In January, the Georgia State Labor Commissioner instituted a change to the state's unemployment program, under which seasonal school workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria employees could no longer receive unemployment benefits during the summer months. As could be expected, this change placed many of the affected workers into a precarious financial position, forcing them to borrow money, forego paying bills or even file for bankruptcy as a result of the forced loss of income.
Now, however, those employees could have their benefits reinstated following a ruling from the U.S. Department of Labor. The agency found that the state had violated federal workplace laws and ordered the Georgia commissioner to pay the lost unemployment benefits to the affected workers. The state has one month to decide whether to challenge the law, at which time it must begin repaying employees.
About 40 years ago, federal labor officials ruled that public school teachers were not eligible for unemployment benefits during summer break. The justification for this was that teachers are usually paid on a 12-month schedule and are expected to be back at work in the fall, meaning that they don't really fit the definition of laid off.
Georgia labor officials attempted to use this justification to change its laws regarding contract and part-time school workers and private school teachers, in the state's ongoing efforts to cut its budget. However, the federal labor department overruled this change, ruling that the state's interpretation of the unemployment compensation structure is unfounded and inaccurate.
It is not known exactly how many workers are affected by this dispute. This year, about 3,000 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, crossing guards, landscapers and pre-k teachers were denied seasonal unemployment benefits.
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "State ordered to reverse itself on some unemployment claims," Dan Chapman and Nancy Badertscher, Aug. 13, 2012