In Texas, unemployment benefits are awarded to employees who lose their job through no fault of their own. That is the general rule. It is one area in Texas employment law where fairness carries some weight. The process starts when the employee files a claim for benefits. Texas Workforce Commission will then request a statement from the employer. Some employers choose not to respond, in which case TWC will award benefits.
If the employer responds with information indicating that the employee’s termination was due to some misconduct by the employee, then TWC will set the claim for a telephone hearing. The employee may have evidence corroborating key points. If so, s/he must provide copies of the evidence to the employer and to the TWC judge prior to the hearing. The hearing notice should include contact information for the employer or the employer’s representative.
The employer may hire a lawyer for the hearing. More often, the employer will rely on its Human Resources department to serve as representative.
The employee must satisfy some technical requirements to be awarded benefits. I am not aware of the specific requirements. The website, Can My Boss do That? contains some general information regarding those requirements. In General, the employee must have worked for the employer for some period of time and must have earned a certain level of money to qualify for benefits. TWC states on its website that the applicant must have earned sufficient amounts of pay in four of the five preceding quarters.
Can my boss do that? discusses one situation where they suggest you will be disqualified for benefits: if you testify that you quit due to stress, then you will lose benefits. That may be true, since resignation usually does disqualify a person for unemployment benefits. But, if you can show that you quit for medical reasons, you might still win benefits. TWC judges are sometimes sensitive to disability issues.
It is difficult to find a lawyer to represent an employee at a TWC hearing. Employers and, I suspect, TWC do not want employees to be represented at such hearings. There is no mechanism for lawyers to be paid if they represent an employee. And, of course, an employee who has just lost his job will have little money available to hire a lawyer.
In fact, even keeping benefits once they have been awarded is a challenge. The employee is required to call in once a week to certify s/he has looked for work that week. If you do not call in, you will not receive benefits for that week. The phone line is very busy. I have heard from a couple of clients that they could not get through the busy signal for one or more weeks. So, they missed benefits one or more weeks. It i almost as if TWC was trying to keep the employe from receiving his/hr benefits once they have been awarded.
And, of course, it is hard to believe but the former head of appeals for TWC was offering advice to employers in 2010 on how to deceive employes and avoid paying benefits. See my prior post. The Texas unemployment benefit process is not employee friendly. But, it is possible to appear at a hearing and win. The employee will have to plan ahead and think carefully about what you want to to tell the judge at the hearing. You also need to consider carefully the questions which you wish to ask key witnesses.