If you are out of work, you probably have questions about unemployment benefits. Below you will find answers to frequently asked questions concerning unemployment benefits in the State of Texas.
What are “unemployment benefits”?
As anyone who lived through the Great Recession knows, job security isn’t what it used to be. Advances in technology and globalization have created a volatile labor market in which no one’s job is safe. These disruptive forces have led businesses large and small to adopt an “innovate or die” mentality. As a result, corporate downsizing and mass layoffs are now commonplace, especially during economic downturns.
For many, the sudden loss of a job can be financially devastating. Fortunately, the State of Texas provides temporary financial assistance to individuals who are unemployed by no fault of their own. This financial assistance is referred to as “unemployment benefits.” Unemployment benefits provide people who are unemployed with compensation for a specific period of time while they search for a new job.
Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) is responsible for administering the unemployment benefits program in Texas. The TWC does not grant unemployment benefits to everyone who applies for them. To be eligible for unemployment benefits in Texas, you must:
- have earned above a certain amount in past wages (referred to as “base-period wages”),
- have a qualifying “job separation,”
- meet the work-registration requirement,
- meet the citizenship or work authorization requirement,
- have the ability to work,
- be available to work,
- comply with the TWC’s ongoing work-search requirements,
- participate in mandatory reemployment activities if instructed to do so, and
- comply with the TWC’s contact requirements.
Determining Whether You Earned Enough “Base-Period Wages”
To qualify for unemployment benefits in Texas, a person must have earned “base-period wages” above a certain amount. To calculate this amount, follow the following steps:
First, write down the month and year in which you filed your claim of unemployment benefits:
- If you filed in January, February, or March of this year, then your base period covers October 1 of the year before last through September 30 of last year.
- If you filed in April, May, or June of this year, then your base period covers January 1 through December 31 of last year.
- If you filed in July, August, or September of this year, then your base period covers April 1 of last year through March 31 of this year.
- If you filed in October, November, or December of this year, then your base period covers July 1 of last year through June 30 of this year.
If you were unemployed for a long period of time during your base period because of a medically verifiable illness, injury, disability, or pregnancy, you may be able to use an alternate base period.
Second, write down each month and year in your base period. Your base period should be twelve consecutive months. Now group the first three months in your base period into a quarter (quarter 1), the next three months into another quarter (quarter 2), the next three months into another quarter (quarter 3), and the final three months into another quarter (quarter 4). To be eligible for unemployment benefits in Texas, you must have earned wages during at least two of the quarters within your base period.
Third, to be eligible for unemployment benefits in Texas, your total amount of your base period wages must be at least 37 times your weekly unemployment benefit amount.
Finally, if you previously qualified for unemployment benefits on a prior claim, to be eligible for unemployment benefits on your most recent claim, you must have earned at least 6 times your new weekly benefit amount since that time. If this is your first claim for unemployment benefits in Texas, you may ignore this step.
Determining Whether You Have a Qualifying “Job Separation”
“Job separation” refers to the reason why you lost your job. To be eligible for unemployment benefits in Texas, you must have lost your job or be working reduced hours through no fault of your own. The following are common forms of “job separations”:
- Laid Off: A “layoff” refers to an employer’s termination of one or more employees for reasons other than performance or wrongdoing. For example, layoffs may occur when an employer goes out of business, closes a particular location or division, re-organizes, relocates, or decides to cut labor costs. Employees who were laid off from their job may qualify for unemployment benefits as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements.
- Reduction in Force: A “reduction in force,” or “RIF,” is often used interchangeably with “layoff.” A reduction in force is a separation from employment due to lack of funds, lack of work, redesign or elimination of position(s) or reorganization, with no likelihood or expectation that the employee will be recalled because the position itself is eliminated. Employees who lost their jobs as a result of a reduction in force may qualify for unemployment benefits as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements.
