Deadline for Teachers to Terminate Employment Contracts Passed on July 10th

As July comes to a close, schools across Ohio have begun to gear up for another school year. Yet just when you think you have put the chaos of staffing buildings and assigning students behind you, inevitably a teacher who would be very hard to replace at this juncture approaches the district and provides notice that he or she plans to resign to accept a position elsewhere. The question becomes whether the district must release the teacher from his contract. Before you agree to such a proposal, keep the following in mind.

Ohio law places strict limits on when a teacher may terminate a contract of employment absent consent from the board of education. Under ORC §3319.15, a teacher must provide a district with written notice that he or she wishes to terminate an employment contract each summer by July 10th. The law prohibits teachers from terminating a contract beyond that date, or at any point during the school year. The law also states a teacher must provide at least five days’ notice to the board before voluntarily terminating any agreement.

Interestingly enough, a board of education cannot seek an injunction in court to force a teacher to return to work if he or she attempts to resign beyond the narrow statutory window, or simply refuses to show up for work after the July 10th deadline. Such an injunction would violate the state and federal Constitutions’ prohibitions against involuntary servitude (U.S. Constitution, Amendment XIII, and Ohio Const. Art. I).

However, a district is not without some form of recourse. A school district can challenge violations of ORC §3319.15 through the Department of Education. The State Board of Education adopted the Licensure Code of Professional Conduct for Ohio Educators in 2008. Under the Code of Conduct, the State Board of Education may terminate or suspend a teacher’s license for abandonment of a contractual agreement without consent from the employing Board of Education. A teacher’s failure to comply with the law could thereafter have a significant impact on the individual’s future teaching career.

Questions? Contact your district’s legal counsel for more information.

U.S. Supreme Court Supports Employer’s Refusal to Cover Costs of Certain Contraceptives

The U.S. Supreme Court issued yet another precedent-setting decision this week for employers. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. _____ (June 30, 2104), the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that regulations which require employers to provide health insurance coverage for certain types of contraceptive drugs violate the religious rights of company owners who oppose the drugs for religious reasons.

The case was brought by three closely held for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, to challenge an Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) regulation that required non-exempt employers to provide health insurance plans that covered twenty forms of oral contraception. Four of the twenty drugs prevented development of a fetus post-conception. The owners of the companies, all of whom espouse a Christian ideology, believed that termination of pregnancy post-conception violated their religious beliefs.

The companies initially filed requests for injunctions against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) to prevent enforcement of the ACA regulations, claiming the regulations violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”).  RFRA prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless the action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest.

The Supreme Court first acknowledged that the owners of the companies have sincerely held religious objections to abortion, and the four contraceptive methods at issue are considered abortifacients. The Court next considered whether the regulations imposed a substantial burden on religious exercise. The Court held that they did because corporations were required to either comply or face penalties of up to $475 million per year. Finally, the Court concluded that while the regulations served a compelling government interest, they were not the least restrictive means by which the government could serve that interest. HHS had already created an alternative system that enabled religious nonprofits to exclude the contraceptives from employee health insurance cost-sharing benefits. Women who are covered by the system can still access the drugs, but their employers do not share the cost. The Court reasoned that for-profit corporations should also be able to participate in the alternative system.

The majority rejected the argument that corporations were not defined as “persons” under law, but instead expanded RFRA and potentially other federal protections to corporations now and in the future. They also disagreed with the claim that the plaintiffs could reduce the burden by electing to drop insurance coverage and thus reduce the penalties, citing the fact that employers would be a significant competitive disadvantage if they stopped offering health insurance to employees.

Justice Ginsberg, writing for the dissent, criticized the majority opinion and argued that the decision forced women who do not necessarily share the religious views of their employers to absorb the cost of contraception. Ginsberg cited a national study that concluded out of pocket expenses for women were as much as 68% higher than for men. Ginsberg also summarily disagreed with the majority’s conclusion that a for-profit corporation was a “person” covered by RFRA.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court decision in Burwell will force courts to reexamine the rights of corporations across the nation, and could have a potentially far-reaching impact on all employers in the near future.