New Federal Guidance Is Hailed as Helping Adjuncts Collect Unemployment

The U.S. Department of Labor has issued long-awaited guidance clarifying when states should deem colleges’ contingent faculty members eligible for unemployment compensation.

The department’s new guidance spells out what criteria the state agencies should use in determining whether such instructors have lost their jobs — rendering them eligible for unemployment compensation — or are simply without work during the summer months. It includes criteria for determining whether colleges had previously given such instructors reasonable assurances that they could return to teaching in the coming academic year. It also outlines how state agencies should weigh the unemployment claims of instructors who had been working for two or more institutions that had offered them varying assurances of employment down the road.

When the Labor Department last issued guidance on such matters, back in 1986, it focused on employees of elementary and secondary schools and made no specific mentions of college instructors at all. Its new guidance letter, sent to state work-force agencies late last month, observes that since that time colleges have become much more dependent on instructors employed on a contingent basis.

Previously, “there was really terrible inconsistency in terms of the decisions that were coming back from state unemployment agencies,” said Maria Maisto, president of New Faculty Majority, an advocacy group for contingent faculty members. She said the new guidance, long sought by her organization and by faculty unions, should make it much easier for deserving contingent faculty members to collect unemployment compensation and should save both such instructors and their employers legal costs associated with disputes over claims. Because the new guidance is nonbinding and simply clarifies what is required under established federal law, Ms. Maisto said, she is not worried about its being scrapped or reversed by President-elect Donald J. Trump’s administration.

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