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Unemployment Insurance Implications of Reduction in Hours for Civil Service Employees

A recent decision of the Appellate Division, Third Department, held that a reduction in hours of a civil service employee’s position does not trigger the rights under Civil Service Law §80 that apply when a position is “abolished or reduced in rank or salary grade”.  This principle applies if the hours are not reduced so far as to make the position “part-time” under the applicable civil service rules.  Schoonmaker v. Capital Region BOCES, 80 A.D.3d 965 (3d Dept. January 18, 2011), lv. app. denied, 2011 WL 1584868 (April 28, 2011). 

If a position is reduced, but still involves work for at least four days per week and/or earnings of at least $405 per week, then an employee who remains on the job is not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.  In order to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits, a person must have enough “effective days” of “total unemployment”.   A person is not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if the employee works at least four days in a week.  Also, a person is not eligible for unemployment insurance benefits if the employee earns an amount which is equivalent to at least the highest benefit rate under the law (currently $405 per week).  Labor Law §523; Matter of Robinson [Commissioner of Labor], 75 A.D.3d 1030 (3d Dept. 2010); N.Y. State Dept. of Labor, Unemployment Insurance Information for Claimants, page 9, available at http://www.labor.state.ny.us/formsdocs/ui/TC318.3e.pdf 

If a position is reduced to fewer than four days per week and less than $405 per week, the employee may remain on the job and apply for partial unemployment insurance benefits.  A person who works 3 days in a week may receive benefits of 1/4 of the employee’s full rate; a person who works 2 days in a week may receive ½ of the employee’s full rate; a person who works 1 day in a week may receive 3/4 of the employee’s full rate.  Unemployment Insurance Information for Claimants(cited above). 

It has been held that a claimant who voluntarily left her employment without good cause may be denied unemployment insurance benefits if the claimant left her job because of her dissatisfaction with the reduced earnings that would result from the cut in her work week.   She could have stayed employed and supplemented her earnings with partial unemployment insurance benefits.   Matter of Orenstein [Hartnett], 173 A.D.2d 1029 (3d Dept. 1991).

In general, dissatisfaction over a reduction in work hours is not considered to be good cause for leaving employment.   Matter of Ebisike [Commissioner of Labor], 306 A.D.2d 777, lv. app. denied, 100 N.Y.2d 514 (2003). (That case involved a reduction of the claimant’s weekly work hours from 35 to 26 1/4, which was a reduction of 25%.) 

However, a claimant is not disqualified from receiving benefits for not accepting employment when “the wages or compensation or hours or conditions offered are substantially less favorable to the claimant than those prevailing for similar work in the locality, or are such as tend to depress wages or working conditions”.  Labor Law §593(2)(d).  This depends on the specific facts. 

For example, in one case, the claimant began working for the employer for $6.80 per hour, five days per week, eight hours per day.   The employer later began paying for her health insurance.   Several years later, the claimant’s rate of pay was increased to $11 per hour, but her hours were reduced.  Her hours were initially reduced to four days per week and then to three days per week.  She was then advised that the employer would no longer pay for her health insurance and she resigned.  The Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board and the Appellate Division determined that there was a substantial decline in the terms and conditions of the claimant’s employment from the time she initially started working for the employer which provided good cause for her to leave her employment.   They also concluded that the claimant did not refuse an offer of suitable employment without good cause.   The offer made to claimant required her to perform the same duties she performed prior to her resignation at a salary of $7 per hour, three days per week, with no health insurance.   This offer was substantially less favorable than the terms of her employment prior to her resignation and she was not required to accept it.  Matter of Knoblauch [Mark Custom Recording - Sweeney], 239 A.D.2d 761 (3d Dept. 1997). 

It is interesting to note, however, that the Unemployment Insurance Law requires a person who is still unemployed after receiving 13 weeks of benefits to accept any job (he/she can perform) which pays at least 80% of his/her previous salary, assuming that that amount is not less than the prevailing wage for that job.  Failing to accept such employment would result in that individual losing eligibility for benefits. See Labor Law §593(2).  

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at 315-437-7600.

 

Excerpted from the May 2011 edition of "School Law Matters".  To view the entire newsletter, please click here.