Educators are ineligible for unemployment insurance between academic terms only if given timely assurance of reemployment for the next academic term
Upham (Dutchess Community Coll.--Commissioner of Labor), 2015 NY Slip Op 07898, Appellate Division, Third Department
Labor Law §590(10) prohibits a professional employed by an educational institution from receiving unemployment insurance benefits during the period between two successive academic terms if the educational institution has given the professional a reasonable assurance of continued employment.
In cases where educational institutions have failed to set forth the terms or conditions of continued employment or have made such employment contingent upon certain conditions, courts have found that a reasonable assurance of reemployment was lacking and thus the individual was eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.
Paul Upham served as an adjunct instructor at a community college and, during the fall 2013 semester, he taught three courses in history and government. Prior to the end of that semester, the chair of his department asked Upham if he wanted to teach potentially four courses during the spring 2014 semester and he expressed an interest in doing so.
After the semester ended, the college sent Upham a letter "anticipat[ing] that [he would] be invited to return to teach," during the spring 2014 semester "subject to enrollment and/or budget constraints."
Upham had applied for unemployment insurance benefits before receiving this letter. Following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that Upham was, in fact, eligible to receive benefits because the college had not given him a reasonable assurance of continued employment within the meaning of Labor Law §590(10).
The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board sustained the administrative law judge’s decision and the college appealed the Board’s determination.
The Appellate Division affirmed the Board’s ruling, explaining that while Labor Law §590(10) makes a professional employed by an educational institution ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits during the period between two successive academic terms, such ineligibility is triggered by the claimant having been given a reasonable assurance of continued employment by the institution.
A "reasonable assurance," in turn, is a representation by the educational institution "that substantially the same economic terms and conditions will continue to apply to the extent that the claimant will receive at least 90% of the earnings received during the first academic period." Whether the claimant has been given a “reasonable assurance” is a factual question for the Board to resolve and its determination will be upheld if supported by substantial evidence.
While the department chair mentioned that Upham could teach potentially four courses during the spring 2014 semester, which exceeded the number that he taught during the fall 2013 semester, this was never confirmed during any subsequent conversations nor in the letter sent to Upham.
Significantly, the Appellate Division noted that the letter did not specify the details of the spring 2014 semester teaching assignment and conditioned Upham’s further employment upon "enrollment and/or budget constraints."
Accordingly, said the court substantial evidence supports the Board's finding that Upham was entitled to receive unemployment insurance benefits.”
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