Articles Posted in Unemployment benefits

Employment Lawyer Rasha Zeyadeh

Rasha Zeyadeh

In an unsurprising turn of events, the State of Texas is ending its participation in the federal pandemic unemployment benefit programs early. Jobless Texans will lose access to federal unemployment aid, including a $300 per week supplemental benefit effective June 26, 2021, three months prior to the federal expiration of the programs. More than a million Texans will be impacted when the State stops receiving unemployment benefits under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The final benefit week that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will pay federal pandemic unemployment benefits under the ARPA is the benefit week ending June 26, 2021.

This decision will end the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program for those who traditionally do not qualify for regular state benefits, such as self-employed and independent contractors, or exhausted all other benefits; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC) that extends regular state benefits; and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation Program (FPUC), which provides an additional $300 weekly benefit payment. These programs were created with the CARES Act and were recently extended under the ARPA. However, the caveat is they require the governor’s approval. In other words, if the governor of your state rejects these benefits, you are unable to access them. To no surprise, following pressure from business groups, Governor Greg Abbott declared that Texas will no longer receive any federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits effective June 26, 2021. 

Employment Lawyer Rasha Zeyadeh

Rasha Zeyadeh

Section 9501 of the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) fully funds COBRA health insurance plan payments for qualifying individuals between the dates of April 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. This benefit is funded by the employers who will then receive a tax credit to offset the cost of COBRA coverage. Notably, the benefit is not available to employees who voluntarily quit their job or who were terminated on the basis of “gross misconduct,” and the 18- and 36-month limit to coverage still apply. 

Before the world of COVID-19, nearly all employees who separated from their jobs had the option of electing to remain on their employee-sponsored health insurance by enrolling in a COBRA plan. I say “nearly all employee” because COBRA is only available to employee who worked for a company that employs 20 or more employees. However, Texas has passed its own version of COBRA known as “mini-COBRA,” which applies to businesses with fewer than 20 employees and only provides 9 months of coverage. 

On March 11, 2021, President Biden Signed the American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”) into law. The ARPA extends the unemployment benefits that were available under the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (the “CARES Act”) and the December 2020 Consolidated Appropriations Act, (both of which were set to expire after March 14, 2021) through September 6, 2021. 

To reap the benefits of the ARPA, you must meet your state’s eligibility requirements. In the state of Texas, if COVID-19 is the only reason you cannot work, you are considered able to work according to the Texas Workforce Commission (“TWC”). Hence, in order to remain eligible for benefits, you must be able and available to work and search for work as instructed by the TWC. Unless you are exempt, the number of work search activities you must complete and report each week is determined by your county of residence. 

However, according to the TWC, each benefits case is evaluated on an individual basis. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the TWC has compiled a list of reasons benefits would be granted even if you refuse suitable work. Among those reasons are if you are 65 years or older, and/or have a medical condition, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19, and/or if someone in your household is at high risk for contracting COVID-19. 

rasha-zeyadehThe outbreak of COVID-19 has caused unprecedented changes to the lives of individuals across Texas and across the globe. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”), expands unemployment benefit assistance to workers who are eligible under state and federal law before COVID-19 as well as extending benefits to workers who were not eligible for unemployment benefits assistance prior to COVID-19, including self-employed individuals, independent contractors, and gig workers.

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The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) oversees unemployment compensation cases for Texas citizens who are out of work through no fault of their own. To determine whether an individual is entitled to an employment benefit, such as unemployment compensation, the TWC must know what caused an employee and employer to go their separate ways.

The first determination is whether separation was voluntary or involuntary. The type of separation determines what benefits an employee may receive. A voluntary work separation is any separation that is initiated by an employee. These types of separations are those where an employee retains more power than the employer. Voluntary separations occur as long as the employer did not force the employee to resign. An involuntary work separation is an employer initiated separation.

Involuntary separations occur when an employer engages in some action or behavior that make it impossible for an employee to continue employment after a specific date. Unlike voluntary departures, an employer retains more power than the employee in these scenarios.

The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) administers Texas unemployment compensation laws. Under Texas employment law, employees must meet specific employment qualifications to be eligible for unemployment compensation. If the TWC denies unemployment compensation, a Texas employment lawyer can assist with an appeal.

According to the TWC, when an employee has left their employment through no fault of their own, they may apply for unemployment compensation. An application can be filed online, in-person, or by calling the state hotline. Texas maintains a “work search” registry and individuals who have applied for unemployment compensation must sign up with this registry. They must also submit weekly claims showing they are attempting to find a job in their related field.

To establish a claim for unemployment compensation, the person must first show they are unemployed through no fault of their own. Some common scenarios that qualify include layoffs, resigning for good cause, or a reduction in work hours or wages. Of course, this reduction must not be related to misconduct.

In Texas, final compensation policies and practices are regulated by the state’s Payday Law. Among other things, the law instructs employers and employees on their rights after an employee leaves employment. In cases in which an employee is fired, discharged, laid off, or involved in any other involuntary separation, they are due their pay within six calendar days. In instances in which the employee leaves voluntarily, such as by quitting or retiring, they are due their final pay on the next regularly scheduled payday.

Texas Severance Pay

Under the Texas Payday Law, Texas employers are not required to provide their employees with severance pay, although many employers do provide this or may be required to provide this for a multitude of reasons, such as provisions in Texas employment contracts.

Severance pay is a type of compensation that some companies offer when employees are terminated due to no fault of their own. This is usually applicable in situations in which an employee has worked at a particular job for some length of time or in a certain position and has been let go. Generally, employers use a set formula to determine when an employer will be due severance pay. The theory behind severance pay is to compensate the employee for the lack of advance notice of their termination. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not mandate severance pay, many Texas employers offer this type of compensation.

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Usually, you can’t get unemployment benefits if you quit your job. However, if you quit for good cause, it may be possible to get unemployment benefits. When you apply for unemployment benefits, the Texas Workforce Commission will investigate why you’re not working anymore. If it decides you weren’t terminated for misconduct at your job, or you quit your job for a work-related or medical reason, you might be eligible for unemployment benefits.

What is good cause? There are a lot of reasons people quit their jobs that do not count as “good cause.” For example, people quit because they decide that they are not being paid enough to do a particular job or because they want to move onto a job that is more fulfilling. Generally, you cannot receive unemployment benefits if you quit your job for those reasons. The reason must be something more severe, such as harsh harassment or serious discrimination.

A 2016 Texas unemployment benefits decision illustrates a situation in which a woman could not get unemployment benefits, even though she’d alleged racial discrimination. A woman appealed from a summary judgment that affirmed the Texas Workforce Commission’s decision to deny her unemployment benefits because it found she voluntarily resigned from her job. She claimed her resignation was based on racial discrimination and harassment. Continue reading ›

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