The Catholic University of America



"Unemployment Compensation Act"

D.C. Code Ann. §§ 51-101 to 51-127

The Law: The Act generally provides for the establishment of an Unemployment Compensation Fund financed by contributions from employers in the District of Columbia and serves as a source of payments to eligible individuals. The Act covers all common law employer-employee relationships. However, some excluded entities include: religious organizations and their employees, including church operated schools. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-101(2)(A)(iv)(I)-(II). See also Konecny v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 447 A.2d 31 (D.C. 1982) (extends exclusion to lay employees of such organizations). The standard contribution rate for employers is the average of the rates paid by all employees.

For benefit years commencing on or after January 5, 1997, the maximum weekly benefit shall be $309. An amount is computed pursuant to a detailed formula set forth at D.C. Code Ann. § 51-107, but generally is 1/26th of the employee's highest quarterly wages during a base period. (A base period is the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters preceding the first day of the worker's benefit year. A benefit year is a 52-week period beginning the first day of the first week to which a worker files a valid claim.) See D.C. Code Ann. § 21-107.

Eligibility Criteria:

  1. Threshold Base Period Earnings: A claimant must have wages of at least $1,300 in one quarter of his/her base period, wages of at least $1,950 in any two quarters of his/her base period, and total base period wages of at least one and one-half times his/her highest quarter wages, less $70. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-108(c). Wages include most forms of remuneration in addition to cash. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-101(3); D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7, § 321.

  2. Availability for Work: An individual must be available for work in order to make a claim under the Act. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-109(3)-(4). Also, a claimant must be actively engaged in a search for employment (which is subject to review by the D.C. Department of Employment Services). See Downey v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 467 A.2d 456 (D.C. 1983). See D.C. Mun Regs. tit.7, § 316. The 1993 Amendments require a minimum of two new work contacts per week.

Exclusions: The limitations on eligibility are set forth in D.C. Code Ann. § 51-109(5) to (9). For example, unemployment compensation is unavailable to teachers (including substitute teachers) and certain educational personnel during summer recess. See Davis v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 481 A.2d 128 (D.C. 1984). See also Brannum v. DC Public School, 946 A. 2d 962 (DC 2008), where the court, in citing Davis, noted as follows at page 965. 

The D.C. unemployment compensation statute covers employees of D.C. institutions of higher education and of other educational organizations, such as DCPS. See D.C.Code § 51-101(2)(A)(ii) and (iii) (2001). It provides special rules excepting coverage in limited circumstances, however, due to the nature and length of the school calendar, which incorporates a summer recess during which some school employees, particularly teachers, are not expected to work. [FN3] Thus, under D.C.Code § 51-109(7)(B) (2001), a school employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits during the school summer recess if two conditions are met: (1) the person has been employed by an educational institution during the prior academic year or term; and (2) the person has been given "reasonable assurance" of reemployment in the following academic year or term. [FN4] But if the employee does not have "reasonable assurance" of reemployment in the following year, the employee is eligible to receive unemployment compensation benefits, even during the summer months. [FN5] We have held that "[d]espite the indefinite nature of their employment," substitute teachers are covered by the unemployment compensation scheme for employees of educational institutions, including the provision concerning "reasonable assurance" of continued employment in the new school year. See *966 Davis v. D.C. Dep't of Employment Servs., 481 A.2d 128, 131 (D.C.1984) (per curiam).Summary of District of Columbia Laws. 

The court in Brannum also stated that whether reasonable assurance has been afforded by the employer is essentially a question of fact to be determined by examing the relevant circumstances surrounding the employment relationship. (page 967) A reasonable assurance is more than a mere hope. The court in Brannum also noted that the unemployment compensation statute should be liberally construed to accomplish its purpose and extend its coverage, with a consequent strict construction of exemption provisions. (id at 966)

Reporting Requirements: Once an employee is determined qualified to receive benefits under the Act, the claimant has an obligation to continue to file biweekly reports with the District of Columbia Department of Employment Services that document availability for work and active search for employment. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-109.

