Articles Posted in Unemployment

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. 

Most of the time, if an employee decides to talk to an employment attorney it is because they have been fired.  And even if reinstatement to the employee’s old job is a possibility, often when they were fired for an illegal reason they are understandably afraid of returning to the lion’s den to face retaliation.  But if you are an employee who was fired for an illegal reason and do not feel safe returning to that same employer (or your employer just refuses to take you back), it is critically important that you keep in mind your “duty to mitigate.”  This article explores some key points of that means, why it is important, and what you can do to fulfill that dutyaustin-campbell

The point of any employment lawsuit is ultimately “restorative,” to put the employee in the same place they would have been but for the illegal actions of their employer.  If feasible, that includes reinstating them to the position they lost.  But reinstatement is not always feasible, and it alone does not always fully compensate an employee for what they lost.  So, one major thing that most employment lawsuits usually ask for is compensation for lost wages (“backpay”) through the time of trial.  However, courts will not allow an employee to artificially increase what they can get out of a lawsuit by tactically increasing what the employee has lost.  Instead, courts impose a “duty to mitigate,” which means a fired employee who is asking for backpay in a lawsuit must make reasonable efforts to find and keep comparable employment.

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austin-campbellEmployees leaving a company can often wonder whether their former employer will insert itself into their future career. In particular, people can be worried about what former employers are allowed to say to jobs where they are applying.  “Can my old job sabotage my career?”  Texas has a patchwork of laws that apply to employment references that often differ dramatically from laws in other states.  The fact that companies can have their own reference policies only serves to confuse things more.  The purpose of this article to relieve some of that confusion when it comes to employment references in Texas.

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