- Reduction in Hours: “Reduction in hours” refers to the situation in which an employer schedules an employee to work fewer hours than they had previously worked. If your employer reduced your hours through no fault of your own, then you may qualify for unemployment benefits as long as you meet the other eligibility requirements. If, however, your employer reduced your hours for disciplinary reasons, then you may not be eligible for unemployment benefits.
- Fired: If your employer fired you from your job for reasons other than misconduct, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. If, however, your employer fired you because of misconduct, you may be ineligible. Examples of employee misconduct that may render you ineligible to receive unemployment benefits include violation of company policy, violation of law, negligence in your position, mismanagement of your position, or failure to perform your work adequately if you are capable of doing so.
- Forced to Resign: Instead of outright firing an employee, some employers may ask for their letter of resignation. The TWC treats forced resignations the same way it treats firings. An employee who is forced to resign from their job because of misconduct may be ineligible for unemployment benefits. An employee who is forced to resign from their job for reasons other than misconduct may be eligible for such benefits as long as they meet the other eligibility requirements.
- Quit: Employees who quit their jobs are generally ineligible for unemployment benefits because they chose to become unemployed. There are, however, certain situations in which an employee who quit their job may nevertheless be eligible for unemployment benefits. First, an employee who quits because of a work-related problem may be eligible for unemployment benefits depending on the unique circumstances of their situation. Examples of situations in which a person who quits their job may qualify for benefits include: a person who quits their job because of unsafe working conditions, significant changes in their employment contract or hiring agreement, they are not getting paid, or they are having difficulty getting the agreed-upon wage. According to the TWC, applicants who claim that they had “good cause” for quitting should be able to present evidence that they tried to correct the work-related problems before quitting their job. Second, an employee who quits for a good reason unrelated to their work may be eligible for unemployment benefits in certain situations. Examples of situations in which a person who quits their job for reasons unrelated to work may qualify for benefits include a person who quit because they had a medical illness or injury that prevented them from doing their job; were caring for a minor child who had a medical illness; were caring for a terminally ill spouse; have documented cases of sexual assault, family violence, or stalking; entered a “Commission-Approved Training” and the job is not considered suitable under Section 20; or moved away from their job with their military spouse.
- Labor Strike or Dispute: If you are unemployed because of a labor strike or dispute, the TWC has posted information here concerning your eligibility for unemployment benefits in Texas.
Within three business days of the date on which you applied for unemployment benefits from the TWC, you must “register for work” to be eligible for unemployment benefits. Additional instructions and details concerning this requirement are available on the TWC’s website here.
Citizenship or Work-Authorization Requirement
To be eligible for unemployment benefits in Texas, you must either be a citizen of the United States. If you are not a U.S. citizen, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits if you:
- are legally residing in the United States,
- were legally authorized to work in the United States when you earned your base-period wages,
- are legally authorized to work in the United States when you apply for unemployment benefits,
- remain legally authorized to work in the United States while you are requesting and/or receiving unemployment benefits, and
- are able to satisfy the requirements of Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification.
To qualify for unemployment benefits while you are out of work, you must be physically and mentally able to perform the work that you are seeking on a full-time basis. According to the TWC’s website, you “must have the health, endurance, and other physical and mental requirements necessary to perform suitable full-time work for which you are qualified or can readily learn to perform, and which exists in your job search area” to meet the “ability requirement.”
To be eligible for unemployment benefits, you must be available to work on a full-time basis. According to the TWC’s website, “Being available for work means that you are ready, willing and able to accept any suitable full-time work.” You must have adequate transportation to get to and from a job. If you are responsible for taking care of a child, you must have adequate childcare arrangements in place that allow you to work full time. You must be available for job interviews while searching for a job. You must be ready, willing, and able to work on any day of the week, and at any hour of the day or night. You must be willing to work for the “usual rate of pay” for a job applicant with your qualifications and experience. In other words, you must make a good faith effort to secure full-time employment.
