As students join teachers and administrative personnel and staff in flocking back to public and private schools in Minnesota to begin the 2015-2016 academic year, they can learn from a recent ruling of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In a mid-summer decision, the appellate court upheld denial of unemployment compensation benefits by the Department of Employment & Economic Recovery (DEED), the agency that oversees the state unemployment program, for an undisclosed applicant who limited her job search to accommodate her schooling in Marcellais v. Prairie Harvest Health Center, 2015 Minn. App. LEXIS 653 (Minn. App. July 20, 2015) (unpublished).
The case turned on the claimant’s statement in her application for benefits that she would “not be available” to seek or accept full-time work because of her class schedule while attending school. The self-limitation to part-time work conflicted with the requirement under the unemployment law that a claimant must be “available for [and]… actively seeking… suitable employment pursuant to Minn. Stat. §268.085, subd. 1(4) – (5). The statute further mandates that a student abandon or withdraw from classes if the school schedule restricts seeking a job and the claimant is unable to change the schedule to accommodate “suitable” job opportunities. Minn. Stat. §268.085, subd. 15 (a) – (b).
The student’s unwillingness to do so overcame her unpersuasive recantations of her application in testimony before an Unemployment Law Judge (ULJ), proved fatal to her claim, and warranted a determination of ineligibility for benefits. The ruling is the latest in a long line of cases dating back nearly four decades that deem students ineligible for unemployment compensation if class work interferes with a full-scale job search. Goodman v. Minnesota Dept. of Employment Services, 312 Minn. 551, 255 N.W.2d 223 (1977).
The lesson to be learned from the Marcellais case for students and their advocates seeking unemployment compensation is to exhibit flexibility in coordinating class schedule with employment availability in order to be eligible for benefits. A student who is able to arrange a school schedule in a way that permits availability to work may prevail. Management and their attorneys, as well as others opposing their claims, should point to the availability of work and argue that finding a job is marred by the student’s schedule.
Marshall H. Tanick
Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC