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JOHN McLAURIN, ET AL., TRUSTEES OF THE NEWTON COUNTY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT v. MISSISSIPPI EMPLOYMENT SECURITY COMMISSION AND TERRY W. MCELHENNEY

AUGUST 03, 1983

JOHN McLAURIN, ET AL., TRUSTEES OF THE NEWTON COUNTY UNIT SCHOOL DISTRICT
v.
MISSISSIPPI EMPLOYMENT SECURITY COMMISSION AND TERRY W. MCELHENNEY



BEFORE PATTERSON, C.J., ROY NOBLE LEE AND ROBERTSON, JJ.

ROBERTSON, JUSTICE, FOR THE COURT

I.

On September 17, 1979, Terry W. McElhenney filed a claim for unemployment compensation benefits. At that time McElhenney was working on a part-time basis as a school bus driver for the Newton County Unit School District (sometimes hereinafter" N.C.U.S.D. "or" the school district "). Despite this part-time work, the Mississippi Employment Security Commission's Board of Review held that McElhenney was" unemployed "within the meaning of the Mississippi Employment Security Law. Miss. Code Ann. 71-5-11[O](1)(Supp. 1982).

 The primary question presented is whether the school district, as the part-time employer of McElhenney, is liable under the Act for pro rata reimbursement of the Mississippi Employment Security Trust Fund. The MESC Board of Review held that the school district was so liable. The Circuit Court of Newton County, Mississippi, upheld that determination. Having carefully reviewed the matter, we affirm.

 II.

 Our threshold inquiry is whether McElhenney was" unemployed ". This question must be answered by reference to the definition of the term" unemployed "as found in the statute and not in the dictionary. Our legislature has provided that an individual shall be deemed" unemployed "

 in any week during which he performs no services and with respect to which no wages are payable to him, or in any week of less than full-time work if the wages payable to him with respect to such week are less than his weekly benefit amount. *fn1 Miss. Code Ann. 71-5-11l(O) (1) (Supp. 1982) [Emphasis added].

 The legislature has thus declared that individuals not wholly unemployed in fact may nevertheless be deemed" unemployed "as a matter of law. The Mississippi Employment Security Commission's lawfully promulgated regulation is to like effect:

 " . . .[A]n individual shall be deemed to be part-totally unemployed in any week of less than full-time work, if the wages payable to him with respect to such week are less than his weekly benefit amount. . . . "MESC Reg. No. 102

 At all times relevant hereto McElhenney was working for the Newton County Unit School District as a school bus driver. He worked for approximately one and a half hours each morning and a like time each afternoon. He was in fact employed.

 Both the statute and regulation, however, make clear that amount of work activity is not determinative. What is determinative is whether McElhenney's wages were less than his benefit amount. It is undisputed, as a matter of fact, that McElhenney's wages were $53.75 per week and his weekly benefit amount was $80.00. *fn2 His weekly wages were thus less than his weekly benefit amount. As a matter of law McElhenney was unemployed.

 Unemployment, in this context a function of law, does not arise from lack of work activity, from lack of engagement to work, or from a complete absence of wages, all of which are wholly matters of fact. The legislature has the power to designate by general definition those individuals eligible for benefits. It certainly has the power to provide that those individuals earning less than their weekly benefit amount shall be eligible for benefits without regard to the fact that they may be engaged in some part-time work activity. And, it certainly has the power, if it wishes to do so, to use the word" unemployed "and define that word in a way different from what may be in the dictionary or different from common or accepted usage among lay persons. *fn3 These powers our legislature has exercised.

 When the legal definition of" unemployed "as prescribed in Section 71-5-11(O) (1) is applied to the facts of this case, it becomes indisputable that Terry W. McElhenney was unemployed for purposes of determining his eligibility for benefits under the

 Mississippi Employment ...


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