Records and Reports: Every employing unit must keep accurate work records for all employees as prescribed by the Director of the Department of Employment Services, regardless of their obligation to pay contributions. The records must be open to inspection and may be copied by the Director or his/her representative at a reasonable time and as often as necessary. I n addition, the Director may require reports covering other aspects of employment such as wages, earnings, unemployment and related matters that are necessary to carry out the Act. The information in the records may not be divulged to the public. See also D.C. Mun Regs. tit. 7, §§ 319 and 320.

Administration of Claims: See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 21-111 and 51-112; D.C. Mun Regs. tit. 7, §§ 304 to 309. The most frequently litigated unemployment compensation issue is whether the claimant may be disqualified from receiving benefits because he/she voluntarily left work without good cause or was discharged for misconduct. Important issues include:

  1. Duration of Disqualification: If the Department of Employment Services (DOES) finds that the claimant is disqualified, this decision will operate as a bar to eligibility under the Act. Eligibility will result when he/she becomes re-employed for at least 10 weeks and earns a sum equal to or greater than 10 times her weekly benefit amount. See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-110.

  2. Voluntary Termination:

(a) As Grounds for Disqualification: Disqualification results if an employee "left his most recent work voluntarily without good cause connected with the work." See D.C. Code Ann. § 51-110(a); D.C. Mun. Regs. tit.7, § 311. 

(b) Marital Considerations: Disqualification resulting from a spouse voluntarily terminating his/her employment does not constitute impermissible discrimination against one who terminates employment to accompany a spouse who relocates. See Schroeder v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 479 A.2d 1281 (D.C. 1984). Nor is it unlawful discrimination to disqualify an individual for voluntary termination due to pregnancy. See Labor & Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri v. Wimberly, 479 U.S. 511 (1987).

(c) Regulatory Presumption of Involuntary Termination: A presumption exists that the termination was involuntary. See D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7, § 311.3. This presumption shifts the burden of persuasion onto the employer.

(d) Good Cause for Voluntary Termination: Good cause may arise from medical problems but only if they relate to the particular employment. See Bublis v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 575 A.2d 301 (D.C. 1990); Hill v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 467 A.2d 134 (D.C. 1983).

(e) Good Cause Must Be Connected to Work: See Lyons v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 551 A.2d 1345 (D.C. 1988) (spousal relocation not connected to work); Gomillion v. District of Columbia Department of Employment Services, 447 A.2d 449 (D.C. 1982) (while may have good cause to terminate employment based on reasonable expectation of better job opportunity, an employee is not eligible if opportunity fails to materialize).

3. Misconduct: The 1993 Amendments created a two-tier misconduct law: "gross misconduct" and "other than gross misconduct." The terms are defined in D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7, § 312.

(a) "Gross misconduct" is an act which deliberately or willfully violates the employer's rules, deliberately or willfully threatens or violates the employer's interests, shows a repeated disregard for the employee's obligation to the employer, or disregards standards of behavior which an employer has a right to expect of its employee.

(b)"Other than gross misconduct" is an act or omission by an employee which constitutes a breach of the employee's duties or obligations to the employer, a breach of the employment agreement or contract, or which adversely affects a material employer interest.

Note: Misconduct may be excusable if it is justified. See Jones v. DUCB, 395 A.2d 392, 397 (D.C. 1978); Williams v. DUCB, 383 A.2d 345, 350-1 (D.C. 1978). Compare LeGare v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 444, A.2d 1151 (Pa. 1981).

4. Active Participation in a Labor Dispute: The Act disqualifies any individual whose unemployment directly results from a labor dispute other than lockout, still in active progress at his/her last place of employment. D.C. Code Ann. § 51-110(f); D.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 7, § 315.1.

5. Other Grounds for Disqualification: For example, another ground may be for the refusal to accept suitable work or the refusal to attend a training or retraining course when it is required. See D.C. Code Ann. §§ 51-110(c) and (e).

Child Support Provisions: Pursuant to D.C. Code Ann. § 51-118(b) and 42 U.S.C. § 503(e), an agency may deduct certain child support obligations from benefits and pay them directly to the local child support agency.

Reference: For more information, contact the Department of Employment Services' General Counsel's Office at (202) 724-7113.

Cross Reference: See the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, 26 U.S.C. §§ 3301 et seq.



Revised NTC 11-7-07
DC code update 2/25/08
links updated 6/6/08 rab
updated 7/26/10 to add Brannum
Links checked and updated August 3rd, 2010, FJL.