Ongoing Work-Search Requirements
Unemployment benefits are designed to help people to get back on their feet and stay afloat until they find a job and can support themselves again. To that end, after you file your initial claim, you must ensure that you are meeting the TWC’s “work-search requirements” to remain eligible for unemployment benefits. Specifically, you must:
- register for work in the state where you reside,
- actively search for work,
- document your work-search activities,
- and apply for and accept suitable full-time work.
If you are receiving unemployment benefits, the TWC may review your documented work-search activities to ensure compliance, so make sure to carefully and accurately document your efforts to find a job.
There are, however, exemptions from the work-search requirements in limited circumstances. You may qualify for an exemption from a work-search requirement if you:
- are an active member in good standing of a union with a non-discriminatory “hiring hall”;
- were temporarily laid off, but have a definite return-to-work date;
- are participating in a TWC-approved training program that includes a work-search exemption;
- are in Trade Act training; or
- are in a Shared-Work program.
The TWC will let you know if you are exempt from any work-search requirements. Additional details about the work-search requirement are available on the TWC’s website here.
Reemployment Activities Requirement
The maximum period of time for which an individual may receive unemployment benefits is 26 weeks. If you have been receiving unemployment benefits for an extended period of time and the TWC identifies you as someone who is likely to exhaust their unemployment benefits, the TWC may require that you participate in reemployment services to remain eligible to receive benefits for the remainder of your 26-week period. If the TWC notifies you that you must participate in reemployment activities but you fail to do so, the TWC may delay or deny the payment of unemployment benefits to you going forward.
Texas Workforce Commission Contact Requirements
Remain eligible for unemployment benefits after you begin receiving them, you must stay in communication with the TWC. The TWC may contact you by telephone or email requesting that you call the TWC’s “Tele-Center” hotline. Additionally, the local “Workforce Solutions” office in your area may contact you for job referrals or to inform you that you must participate in mandatory reemployment services to remain eligible for unemployment benefits.
You should promptly respond to calls, emails, and letters that you receive from the TWC in the mail. Likewise, you should promptly report to the local Workforce Solutions office when requested. If you fail to do so, the TWC may deny or delay your unemployment benefits.
How much will my weekly unemployment benefits payment be?
The weekly payment amount that you may receive in unemployment benefits depends on the amount of your past wages. To calculate your “Weekly Benefit Amount,” or “WBA” for short, the TWC will divide your base-period quarter with the highest wages by 25 and then round that number to the nearest dollar. If this calculation yields a WBA that’s less than $69, your weekly benefit payment will be $69. If this calculation yields a WBA that’s greater than $521, your weekly benefit payment will be $521.
The TWC has developed an online “Unemployment Benefits Estimator” tool that you can use to estimate the amount of your potential benefit payment. After you have filed your claim for unemployment benefits with the TWC, the TWC will mail a statement to you that will include the amount of the potential weekly payment that you may receipt.
The TWC places a cap on the total amount of benefit payments that you may receive during your benefit year known as the “Maximum Benefit Amount,” or “MBA” for short. Additional information about the MBA is available on the TWC’s website here.
How long can I get unemployment benefits in Texas?
You may receive unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks in Texas. Finding a full-time job well before your unemployment benefits run out should therefore be a top priority. Conduct your job search with a sense of urgency. Take full advantage of the job-search tools and resources available to you.
Working with an Employment Lawyer
Properly completing your application for unemployment benefits, filing it with the TWC, and resolving disputes related to unemployment benefits can be challenging. Having an experienced employment lawyer on your side may relieve stress and help you achieve the best outcome possible in your case. A knowledgeable and experienced employment lawyer may help you in a variety of ways, including advising you on your rights, representing you in an administrative hearing or appeal related to your claim for unemployment benefits, and representing you in a lawsuit related to your benefits.
If you have questions related to unemployment benefits in Texas, contact the Wagoner Law Firm now for a free case evaluation.