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Iowa Unemployment – Know Your Rights

Last Verified: January 2017

The Iowa Department of Labor has recently upgraded its services to Iowan workers by moving to a cloud-based system, according to a KCHA report. The new technology replaces a system built in 1973. Technology upgrades usually means faster service, less opportunity for human error and lower costs for the Department. Iowa’s Internet Unemployment System may make it easier for the state’s workers to get benefits. Let’s look at how the recently unemployed can take advantage.

Eligibility for Unemployment Benefits in IA

To be eligible to receive unemployment benefits, you must:

  • Be completely or partially unemployed
  • Lost your job through no fault of your own
  • Earned sufficient wages over a 15 to 18-month period
  • Be able and available to work
  • Conduct a job search sanctioned by the Workforce Development department
  • Register with IowaWorks, a job search center

Unemployment Benefit Eligibility Requirements Explained

Completely or partially unemployed

You have to be at least partially unemployed to be eligible for benefits. Your employer may have significantly reduced your work hours, which may make you eligible. You can work part-time and still receive benefits. However, how the wages you earn may reduce the amount of benefits you receive.

Lost Your Job through No Fault of Your Own

To be eligible for benefits, you cannot be the person who caused the separation from work. You can’t leave work voluntarily, nor could your actions cause your employer to dismiss you.

In certain situations, you may leave or be discharged, but your employer may be considered to be at fault. Your employer may have fired you according to their rules, but fairness suggests you should be eligible for benefits. These fact-based circumstances may not always fit.

Be Able and Available to Work

You have to be physically and mentally ready to work. You must be ready to take any reasonable job offer you receive. If you are injured and cannot work, you may not be eligible. If you are a student and your class schedule prevents you from taking a job, you may not be eligible.

Job Searches

The Iowa Workforce Development department expects benefit recipients to conduct regular job searches. If you are successful in your application for benefits, they will monitor your job search contacts and expect you to have a record of those contacts. You will also have to register with the Department’s online job bank.

You are expected to make at least two job contacts per week. A “job contact” means making some contact with a person, either someone with hiring experience or an employee of the company to inquire about a job opportunity. The contact can be via Email, telephone or in person.

Applying for a job counts as a contact.

You may receive a waiver to this requirement if you are temporarily unemployed and expect to return to your same employer, or if you are in a Department Approved Training program.

Iowa Workforce Development uses an eligibility review program to help workers find work more quickly. It “profiles” workers who have worked in occupations that are disappearing or workers their studies show may have more difficulty finding employment. If the department chooses you to participate, it is mandatory and you may lose benefits if you don’t participate.

Participation in the program requires meeting with personnel at IowaWORKS. You will receive resume assistance, networking tips and other job searching tips.

Workforce Development offers additional training. Workers laid off from jobs in certain occupations may receive extended benefits while training. You must apply and be approved for the program. You will be eligible for benefits beyond the 26-week maximum while you participate in the program.

Monetary Eligibility and the Base Period

The base period is used to determine whether an applicant earned enough money in a 12-month period to be eligible to receive benefits. The wages earned in this window will determine how much money you can receive per week.

The Department divides the period into quarters. The Department looks at the first four of the last five quarters to determine the base period.

base period
This chart shows the base period for a monetary determination

If you file a claim, in the second quarter (April through June), your base period will be January 1 through December 31 of the previous year.

The Department utilizes an alternative base period for some workers who do not qualify using the regular base period determination. In some states, the alternative base period becomes the 12-month period prior to your filing a claim.

Wage requirements

To be eligible for benefits an individual must have:

  • been paid wages by covered employers in two or more quarters of the base period
  • total base period wages of at least 1.25 times the wages earned in the highest base period quarter
  • wages of at least $1,540 in one quarter and at least $770 in a different quarter (as of 2016)

Iowa also allows for your dependents in calculating your benefit amount. Your spouse may be a dependent if they make less than or equal to $120 in wages during the week before claiming unemployment insurance.

Amount and Duration of Unemployment Benefits in IA

The Iowa Workforce Development unit uses the base period to determine the amount of benefits you are eligible for each week.

Weekly Benefit Amount (WBA)

The WBA is determined by the wages in the high quarter of the base period and by the number of dependents claimed (up to a maximum of four). The minimum and maximum WBAs change each year for new claims filed after the first Sunday in July.

To find your WBA, divide the earnings in the highest quarter in your base period by:Iowa Workforce Development and unemployment

  • 23 for zero dependents (maximum of $447)
  • 22 for one dependent (maximum of $464)
  • 21 for two dependents (maximum of $480)
  • 20 for three dependents (maximum of $506)
  • 19 for four dependents (maximum of $548)

Maximum Benefit Amount

The maximum benefit amount is 26 times the WBA or 1/3 of the total base period wages, whichever is less. The maximum amount varies based on an individual situation, but it can change based on the average annual wage of workers covered by the unemployment insurance law.

Receiving your benefits

Iowa allows eligible benefit recipients to choose the method receiving payments. You can choose either a debit card or direct deposit.

The debit card may work for you if you don’t have a bank account. You may use it as anyone would use a debit card issued by a bank. You can also retrieve money from an ATM.

If you use direct deposit, you will need to provide bank routing and account numbers when you apply for benefits. The Workforce Development unit deposits the money in your account four business days after you file the claim.

