If you’re reading this in June (or even July), stop and take a moment to check your mail. Why? If school is not in session, neither are your employees. This is the peak time period for support and auxiliary personnel to file claims for unemployment benefits. You may have notice of a new unemployment claim sitting in your mailbox right now.
Even if your mailroom staff is off work or you have put your mail on hold at the post office, that doesn’t stop the flow of mail from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). Remember, the TWC claims process is open for business.
Why is it a peak time for employees to file claims?
Summer break is treated as a temporary work stoppage initiated by the employer (school district), which is the same thing as a layoff. According to TWC, employees are eligible to receive unemployment benefits if 1) they are not fired for misconduct, and 2) they didn’t voluntarily quit. Summer break does not fall into either category. For employees who do not work during the summer, their job ended through no fault of their own, so they are eligible to file for unemployment compensation.
While most school district employees do not file claims over the break, enough do file to make it worth a little extra diligence on the district’s part in responding to notices from TWC. With many people continuing to be unemployed and school districts facing an ever-present budget crunch, these two forces make for a perfect storm to increase your claims at a time when you can least afford it.
The only thing preventing your at-will and support employees from receiving unemployment insurance benefits over the summer is what’s called Reasonable Assurance. It’s a special provision in the Texas Labor Code that says claimants cannot collect unemployment insurance benefits based upon the wages an educational institution has paid them over the past year if they have reasonable assurance of returning to work after a scheduled break is over. You can prove to the TWC that a person is expected to come back to work with the aptly named Letter of Reasonable Assurance. If you don’t have one for a particular claimant, send the TWC something in writing, even a copy of the next year’s school calendar that shows your return date.
Why do you need to check your mail during breaks?
Here’s an example of a common situation faced by school districts. What if the TWC mails you a few notices of new claims from your auxiliary personnel during the last days of school and the person who handles these claims is on vacation while the forms sit on their desk until he/she returns?
As with all TWC documents, you have 14 days from the date something is mailed to respond. If no one has checked the mail before the TWC deadline, or if the mail was placed on hold, you’ve lost your opportunity to respond or appeal any decision made against you, even if it’s obviously false or incorrect. No amount of explaining to the TWC will excuse the district for not picking up its mail and responding.
When the TWC mails you something, it is presumed that you received it three days later. If your mail is on hold, go pick it up. Additionally, if you have any telephone hearings scheduled over the break, you must call in and participate. Being away on a break is not considered good cause to miss a telephone hearing, especially if your hearing notice was sitting on someone’s desk or at the post office. The TWC is open for taking claims and conducts hearings twelve months a year.
The bottom line is that you must continue to check your mail over any break from school. You might not have to do it every day, but please check it at least once a week. If it says it’s from the TWC, don’t let it sit. Open it immediately because it’s almost always time sensitive.
If you need assistance or further explanation, call James Ezell (who also works 12 months a year), UC attorney for TASB Risk Management Services, at 800.482.7276, ext. 6258.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in June 2012 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.