As budgets continue to shrink, school districts must make tough financial and personnel decisions. Unfortunately for many school district employees, this means losing their jobs based on economic factors out of their control. Missouri’s unemployment benefit system provides up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits for out-of-work employees. With personnel decisions looming for most school districts, the Missouri State Teachers Association has compiled a list of frequently asked questions about unemployment benefits for Missouri’s school employees. This guide will answer some of the most common questions regarding unemployment benefits, but there are many questions that cannot be answered without an in-depth analysis of your personal situation. MSTA recommends consulting an attorney before pursuing unemployment benefits or making employment decisions that could impact unemployment earnings.
How do I know if I qualify for unemployment benefits?
There are a few basic qualification requirements. First, you must lose your job through no fault of your own or quit for good cause related to the work or the employer. Second, you must meet the compensation requirements of the statute.
What does it mean to lose my job through no fault of my own? What does “good cause” mean?
That’s a tricky question that doesn’t have a clearly defined answer. It is fairly clear that being non-renewed based on the district’s poor financial condition is not the employee’s fault. Likewise, school district reorganization that results in the district releasing teachers would also meet this standard. On the other hand, it’s also clear that termination or non-renewal based on violation of board policy would be considered the employee’s “fault.” Those, however, are probably the only easy answers when it comes to determining fault. If you have a question about your eligibility, it is best to consult an attorney to discuss your situation. Good cause generally means the employer created a working atmosphere that was so bad no reasonable person would be expected to continue working in that environment. For example, a claim of hostile work environment would most likely be an example of “good cause.” The biggest concern with invoking this part of the statute is proving the claim.
What are the compensation requirements of Missouri’s unemployment system?
You must make at least $2,250 from an insured employer during your base period. At least $1,500 must be earned during one of the calendar quarters and at least $750 must be earned during the rest of the base period. Finally, your total base period wages must be at least 1.5 times your highest quarter. Most full-time school-district employees will meet the compensation requirements of the statute. Part-time and seasonal workers may be closer to the cut-off and should consult an attorney to determine their eligibility. It is important to have as much documentation of your wages as possible. If you do not have this information, your school district should be able to produce it in a timely manner.
The Missouri Department of Labor has developed a chart to help workers determine their base period and the calendar quarters. To use the chart, find the month when you filed your claim in an unshaded box. Your base period is the shaded region directly left of it.
I did not lose my job completely, but my hours were dramatically reduced. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
It is possible for employees who have their hours reduced to qualify for partial unemployment benefits. The calculation of a partial benefit can get confusing, but the Missouri Department of Labor has an online benefits calculator that can help you estimate your weekly benefit.
How do I file an unemployment claim?
There are two ways to file a new unemployment claim: on the Internet or over the phone. The Internet Claim Filing Service is available almost 24 hours a day from any computer in the world at https://uinteract.labor.mo.gov. The telephone filing system is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Central time, Monday through Friday, except for holidays.
Am I required to do anything to remain eligible for unemployment benefits?
There are a few things you must do to maintain your benefits. First, you must file a weekly certification that includes reporting all wages earned each week, even if you will not be paid until later. This includes tips, commissions, bonuses, etc. Second, you must report in person to a designated Missouri Division of Workforce Development center once every four weeks to get help with your job search. Finally, you must actively search for work. This includes making contact with potential employers and recording these job contacts in case the Division of Employment Security requests to see a list.
What happens if my unemployment claim is denied or my district challenges the ruling?
The “losing party” can challenge the initial determination of eligibility. Therefore, if you are denied unemployment benefits, you have the right to file an appeal with the Regional Claim Center. Your notice of the department’s denial of benefits will include a time limit for filing an appeal. Pay close attention to the time frame because failing to file a timely appeal could strip you of your rights. Likewise, your school district can appeal a granting of benefits. The employer’s appeal will not cause your benefits to stop, but you must participate in a hearing to determine the validity of your unemployment claim.