Employment Law Q & A
By Jessica Sherrill, Director of OPSUCA and Staff Attorney
Can a support employee who is contracted for 150 days be terminated for cause without a hearing?
Yes, a support employee who has worked less than a year, or 172 days, can be terminated without any due process. In fact, school law doesn’t require the school to provide any reason for termination. The support employee is at-will for that first year. (70 O.S. § 6-101.40) While it’s not required, it is preferred to give a reason for termination for unemployment defense purposes, but also so the employee isn’t left with questions.
Should or can the school board interview employee candidates?
The only employee the school board should interview is the superintendent. Although the board, in some cases, can interview candidates for a job, they shouldn’t. First, it’s not the school board’s role to be involved in the formation of recommendations for hire because that is an administrative function. Secondly, it is quite likely a candidate is a current employee, and an interview could avail the board member of personnel information that is inappropriate outside of a due process hearing.
Can a board do their own background check on a new hire?
A school board member can conduct an internet-based search, like on Google, OSCN or Facebook and even file an open records request with the school to obtain a redacted job application and resume on a newly hired employee. Anyone can do that. However, this is the role of your administration and should occur before a recommendation for hire is brought to the school board. This would be redundant. Further, the school board member would not be able to use that information in deciding personnel matters as the employee has already been hired. After that point, the school board member is to remain unbiased. Again, just because one can doesn’t mean one should.
How can I, as a school board member, take a more active role in employment?
The best way you can take an active role in employment is by hiring and employing a superintendent who fits well within your community and will achieve the goals and vision of the school board. Also, become engaged and involved in policy making that impacts your employees. Talk with your superintendent about opportunities to recruit and retain teachers, as well as tighten up or loosen policies that impact the school staff in ways that set a positive work culture. For example, your school board could explore whether and how much it would cost to pay employees twice a month rather than once or review your school calendar to ensure it is in the best light to support your teachers.
The board’s role in employment can be complicated. Knowing how the school board fits into your school’s employment process is important. Feel free to contact OPSUCA if you have any questions.