In Texas -- as in every other state -- employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own may qualify to collect unemployment benefits. The eligibility rules, prior earnings requirements, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state, however. Here are the basic rules for collecting unemployment in Texas.
There are three eligibility requirements to collect unemployment compensation in Texas:
Virtually all states look at your recent work history and earnings during a one-year "base period" to determine your eligibility for unemployment compensation. (See Nolo's article Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period for more information). In Texas, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your claim for benefits. For example, if you filed your claim in October 2012, the base period would be from June 1, 2011 through May 31, 2012.
If you have been out of work for a long time because of disability, pregnancy, illness, or injury, you may have low or even insufficient earnings during the regular base period to qualify for benefits. In this situation, you may be able to use an alternate base period that looks at your earnings history before you became unable to work.
During the base period, your work history and earnings must meet both of these requirements:
Here's an example of how this works. Jonas worked three of the four calendar months in the base period. He earned $5,000 in his highest paid quarter and $2,000 each in the other two quarters he worked. He is eligible for benefits because his total earnings during the base period ($9,000) are more than 37 times his weekly benefit amount ($5,000 divided by 25 -- $200 -- times 37 is $7,400).
You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits in Texas. If you are laid off, lose your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or get "downsized" for economic reasons, you will meet this requirement. In Texas, employees who are fired for work-related misconduct may not qualify for unemployment benefits. Examples of work-related misconduct include violating company policy, violating the law, or failing to perform your job if you are able to do so.
If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment unless you had a good reason for doing so, relating to your work or a medical condition. If someone who truly wanted a job would have left their position in the circumstances you faced, you will still be eligible for unemployment benefits. If you left the job because of domestic violence or stalking, you may also be eligible for benefits. Whenever you quit, you will be expected to have documentation of your reasons (such as a doctor's note, restraining order, or record of your complaints about unsafe working conditions).
If you quit to move with your spouse, you will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits for a period of time. However, if you are moving with a spouse who is in the military, you may be eligible right away, depending on the circumstances.
To maintain your eligibility for unemployment, you must be able to work, available to accept a job, and looking for work. (See Nolo's article Collecting Unemployment: Are You Able, Available, and Actively Seeking Work? for more information on these requirements generally.) If you are offered a suitable position, you must accept it.
You must register for work with a state workforce center, either online or in person. You must make at least a minimum number of job contacts each week (the agency will let you know how many) and record your efforts in a work search log, which the agency may ask you to produce at any time.
As explained above, the Texas Workforce Commission determines your weekly unemployment benefit amount by dividing your earnings for the highest paid quarter of the base period by 25, up to a maximum of $465 per week.
Benefits are available for up to 26 weeks. If you are still unemployed when your regular state benefits run out, you may be eligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) and/or state extended benefits. (See Nolo's article Unemployment Benefits: How Much Will You Get -- and For How Long? for general information on these temporary programs.)
These additional programs, enacted to help those who became unemployed during the recession that began in 2008, currently provide up to 47 weeks of additional benefits, depending on when you first became unemployed. These additional benefits are temporary and have been subject to much Congressional debate. Also, the availability of certain benefits depends on the current unemployment rate in the state; because the rate in Texas has been improving, unemployed people in the state lost the right to apply for additional benefits in 2012. (Although Texans were at one time eligible for a total of 99 weeks of benefits, that maximum has since decreased to 54 weeks.) Contact the Texas Workforce Commission to find out which programs are in place when you apply for benefits. (You can find contact information below.)
You may file your claim online, at www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/uiclaim.html, or by phone. You can find a list of local offices and telephone numbers at www.twc.state.tx.us/ui/bnfts/offices.html. Once it reviews your application, the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will send you a Determination Notice, indicating whether your claim has been granted or denied. If your claim is granted, you will have to request payment every two weeks, either online or by phone, and meet ongoing eligibility requirements (for example, searching for work).
If your unemployment claim is denied, you may appeal the decision by requesting a hearing, in writing, within 14 days after the date the Determination Notice was mailed to you. After receiving your appeal request, the TWC will schedule a hearing and mail you a packet of information to help you prepare. Your hearing will probably be by phone. Following the hearing, the hearing officer will decide on your case and mail the decision to you.
If you disagree with the decision after the hearing, you may appeal it to three commissioners of the TWC. The commissioners will review the evidence from your original hearing and issue a written decision. If you disagree with this decision, you may request a rehearing from the TWC or file an appeal in court.
The TWC provides comprehensive information on every aspect of the unemployment process at its website, www.twc.state.tx.us; select "Unemployment Insurance Information" to apply for benefits online, find out current eligibility requirements and benefit amounts, learn about the appeals process, and much more.