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Hawaii substitute teachers can collect unemployment this summer, state Labor Department says

  • BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 23
                                Kaimuki High School sign. Bruce Keppers, who works as a substitute teacher mostly at McKinley and Kaimuki high schools, was delighted to hear the news that he may collect unemployment insurance this summer.

    BRUCE ASATO / MARCH 23

    Kaimuki High School sign. Bruce Keppers, who works as a substitute teacher mostly at McKinley and Kaimuki high schools, was delighted to hear the news that he may collect unemployment insurance this summer.

Substitute teachers may collect unemployment insurance this summer after all, according to the state Labor Department.

Although substitutes and other casual hires could claim unemployment benefits when schools shut down after spring break, that eligibility ended with the academic year.

Normally, such educational workers may not claim unemployment benefits over the summer if they have a “reasonable assurance” that they will return to work the next academic year, under state law.

But the coronavirus pandemic has changed that calculus this summer, according to the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The department made a blanket determination last week that such workers are eligible this summer.

That means substitutes can claim benefits for the weeks they missed, so long as they are otherwise eligible for unemployment insurance, and they should continue to file weekly certifications, according to the department.

“Those employed in educational institutions wherein the nature of the work is episodic are not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if there’s a contract or ‘reasonable assurance’ that they will subsequently work again,” Anne Eustaquio, acting director of the department said in a statement today. “During this summer break, DLIR has determined that there is no contract or reasonable assurance for individuals in public sector schools will be returning to work.”

Bruce Keppers, who works as a substitute teacher mostly at McKinley and Kaimuki high schools, was delighted to hear the news. He had received unemployment insurance through the end of the school year, but his June 6 filing was turned down. After learning of the department’s decision, he filed for the succeeding weeks today.

“It’s very helpful especially when the school year is still up in the air, whether they are going to have teachers on campus,” said Keppers, who normally substitutes three times a week. “I am glad I can get some extra money just in case I can’t get my three days.”

The DOE employs about 4,700 substitute teachers and they play a vital role, given the teacher shortage.

Other issues could continue to foul up unemployment filings for substitute teachers. According to Labor Department data, there are numerous claims involving issues in two categories: whether applicants “did not accept work” and whether they “voluntarily left” their jobs.

The Department of Education said in a statement today that it does not intend to appeal the Labor Department’s decision but would “continue to review specific DOE employment information to consider appeals on a case-by-case basis.”

Some substitute teachers have said the hold that was placed on their claims by the Labor Department earlier in June also wound up cutting off unemployment insurance from other non-teaching jobs. The Labor Department’s decision should free up those cases.

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