Posted on December 30, 2010 in Education Law
School districts can be on the hook for costs related to claims for unemployment benefits by idle substitute teachers. Most personnel administrators are familiar with the usual unemployment issues. Ironically, it is those that are most familiar with these issues that that may find this proposition hard to digest. This difficulty is probably rooted in the fact that it is hard to consider a substitute teacher who is currently on a district’s substitute list as being “unemployed,” at least with respect to that school district. But, as we’ll see, these employees may nonetheless be entitled to unemployment benefits.
First, a quick, bird’s-eye view of unemployment benefits in Texas that will hopefully lend some context to this discussion. The Texas Unemployment Compensation Act provides that under certain conditions weekly payments of money may be made to unemployed individuals from an unemployment compensation fund contributed to by employers subject to unemployment taxes or reimbursements. The amount of a person’s benefits are computed by looking at wages the person earned during the first four of his/her last five completed calendar quarters preceding the date of claim (the “Base Period”). Benefits are funded by either of (1) employers’ unemployment taxes, or (2) reimbursements. As political subdivisions of the state of Texas, school districts may elect to become “reimbursing employers” (essentially repaying the state dollar for dollar for benefits paid based on a person’s employment with the school) in lieu of paying regular unemployment taxes.
Generally, a person is disqualified from benefits if the person left his/her last work voluntarily without good cause connected with the work or is discharged for misconduct connected to his/her last work. Note that there are some exceptions to the disqualification for voluntarily leaving work.
At issue in this article is the definition of “unemployed” as it relates to substitute teachers. Perhaps the best way to illustrate the point is to begin with its opposite, or “the way things used to be:” In a 1989 case involving a substitute teacher, the San Antonio Court of Appeals held that “unemployment” meant that the employer-employee relationship was terminated, and did not include instances in which the employee was merely idle during the existence of the employment relationship. In that case, the court held that a substitute teacher who was still “employed” by the school district by virtue of being on the approved sub list was not entitled to benefits. This is no longer the case.
The Legislature has since enacted a definition of the term “unemployed” that essentially broadens the term by tying it to the amount of wages received, such that a person is “unemployed” with respect to a period of time if, during that period, he/she receives wages amounting to less than a certain threshold. In other words, actual termination of the employer-employee relationship is not a prerequisite to qualification for unemployment benefits.
Thus, a substitute teacher can, presumably and assuming all other requirements are met, file for unemployment benefits while remaining active on a school’s substitute list, as long as he/she earns less than the threshold amount. Note that, essentially, we are talking about unemployment claims during a semester. The following exceptions for summer and holiday breaks at educational institutions still apply:
? Benefits are not payable:
o During the period between two successive academic years, or under an agreement providing for a similar period between two regular but not successive terms if:
§ (1) the individual performed the services in the first of the academic years or terms; and
§ (2) there is a contract or reasonable assurance that the individual will perform services in that capacity for any educational institution in the second of the academic years or terms.
o During an established and customary vacation period or holiday recess if:
§ (1) the individual performed the services in the period immediately before the vacation period or holiday recess; and
§ (2) there is a reasonable assurance that the individual will perform the services in the period immediately following the vacation period or holiday recess.
Note that the point of this article is simply to point out that unemployment claims of this type cannot be defeated simply by showing that the employee is still active on your substitute list. These claims remain subject to the disqualifying factors provided in the law. For example, if the employee fails to accept teaching assignments, this may cause TWC to disqualify the person for failing to accept suitable work. Furthermore, evidence that a person is receiving wages while also claiming unemployment may have a substantial effect on the amount of benefits paid out (and, consequently, on the district’s costs for those benefits).
 http://www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/bnfts/employer1.html#ui (accessed November 29, 2010).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 205.001 (Vernon 2006).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 207.045 (Vernon 2006).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 207.044 (Vernon 2006).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 207.046 (Vernon 2006).
 Texas Employment Com’n v. Southside Indep. Sch. Dist., 775 S.W.2d 733, 735 (Tex. App.—San Antonio 1989, writ denied).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 201.091 (Vernon 2006).
 Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 207.041 (Vernon 2006).