Tuesday, December 01, 2009

UC - reasonable assurance - economic equivalency

Slippery Rock School District v. UCBR - Pa. Supreme Court - November 30, 2009


Former long-term substitute teacher who was offered only day-to-day position in the ensuing school year did not have "reasonable assurance" of continuing employment and was thus eligible for UC benefits when laid off from the long-term position.

Section 402.1(1) of the UC Law provides that teachers and other school employees are not entitled to receive unemployment benefits during the summer recess if they have “reasonable assurance” of returning to their job in the next academic year, 43 P.S. § 802.1(1)

The decision was based on 34 Pa. Code § 65.161, which was held to be a reasonable, valid and binding regulation, which was properly adopted, within the Department's powers, and consistent with the terms of the UC Law, sec. 402.1, 43 P.S. § 802.1(1), even though it concededly created a "new standard of conduct" -- economic equivalency.

Under sec. 65.161, there is no reasonable assurance where the "economic terms and conditions of the employment offered to the individual for the second academic period are. . . substantially less than the terms and conditions of the individual’s employment in the first academic period.... (c) For the purposes of subsection (a), economic terms and conditions of employment include wages, benefits and hours of work. "The element of 'reasonable assurance' addressed by the Regulation is known as economic equivalency."

"The Regulation addresses the inequitable gap created for school employees like [the claimant] when her position disappears during the second academic year and her only option is to be unemployed or accept a position with less or possibly no compensation.

The Department’s Regulation also remedies the inequity pursuant to the stated purposes of the UC Act. The first stated goal is humanitarian: to provide “[s]ecurity against unemployment and the spread of indigency.” 43 P.S. § 752 (Declaration of public policy). The Regulation extends unemployment benefits to persons who have suffered a loss of income."

The Act’s second stated and equally important goal is to cooperate fully with USDOL so as “to secure to this Commonwealth and its citizens all advantages available under the provisions of the Social Security Act that relate to unemployment compensation.” 43 P.S. § 767(a)(1). As the Pa. Bulletin publication recounts, USDOL notified the Commonwealth of its failure to conform to federal law in its interpretation of “reasonable assurances.” 33 Pa. Bull. 25 (January 4, 2003). The department’s regulation adjusted Pennsylvania unemployment law to conform to USDOL’s requirement and, as a result, met its statutory mandate. Placed into context, the Regulation is clearly consonant with Section 402.1(1) and the rest of the Act so it is therefore reasonable. The court held that the regulation, 34 Pa. Code § 65.151 was a "valid exercise of the Department’s power to promulgate legislative regulations."