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AT THE OFFICE: Are students entitled to unemployment benefits?

Q: Did you ever hear of unemployment insurance being denied because an employee is in high school? My 17-year-old daughter worked for a retailer for almost two years before it went out of business. She applied for unemployment benefits but was de...

Q: Did you ever hear of unemployment insurance being denied because an employee is in high school? My 17-year-old daughter worked for a retailer for almost two years before it went out of business. She applied for unemployment benefits but was denied because she's in high school. If we appeal, do we have any chance of winning? This is unjust.

A: It's only natural for her to believe she was eligible for unemployment benefits. She worked almost two years, after all. But New York labor law specifically excludes elementary and secondary students from the definition of "employed" and thus from unemployment benefits.

Section 511.9 says: "The term 'employment' does not include service during all or any part of the school year or regular vacation periods as a part-time worker of any person actually in regular attendance during the daytime as a student in an elementary or secondary school."

Even students who work full time are considered part time and they're back to being considered not employed.

"Part-time worker means that school comes first if a conflict were to arise between work schedules and class schedules," the state Labor Department said in response to your question.

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Unemployment benefits eligibility for laid-off workers in general is based in part on the wages they earned in the calendar year preceding the time they apply for the benefits. But, alas, for your daughter, that doesn't matter.

"While a claimant in this situation may have the earnings to qualify for unemployment, they would still be determined ineligible based on their student status," the department said.

As your daughter gets older, she won't have to face this problem because the benefit exclusions don't apply to college or vocational-school students.

Labor law seems unfair to your daughter and other hard-working teens in her situation, but it is the law.

Q: A year ago, I lost my job as a tenured teacher in a school district. I was "excessed," as they say. I returned to the district for the 2008-2009 school year as a permanent substitute teacher at a per diem rate of pay that was drastically below what I earned. I returned as a sub because I was not able to find another teaching position and because not returning would have affected my position on the recall list. At the end of June I was again unemployed. I can return to this same district as a permanent substitute in September if I do not find a job in a different district. Do I qualify for unemployment benefits in the meantime?

A: If you're likely to return as a sub, then you probably wouldn't qualify for unemployment benefits. Here's the response from the New York Labor Department:

"In general, if a substitute teacher has reasonable assurance of returning in a similar capacity (i.e. sub) in the next school year, then they cannot use their education wages between academic years to establish an unemployment claim."

As with other teachers who will return to work in September, you are not considered unemployed when school is out.

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On the other hand, since your wages were dramatically reduced, you might have a claim.

"Reasonable assurance exists only if the economic terms and conditions of employment are not substantially less favorable to the claimant in the next school year or term than the conditions in the prior-year term," the department says.

You have nothing to lose by applying.

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