Iowa Workforce Development.   If you lose your job, are temporarily unable to work, or are temporarily laid off, you may apply for unemployment insurance through that agency.  Iowa Workforce Development will then decide whether you’re eligible for benefits and, if so, how much.

A common misconception is that your employer controls whether you get unemployment benefits.  That’s not true.  Your employer has a right to contest your benefits claim, but Iowa Workforce Development has sole authority to decide whether you actually receive unemployment.  You have to go through the eligibility determination process with Iowa Workforce Development even if your employer does not object to your benefits claim.

After you file your claim, the agency will conduct a “fact finding interview” with a “hearing officer.”  That’s done by telephone and you’re given written notice of the date and time of the interview.  The hearing officer will ask you questions about your job situation.  If your employer has contested your claim, the hearing officer will interview your employer too.  The hearing officer then makes an initial decision on whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits.

You or your employer has the right to appeal the hearing officer’s decision.  That appeal is heard by Iowa Workforce Development’s Appeals Section.  Appeal hearings are conducted by an administrative law judge, usually be telephone, although any party to the appeal has a right to request an in-person appeal hearing.  During the appeal hearing the administrative law judge will hear evidence and testimony, including witnesses,  from any party that participates.  The judge can ask questions of you, your employer, and any witnesses that are called.  You and your employer have a right to representation, including an attorney, during the appeal hearing and that person can ask questions and present evidence too.  The hearing is audio-recorded so that a transcript can later be made if necessary.  Based on the evidence presented, the administrative law judge will issue a written decision affirming or reversing the hearing officer’s benefits decision.

The appeal hearing is of crucial importance to your unemployment benefits claim.  It’s like a mini-trial.   If there are further appeals after the administrative law judge rules, the parties are almost always limited to arguing whatever evidence and testimony was presented to the administrative law judge.  You rarely, and only with extremely good reason, get to offer more evidence or testimony after the appeal judge closes the record.  So if you lose, and you wish you had said something more or different or offered more documents or called more witnesses, you’ll almost certainly not get a chance to do that without a really strong excuse for why you didn’t do so during the appeal hearing.  Most likely, any further appeals will be made on the basis of whatever you presented to the administrative law judge during the hearing.

The administrative law judge’s decision  can be appealed to the Employment Appeal Board.  The Employment Appeal Board’s ruling can be appealed to Iowa District Court.  The Iowa District Court’s decision can be appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.  Frequently, because most further appeals are limited to the evidence that was offered during the appeal hearing with the administrative law judge, unemployment claims are won or lost during that first appeal hearing.  It’s extremely difficult to get more evidence in after that hearing or get the administrative law judge’s decision overturned through further appeals.

Erbe Law Firm can assist with any employment law or labor law questions that you might have.  Please feel free to contact Erbe Law Firm for a free initial consultation with an employment law or labor law attorney.

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