Did you know that D.C. unemployment insurance case law can be fascinating?  For example, do you know about the “Teacher Exception?”  Employers, particularly those that are schools or places of higher learning, may want to  read more.

Unemployment insurance (“UI”) is intended to be a temporary bridge between employment for employees separated from employment through no fault of their own.  In Washington, D.C., the Department of Employment Services (“DOES”) initially determines whether a former employee, a claimant for UI benefits, is eligible and qualified to receive them.  Appeals of that Determination by Claims Examiner are adjudicated at the Office of Administrative Hearings (“OAH”).

The law in the District of Columbia strongly favors granting benefits.  Assuming a claimant is eligible for benefits, he or she can generally only be disqualified because of either misconduct or voluntary separation.  However, there is a seldom-used provision of the D.C. UI law that applies specifically to schools and teachers, which can be used to determine whether a teacher is eligible for UI benefits.

According to D.C. Official Code § 51-109(7)(B), an employee working in an instructional, research or principal administrative position for an educational institution who becomes unemployed at the end of a school year but receives reasonable assurance of reemployment with the institution for the following school year, is ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits between academic years.  The D.C. Court of Appeals has held that a reappointment letter stating an employee will perform services in the same capacity during the ensuing school year constituted “reasonable assurance” under D.C.’s UI laws.  “Reasonable assurance” in this case was defined as not a guarantee of being rehired, but more than a “mere hope.”  If there is no formal agreement to rehire, there must be some mutual commitment or assurance that the employee will perform services in the next school year.

Using Davis, our firm was able to successfully appeal a Determination by Claims Examiner granting UI benefits to a teacher who had sought unemployment compensation during their summer break between school years.  In our case, the OAH ultimately found that the claimant was employed as a teaching assistant and had a verbal agreement with the principal at the end of the school year in the spring to return to work the following academic year, starting in the fall.  As a result, the teacher was “reasonably assured” that she would continue her employment, thereby making her ineligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits during the summer break.

Educational institutions in D.C. may want to be aware of this exception if a teacher or teaching assistant files for UI benefits between academic school years.

Please note that the above example is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.  If you are an employer and you are faced with a similar situation, or if you have any questions about these laws, please seek the advice of counsel through the “Contact Us” page of our website.  You may also call our firm at (202) 795-9999.