Discipline and termination

State procedures

Are there state-specific laws on the procedures employers must follow with regard to discipline and grievance procedures?

Generally, no. However, employers and employees subject to collective bargaining agreements may have certain grievance procedures that must be followed before discipline may be imposed or a termination may occur. In the public sector, certain veteran employees cannot be removed from their public employment except upon certain terms and conditions and after certain due process is provided.  

At-will or notice

At-will status and/or notice period?

Iowa follows the at-will employment doctrine (Dorshkind v Oak Park Place of Dubuque II, LLC, 2011). Unless an employee has a valid contract of employment that provides otherwise, ‘the employment relationship is terminable by either party “at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all”’ (Dorshkind) and with or without prior notice.  

In the absence of a contractual provision requiring notice, prior notice is not required to terminate an at-will employee. When a period of notice is required by contract, generally the employer may substitute pay in lieu of the required notice period, unless the contract expressly provides to the contrary.

What restrictions apply to the above?

In the public sector, certain veteran employees cannot be removed from their public employment except upon certain terms and conditions and after certain due process is provided. In addition, exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine are as follows.


Contractual protections

It can be specified in a contract that the employee may be terminated only for cause or upon the occurrence of certain conditions.


Wrongful termination in violation of public policy

The Iowa Supreme Court has adopted a narrow public policy exception to the employment-at-will doctrine.

To prove a wrongful discharge claim, a plaintiff must show that: (1) a clearly defined and well-recognised public policy exists that protects the employee’s activity; (2) the public policy would be undermined by the employee’s discharge from employment; and (3) the employee engaged in the protected activity and this conduct was the reason the employer discharged the employee. Unlike other jurisdictions, the plaintiff does not need to show that an employer lacked an overriding business justification to prove a prima facie case.

The Iowa Supreme Court has refused to recognise a common law tort action for retaliatory discharge except where the employer's conduct offends a clearly articulated public policy of the state. Generally, Iowa courts will recognise the tort where an employee is terminated for exercising a right or refusing to engage in, or cover up, criminal activity. For example, the Iowa Supreme Court adopted and applied the public policy exception in a case where the discharge was allegedly the result of a workers' compensation claim (Springer v Weeks & Leo Co (1988)), appeal after remand (1991))). In Niblo v Parr Mfg, Inc (1989), the Court extended the Springer doctrine to cases in which the plaintiff-employee is discharged for threatening to file a workers’ compensation claim.

Terminations that violate public policy generally fall into four categories:

  • the employee exercised a statutory right or privilege;
  • the employee refused to commit an unlawful act;
  • the employee performed a statutory obligation; or
  • the employee reported a statutory or regulatory violation.


In addition, federal statutes may serve as a basis for public policy exception for purposes of wrongful termination claims.


Discrimination, harassment and retaliation claims

Employees in Iowa also are protected by state and federal statutory exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine. These provisions protect employees from being terminated for various reasons, including:

  • discrimination or harassment based on race, colour, creed, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age and disability under the Iowa Civil Rights Act (ICRA) (the prohibition against sex discrimination also encompasses discrimination on the basis of pregnancy) – the Iowa Civil Rights Act also prohibits retaliation for engaging in the protected activity of making a complaint, participating as a witness or otherwise participating in an investigation or proceeding under the ICRA, or opposing any practice prohibited by the ICRA;
  • discrimination against public employees for filing an affidavit, petition or a complaint under the Public Employment Relations Act;
  • discrimination against an employee instituting Iowa Occupational Safety and Health Administration proceedings; and
  • discrimination against an employee for serving as a witness in any criminal proceeding or as a plaintiff, defendant or witness in any proceeding involving allegations of elder or domestic abuse.


Liability for actual damages also may be imposed on an employer that prevents a discharged employee from obtaining other employment by failing to furnish ‘in writing on request a truthful statement as to the cause of the person's discharge’. In addition, numerous federal laws apply as limitations on an employer’s ability to terminate an employee.

Final paychecks

Are there state-specific rules on when final paychecks are due after termination?

Yes. The final paycheck is due no later than the next regular payday for the pay period covering the time the wages were earned.