Unemployment Benefits in Texas
Texas workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own may be eligible for unemployment benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission. Unemployment benefits under Texas law depend upon your length of employment before termination and your wages. Just because your employer told you that you are not eligible for unemployment benefits or told you that you are fired for cause does not necessarily mean you are ineligible for benefits. Your employer may report an untrue statement to the TWC why you were terminated or has misclassified you as an independent contractor. If you believe you were wrongly denied unemployment benefits, then you should talk to a Texas employment lawyer.
After making a claim for unemployment benefits with the Texas Workforce Commission, the TWC may deny your claim. Once that occurs you may file an appeal; however, the deadline to file an appeal is brief. You should contact a wage law attorney in Texas immediately to discuss your appeal.
Unemployment benefit eligibility under Texas law
If you stopped working for your employer and not working anywhere else for pay, then you may file a claim for unemployment benefits with the TWC. Benefit eligibility and the claim procedure are found in Chapter 201 of the Texas Labor Code–the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act.
In Texas your eligibility for unemployment benefits only extends to employees of an employer. If you are truly an independent contractor, then you are not eligible for unemployment benefits. (If you believe you may be a contractor you should talk to a wage law attorney to assess if you meet the legal standard to be considered a contractor.) To receive benefits you must meet the employment service requirement before your separation but the TWC will assess your service as part of reviewing your application.
The big issue in eligibility and your employer’s opposition to your claim is whether you separated from the employer through no fault of your own. If you quit your job, you must prove you quit for good cause related to the job to receive a benefit award. For example, if the employer significantly cut your hours and you could not afford to make so little, then you may have quit for good cause related to the job. If you were terminated, then the employer has the burden of proof to show you were fired for misconduct related to the job. If the employer cannot prove you were fired for cause, then you should receive a benefit award.
Incentive and severance packages during a layoff
Employers sometimes offer employees incentive packages or severance to encourage them to voluntarily join a reduction in force or layoff. It may be an incentive offered to anybody in a class of employees or an early retirement package to reduce highly paid, tenured employees. Generally, employees who voluntarily accept an incentive or severance in exchange for quitting are not eligible for unemployment benefits. An exception is if you were told by management that you were included in a reduction in force regardless of accepting an incentive, then you may have a valid unemployment benefit claim even if you accepted the incentive. If you have been offered an incentive package to resign, you should talk to an employment lawyer before accepting the incentive or agreeing to resign.
Filing a claim for unemployment benefits
The process to file a claim for benefits is a simple online application with the TWC. There is generally no harm to filing an unemployment claim in good faith. The worst that may happen is the TWC denies your clam. If you believe you have other claims against the employer, then you should talk to an employment lawyer before filing for unemployment benefits to ensure you protect your other claims.
When you file a claim, the TWC issues a notice of initial claim to the former employer. The employer may file a written response. If the employer fails to respond and you are otherwise eligible then you should be awarded benefits. If the former employer writes opposing benefits, then it must explain the factual basis why your benefits should be denied. Generally, if an employer files a timely, factual response with the TWC, then it preserves the employer’s right to appeal a decision favorable to you.
The TWC will assess the claim and any response received and determine whether to award benefits. If you are denied benefits, then you have a right to appeal the decision. If the employer filed a written response, then under most circumstances it may also appeal.
Appealing the TWC decision
If the TWC denies your benefit claim, you may file an appeal. The appeal process for an unemployment claim is more complicated than filing the initial claim. If you intend to appeal the claim, you should talk to a wage law attorney about representing you in the appeal.
The appeal process can involve multiple appeals. If your employer preserved its right to appeal, it also has the right to appeal a decision in your favor at any step in the process.
- The first appeal is to the appeal tribunal. A hearing officer is assigned and a telephone hearing will be scheduled for you and the employer. Each of you will have the opportunity to present testimony, witnesses and other evidence relevant to your case. A record of the hearing will be created and the hearing officer will render a decision.
- If you disagree with the appeal tribunal then you may appeal to the Texas Workforce Commission. A panel of three commissioners will review your written appeal and listen to the recorded hearing. It will reconsider the hearing officer’s decision. The panel may affirm, reverse, or modify the hearing officer’s decision.
- If you disagree with the panel’s decision, then you may request a motion for rehearing by the Commission. The TWC will grant the motion if you present important new information or evidence with a reasonable explanation why the information was not presented in the original hearing. If the TWC grants your motion, there will be an additional hearing to include the additional evidence and any response from the employer. A new decision may be issued based on the additional information or evidence.
- You may appeal your claim with or without filing a motion for rehearing in a civil court. The court will review the decision of the panel.
Talk to an experienced unemployment benefits lawyer in Texas
After losing a job unemployment benefits may be the only income supporting your family. Some employers contest every unemployment benefit claim and some oppose benefit claims dishonestly. Just because the initial decision was unfavorable does not mean you do not have a valid unemployment benefit claim. You may have a good appeal to pursue. You should seek guidance from an experienced unemployment benefits lawyer in your area who can assess your situation.