How to File a Claim for Unemployment Benefits in IA

You can apply for benefits online or at a local IowaWORKS center. Use the local office if you don’t have Internet access or you need assistance. In addition to Internet access, you will need an Email address to register a new account on the online registration site.

You will also need to have some information available when you begin the application process. You will need:

  • A Social Security number
  • The full contact information for your former employer, including the name, address and phone number
  • The start and end dates for your most recent employer (or any employer you are using for monetary determination)
  • Proof that you are eligible to work in the US if you are not a citizen (Alien Registration number, etc)

Federal or military employees need the appropriate separation forms if they worked for either within the last 18 months prior to the claim for benefits.

Weekly Certification and Continued Eligibility for Unemployment in IA

To continue to receive benefits, Iowa Workforce Development requires workers to maintain the eligibility status shown when the department approved benefits. Workers must file a weekly claim, sometimes called “weekly certification.”

You return to the website where you filed your initial claim for benefits, log on and follow the instructions for weekly certification. Do this from 9:00 am Saturday through 11:30 pm Sunday. If you don’t your payments may be late.

You’ll be instructed to verify that you continue to:

  • Be unemployed completely or suffer reduced wages
  • Are able and available to work
  • Are conducting the requisite job searches

You must also report any wages or income earned in the week that you are filing a claim. For example, if you worked any hours prior to the Sunday after you file, you have to report those wages even if you have not been paid.

Working Part-time While you are Receiving Benefits

You may work part-time while you receive unemployment benefits in Iowa as long as you are otherwise eligible. However, if your wages during a benefit week exceeds your maximum benefit amount by $15.00, you won’t receive payments that week. If the condition continues, you will not be considered to be unemployed.

As long as you report your wages accurately, Workforce Development will calculate the appropriate deduction. The department makes a chart available to guide those who earn wages while receiving benefits.

Partially Deductible from the Benefit Payment Based on a Formula
An individual may earn up to 25 percent of their WBA before the benefit payment is reduced. Earnings higher than 25 percent reduce the benefit payment.

·         Wages

·         Holiday pay

·         Stand-by pay

·         Tips, gratuities, bonuses, commission and  incentive pay

Example: An individual’s WBA is $400 and they earn $370.

·         25% of $400 is $100. $100 is not deducted from the WBA.

·         $370 – $100 = $270. The remaining $270 is deducted from the WBA.

·         $400 – $270 = $130.

·         $130 is the payment amount for the week.

Fully Deductible from the Benefit Payment
Each dollar the individual earns reduces their benefit payment by one dollar (dollar-for-dollar).

·         Vacation pay and paid time off

·         Severance pay

·         Pension, retirement, annuity, or any other similar period payment

·         Workers’ Compensation (temporary total disability)

Example: An individual’s WBA is $400 and they receive a $370 vacation payout for the week they are claiming.

·         $400 – $370 = $30. $30 is the payment amount for the week.

Not Deductible from the Benefit Payment
·         Self-employment income

·         National Guard duty pay

·         Social Security benefits

Even though these payments do not need to be reported to Workforce Development, the individual must still maintain their eligibility as instructed in this handbook.



You can be self-employed in Iowa and not have those earnings affect your weekly benefit amount. You must be otherwise eligible for benefits. If your self-employment prevents you from being available for other work, you may be denied benefits. The Workforce Development division will make the determination.

Suitable job offers

To remain eligible for benefits, you can’t turn down any reasonable job offer. Workforce Development defines what makes up a reasonable, or “suitable,” job offer:

Workforce Development takes the highest wage quarter (the three-month period where you earned the most) and divides that number by 13. The result is the Average Weekly Wage (AWW).

A job offer may be considered suitable if the offered wages are at or above the following percentages of the AWW:

  • 100 percent if work is offered in the first five weeks of a claim
  • 75 percent if work is offered during the 6th through 12th week of a claim
  • 70 percent if work is offered during the 13th through 18th week of a claim
  • 65 percent if work is offered after the 18th week of a claim

You are required to report whether you refused any job offer during weekly certifications.

Wage amounts and the length of time you’ve been unemployed aren’t the only factor used in determining what makes a reasonable job offer. The department considers the job duties and working conditions as well.

Jobs that pay below the minimum wage aren’t considered reasonable job offers.

Reasons for Denial of Benefits

If you don’t meet any of the eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance, your claim for benefits will be denied. This includes the monetary requirement.

Most frequently, benefits are denied because the employee has contributed to their own separation from work. If you quit because you wanted to look for another job, this is a voluntary quit that will prevent you from receiving benefits. If you were fired because you repeatedly violated employer policy, you were dismissed because of something you did. You will not be eligible for unemployment.

Quit or Fired but Still Eligible to Receive Benefits

There are certain circumstances where your decision initiates the separation from work, yet you may still be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. These situations include:

  • Workplace conditions hazardous to your health
  • Working for weeks without pay
  • Fired for a one-time violation of policy
  • Falsely accused of violation of policy

You should inform Workforce Development about these situations when you file your initial claim.  You will have to show – through evidence – these conditions exist and did in fact cause your separation. Also, you should show that you tried to work things out with your employer before the separation.

If you are denied benefits, please visit our section on appealing benefits decision in Iowa.


For additional information regarding filing for unemployment benefits in Iowa, Workforce Development has several resources available.

Visit their website

Read the Unemployment Insurance handbook

Contact a local job center

Read about the law regarding unemployment compensation in Iowa

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