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Have you recently been fired? Do you believe your employer may have terminated you for the wrong reasons? The following article will cover Iowa and federal labor laws and potential recourse for wrongful termination, including:

  • Discrimination
  • Breach of Employment Contract
  • Wage, hour and breaks in Iowa
  • Time Off and Leave in Iowa
  • Other Iowa Employment Claims
  • Coronavirus Pandemic and Wrongful Termination

Wrongful Termination Laws in Iowa

Have you recently been fired? Do you believe your employer may have terminated you for the wrong reasons? The following article will cover Iowa and federal labor laws and potential recourse for wrongful termination, including:

  • Discrimination
  • Breach of Employment Contract
  • Wage, hour and breaks in Iowa
  • Time Off and Leave in Iowa
  • Other Iowa Employment Claims
  • Coronavirus Pandemic and Wrongful Termination

In Iowa, employees work at will. Generally speaking, this means that an employee can be fired at any time for any reason or no reason at all. However, there are some exceptions to this general rule. If an Iowa employer fires an employee for a discriminatory reason, in violation of an employment contract or in retaliation of you exercising your rights, you may have a claim against your employer for wrongful termination.

Discrimination

Under federal and Iowa law, it is illegal for an employer to fire an employee based on a protected characteristic. Federal law protects race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, citizenship status or genetic information. Federal law covers employers with at least 15 employees for most of these forms of discrimination, 20 employees for age discrimination and 4 employees for citizenship discrimination.  

Iowa law also prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This also encompasses wage discrimination. Iowa law covers employers with more than 4 employees.  

Federal and Iowa law makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against you for exercising your rights. If you believe you have been discriminated against and you go to your employer to make a complaint about it, the employer cannot discipline or fire you for making the complaint. Furthermore, an employer cannot fire you for participating in an investigation of discrimination including testifying in court (on behalf of yourself or another employee) or making efforts to remedy discriminatory practices.  

Prior to filing a lawsuit, you must file a complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission. In most cases, the agency will record the complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission who enforces federal antidiscrimination laws.  

Breach of Employment Contract

If you have a contract with your employer in Iowa, you are likely not considered to be an at will employee. In Iowa, employment contracts may be written, oral or implied. For oral and written contracts, your employer makes promises not to fire you for a certain period without good cause. For implied contracts, your employer acts in a way that creates a reasonable expectation that you will continue to be employed. This often comes in the form of employee handbooks or manuals, which state that employees cannot be fired until certain discriminatory steps are followed. Should your employer terminate you without cause, you may have a claim for breach of contract.

Wage, hour and breaks in Iowa

In Iowa, employees are entitled to minimum wages of $7.25 per hour. Iowa does not have any overtime law, but under federal law, employees who work over 40 hours a week are entitled to overtime pay. Iowa does not have any rules on meal or rest breaks though federal law requires employees to be paid for any breaks of 20 minutes or less. Iowa protects employees from being fired for filing wage claims, testifying in wage hearings or taking action for unpaid wages.  

Time Off and Leave in Iowa

Both Iowa and federal law gives employees the rights to take off work for various reasons. In Iowa, the following are protected:

  • Voting: Employers in Iowa must provide a total of 3 hours off work while polls are open. If an employee has 3 consecutive hours off while polls are open, the employer does not need to provide additional time.
  • Jury duty: Employees are entitled to take unpaid leave for jury duty. Employers cannot threaten or coerce employees who get notices for jury duty or serve jury duty. Employers who fire or penalize employees for jury duty service can face wrongful termination lawsuits as well as criminal penalties.
  • Military leave: Under federal law, employees have the right to 5 years leave to serve in the military with the right to be reinstated once they return to work. Federal law also prohibits discrimination based on their military service and protects employees from being terminated without good cause for up to one year after they return from military duty. Iowa law also protects employees in the National Guard, reserves, military forces of the state or civil air patrol. Employers cannot terminate these employees due to their military service. If these employees are called to duty, they must be reinstated once they return with the same pay, benefits and seniority they had when they left.  
  • Family and Medical Leave: Iowa employees are protected by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA requires employers with 40 or more employees to provide employees with up to 12 weeks (about 3 months) off, unpaid, every year for a serious health condition, to take care for a family member with a serious health condition, to care for a newborn or to handle matters arising out of a family member’s military service. Employees may take up to 26 weeks (about 6 months) of in a year to take care of a family member that is seriously injured while serving in the military. Under federal law, employees must be reinstated to the same position once their leave is complete.  
  • Pregnancy leave: Iowa law requires employers with over 4 employees must provide employees with up to 8 weeks (about 2 months) unpaid leave when they cannot work due to pregnancy, child birth, or related conditions.  

Other Iowa Employment Claims

In addition to the above claims, employees are protected when bringing workers compensation claims, work safety claims, whistleblowing claims and for refusing to take polygraph tests.  

Coronavirus Pandemic and Wrongful Termination

With the coronavirus (covid-19) pandemic approaching 1 year since its onset, millions of Americans have been fired or terminated from employment. While it was unclear initially how wrongful termination rules applied to those fired initially, case law has established some rules for wrongful termination from the coronavirus. Generally speaking, it’s illegal for an employer to fire you:

  • In retaliation after you complain about unsafe work conditions (lack of PPE, social distancing or proper cleaning/safety measures);
  • For refusing to work because you have a reasonable belief that you have an immediate risk of death or serious harm due to unsafe working conditions (if you are high risk for the coronavirus and the lack of safety measures at your work leave you at risk);
  • For refusing to violate a government order regarding stay at home or shelter in place;
  • For taking family or medical leave (including under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act)
  • Because you have a preexisting condition that makes you vulnerable to the coronavirus;
  • Because you filed a claim for workers’ compensation benefits due to the coronavirus.

Additionally, if you were forced to quit because of any of these things, you may also have grounds to sue for wrongful constructive termination, in violation of public policy. You would need to show that the working conditions were so difficult that a reasonable person would be forced to resign.

Posted 
March 26, 2021
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