Legal Articles

Attorney Chandler SurrencyReturning to Work in Iowa and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

Chandler Surrency | Hopkins & Huebner, P.C. | Des Moines Office

As the State of Iowa begins to reopen in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many unemployed Iowans are questioning whether they are required to return to work if called back.  Though most employees will be expected to return to their jobs, Iowa Workforce Development has provided some guidance on situations where return is not required.  Generally, if an employee refuses to return to work, it would be considered a voluntary quit, job abandonment, or refusal to return to work. These would all be a disqualification for regular state unemployment insurance benefits, and employers have been instructed to notify Iowa Workforce Development if an employee refuses to report back to work. 
However, an employee found ineligible for state unemployment benefits may still be eligible for benefits through Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).

What is Pandemic Unemployment Assistance? 

Iowa Workforce Development has provided the following unexclusive list of reasons that an employee might refuse to return to work and still be eligible for PUA: 

(1) the employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms; 
(2) a member of the employee’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; 
(3) the employee is providing care for a member of the household who was diagnosed with COVID-19; (4) the employee, or a member of the employee’s household, is in a higher risk category and has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19 concerns; 
(5) the employee lacks childcare due to COVID-19; 
(6) the employee cannot reach the place of employment due to a quarantine related to COVID-19; or 
(7) the employee had COVID-19 and recovered, but it caused complications making the employee unable to perform essential job duties.  

If an employee meets any of these requirements, he/she could refuse to return to work but still draw unemployment benefits under PUA.Photo of man working in restaurantAnother situation in which a worker may still be eligible for unemployment after being called back to work is if the employer has made a substantial change to the employment. Iowa Workforce Development has provided examples such as a significant reduction in pay, a permanent change to an employee’s assigned shift, or a move to a difference facility that requires a longer commute.  However, minor changes would not be sufficient to qualify an employee for benefits.  The issue of what is substantial is determined on a case-by-case basis.If you have questions about your specific situation, you should contact Iowa Workforce Development or an attorney for assistance.