Unemployment regulations for teachers provide an interesting challenge for state offices paying unemployment benefits. A minority of teachers use vague laws or loopholes in the system to apply for unemployment during the summer months when school is out. Other teachers use layoff notices issued each spring for the basis for applying for unemployment over the summer, even when the teacher receives a call back to teach in the fall. Unemployment laws vary from state to state, but certain generalizations offer guidelines for unemployed educators applying for state benefits.
Permanent teachers and instructors working under ten-month contracts signed each year typically have the option to accept pay for a ten-month contract during the ten months of work or elect to accept the pay for ten months divided over a twelve-month period. The year payment plan features wages paid over the months when schools observe summer vacation. Permanent teachers on ten-month work contracts cannot legally earn unemployment in the majority of states during that time away from the job.
Teachers fired from jobs due to budget cuts or school closure generally have a legitimate right to file for unemployment payments in all states, provided the teacher paid into the state's unemployment system during the school year. Teachers fired for cause have no access to the unemployment system. Actions included under dismissal for cause, according to the Greeley Education Association in Colorado, involve proof of incompetence, immorality, insubordination, conviction of a felony and neglecting assigned teaching duties.
Teachers receiving a notice in the spring that budget cuts eliminated the instructor's teaching position for the fall semester --who were laid off, in other words -- have a legal basis to apply for unemployment benefits during the summer. The Reduction in Force, or RIF, notice legally protects the school by notifying contracted teachers of the risk of a layoff. If school funds increase by the fall semester, the teacher under contract receives a new notice to return to work. Teachers served with RIF notices typically file for unemployment since the layoff notice provisionally terminates the regular teaching contract. Texas, Illinois and California pay unemployment to "RIFF'd" teachers.
Teachers working under temporary full-time employment contracts in some states, including some counties in Indiana and California, use vague language to receive unemployment pay over summer vacations. Temporary contracts offer teachers employment during the school year, but fail to pay for the time off when students depart for summer break. The teaching contracts specifically state the employee works under a ten-month commitment, but teachers applying for unemployment state that their employment terminated with the summer months. Once the school year begins, the teachers return to a new ten-month contract. Some state unemployment laws prevent these yearly summer unemployment benefits.
Substitute teachers working on a fee-per-day basis do not qualify for unemployment services. Full-time substitutes working under teaching substitute contracts qualify for unemployment benefits, provided the district notifies the substitutes that the district eliminated the teaching jobs. Part-time substitute teachers do not technically qualify as unemployed since the instructor returns to work every fall for less than full-time service.
- Workforce Solutions: Brazos Valley; A Lesson on Layoffs for School Employees
- "News-Journal.com"; Yes, Virginia, Teachers Can Draw Unemployment; Feb. 19, 2011
- Lawyers.com; 'Unemployment' Benefits for Substitute Teachers; Eric E. Munoz; Dec. 30, 2010
- Greeley Education Association: Laws That Apply to Teachers
- Texas Classroom Teachers Association: The Right to RIF-The Criteria and the Rules; Jan. 14, 2009
- Illinois Education Association-NEA: Reduction in Force ("RIF")
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.