Q&A on Unemployment Benefits for Two-Year Part-time, Contingent Faculty
written by Annette Stofer, President at SCCFT #1789 (then VP of Contingent Faculty)
As a part-time instructor in the community & technical colleges, when might I be eligible for unemployment benefits?
- during a quarter in which you are not employed, or have a reduced workload.
- during the summer if you are not employed (See 9-month and 12-month designation for more information).
- during breaks between quarters if you have no guarantee of employment (reasonable assurance) in the upcoming term.
What is “reasonable assurance?”
- It's easier to say what it's not.
- It is not simply a work history showing ongoing employment at a college.
- It is not an offer of work conditioned on enrollment, funding or program changes.
- It is not a promise of work in which there is no contractual language to back up the offer with some sort of guarantee of work/salary.
Am I draining money from the budget of my program if I collect unemployment benefits?
Absolutely not. Colleges get a specific allocation from the state to cover unemployment claims. If they don't spend all of the money paying claims, they keep the extra and use it as they wish.
How do I know if I am eligible for unemployment benefits?
There isn't a short answer for this. Read the entire section about this for complete information on “your base year.” Include all employment you have. There is a formula to help determine the total number of hours worked in your teaching position, not just class contact hours If you still fall short of the required number of hours, and you can document that you work more than this, do so. Working an average of 50% workload for 3 quarters a year should be enough to qualify. Combine hours from all jobs worked, even from other states.
Can I open an unemployment claim and then go on vacation?
To collect benefits, you must file on a weekly basis, do a job search, be available to work, and be able and willing to work. If you cannot fulfill these requirements, simply report the information during your weekly claim. (They ask if you were available for work.
How can I do a serious job search when there are few colleges with job openings and no work during quarter breaks?(Updated answer as of 5/22/08)
To be eligible for unemployment benefits, an individual must be actively seeking work and immediately available to accept work. Contact with an employer that an individual knows is not hiring does not count as a valid job search contact. Normally, individuals are not required to look for work outside of their normal occupation. But if that work is not available, they are required to look for other work that they have the physical and mental ability to perform. To be specific, if work as an instructor is not available during the summer, the individual needs to widen his or her job search to other occupations for which he or she is reasonably suited.
It is also not acceptable for individuals to limit themselves to applying for work that begins in the next academic year (normally fall term). In Arima v. Employment Security, 29 Wn. App. 344, 628 P.2d 500 (1981), the Washington Supreme Court ruled that individuals who restrict their job search in this manner are not "available for work" as required under the unemployment benefit statutes.
Finally, our WorkSource Offices are valuable resources in assisting individuals find work. If the individual applies for or is referred to a specific job opening, that qualifies as a job search contact. If the individual attends a workshop administered by the WorkSource Office, that qualifies as a "documented in-person job search activity" and can be counted toward the required three weekly activities. There are additional services and resources available at the WorkSource Offices. Staff can tell individuals whether they qualify towards meeting the weekly job search requirements.
How does a 9-month or 12-month designation for my college affect my ability to collect benefits?
A 9-month designation means that summer is considered a vacation, not another term. To qualify for benefits during summer at a 9-month college, you need to have NO reasonable assurance of employment in the fall quarter. If you have an offer that is "contingent on enrollment or program needs," you DON'T have reasonable assurance.
If I qualify for benefits in summer, how long should I continue to file my weekly claims and expect to receive benefits?
File until you return to work. Your benefits should continue throughout the entire period that you are unemployed. In the event that you aren't employed in the fall term, keep your claim open and your benefits should continue uninterrupted.
After I open a claim, what happens?
One you have opened a claim, either on-line or over the phone, you will receive mailings from Employment Security Department (ESD). An early mailing will be the "School Employee's Questionnaire." The questionnaire does not always clearly relate to the situation of part-time college faculty, so make this clear when you answer questions. State that you are part-time and at which college/s. State that you have no reasonable assurance of employment. Even if you have signed an offer of employment, if that offer is not a guarantee and can be cancelled due to enrollment, funding changes or other factors, then you don't have reasonable assurance.
Answer all questions honestly and clearly.
A claim is good for one year. At the start of each claim year, there is a waiting week. You will not receive benefits during this week, but you must do the required job search. Each year, you must open a new claim, and each year there will be a waiting week. ESD will make a determination about your claim, either granting benefits or denying them on some basis. If they deny your claim, read the denial carefully to determine whether they have inaccurate information about you. You have a right to appeal.
When you file a claim, your college will be notified. The HR department will supply information about your employment. They may challenge your claim to benefits. If you believe that the challenge is based upon inaccurate information or a claim that you have reasonable assurance that you don’t have, you have a right to appeal.
How do I appeal a denial successfully?
If you feel comfortable handing the appeal of your benefits by yourself, you have the right to do so. There may be union reps or colleagues who can support you in the effort.
You may contact the Unemployment Law Project for assistance. They may or may not be able to take your case. Check out their website or call them at 206-441-9178. Call them sooner rather than later, as they prefer to take cases in the early stages of the appeal process.
What happens if I receive unemployment benefits, then lose on appeal, and am told to pay back the money that I received?
If you are able to repay the money, you should do so. If you are in a financial position where you are unable to pay back the money, inform ESD of this. The requirement to make repayment is waived in cases where it would be a hardship to the faculty member. There are cases where ESD requires the college/s to repay the amount out of the funds they get to cover unemployment costs.
Unemployment benefits are a legal right. No one should feel guilty or hesitant about taking advantage of this legal right. Most part-time faculty in the state of Washington are quarter to quarter employees with no guarantee of continued employment. Colleges could change this situation by giving part-time faculty multi-quarter contracts or some other type of job security, but they choose not to. If your Collective Bargaining Agreement does not offer you reasonable assurance of continued employment, then you have a right to apply for and receive benefits if you can meet the eligibility requirements.