Unemployment insurance benefits are intended to assist workers who find themselves out of a job through no fault of their own. In Texas, as in most states, that requirement means that those fired because of their own conduct are not eligible for these benefits.
Individuals who live and work in Texas should get a clear understanding of the eligibility requirements for unemployment benefit payments. The program is run by the Texas Workforce Commission.
Texas Unemployment Insurance
Unemployment insurance (UI) is an insurance program, and like other kinds of insurance, benefits are only available to eligible beneficiaries who pay for the coverage. Unemployment insurance is mandatory in Texas and under federal law, and every employee in Texas must be covered.
However, the employee is not left to pay 100 percent of the premiums themselves. Rather, federal and state laws mandate that businesses sign up for unemployment protection. The coverage is financed by the payroll taxes paid both by employer and employee contributions.
In Texas, the UI payroll taxes are paid into Texas' Unemployment Insurance Fund, which then pays benefits to eligible workers.
Return to Pre-pandemic Laws
During the COVID pandemic, procedures in many states were simplified in order to quickly get aid to affected employees. The federal program ended in 2021 and most states, including Texas, returned to the eligibility requirement laws that were in effect before the pandemic.
Texas UI benefits have always been intended to assist workers who lost their jobs. Only qualified workers are eligible for this financial assistance, intended to provide temporary financial assistance to tide them over until they locate another job.
Who Qualifies for Texas Unemployment Compensation?
Almost all workers who lose their jobs could use some financial assistance, but not every unemployed Texan is eligible for UI benefits. Instead, Texas workers must meet certain criteria in order to qualify for unemployment benefits under Texas law. They must:
- Have been an employee, not a contract worker or independent contractor.
- Be unemployed through no fault of their own.
- Have earned enough wages during a base period.
- Have worked for an employer who paid Texas unemployment tax.
- Be available to work and physically be able to work.
- Be actively seeking work.
Texas UI Claims and Employee Fault
Employers in Texas have broad rights to terminate workers since all employment is considered "at will," meaning that the employee can be fired for any reason or no reason, with certain federal exceptions.
That is, federal civil rights laws prohibit a business from firing employees because of certain protected classifications, including race, skin color, sex and/or national origin. It is illegal in Texas and every other state to fire an employee for any of these factors.
Specifically, employees in Texas can be fired for any reason including, but not limited to, bad behavior on the job. When an employee is fired for bad behavior or for breaking laws, they are said to be "fired for fault." This includes inadequate job performance, stealing materials, being tardy to work or violating company polices.
Disqualification From Unemployment Benefits
Firing for fault disqualifies employees in Texas from receiving unemployment benefits. Similarly, when an employee decides voluntarily to quit their job, it usually makes the worker ineligible for unemployment insurance programs.
When an individual files an application for Texas unemployment benefits, they must advise the Texas Workforce Commission of the reason for their unemployment because being fired for fault will disqualify them for benefits. The commission staff will contact the former employer to verify the reason the worker left.
Since the employer's tax payments are based in part on how many active UI claims they have, the employer has every reason to tell the truth when an employee is fired for fault.
Texas Threshold Earnings in Base Period
In order for an out-of-work employee to be eligible for UI benefits, they must have earned a specified minimum amount of wages during the claimant's base period. The base period in Texas is usually the first four of the last five completed "calendar quarters" before the claim is filed. A quarter is a three-month consecutive period, such as:
- January through March.
- April through June.
- July through September.
- October through December.
In order to be eligible for benefits, the individual must have earned wages in more than one of the base period quarters and earned in total base period wages at least 37 times the weekly benefit amount. If an employee qualified for benefits on a prior claim, they must have earned six times their new weekly benefit amount since that time.
Weekly UI Benefit Amounts in Texas
The more wages a Texas employee earned in their base period, the more money they are eligible to receive in weekly UI benefits. The weekly UI benefit amount (WBA) is between a minimum of $72 and a maximum of $563, depending on the worker's past wages.
To calculate the applicant's benefit amount, Texas divides their earnings in the highest wage base period quarter by 25, rounding off to the nearest dollar. This amount is provided on a debit card.
The duration of a UI claim depends on a calculation of 33 percent of the worker's total base period wages divided by their basic weekly benefit rate. The maximum benefit amount (not including dependent's allowance) is an amount equal to 26 times the person's weekly benefit amount or 27 percent of all their wages in the base period.
Work Search Requirements in Texas
An out-of-work employee is not permitted to sit back and take it easy while collecting unemployment benefits in Texas. The state does not allow an individual to collect state unemployment benefits unless they are actively seeking new employment. They must be both available to work and actively seeking work.
Any unemployed worker who is not available to accept new work or is not seeking a job will not get UI benefits. Texas helps out workers with the WorkinTexas.com website, offering work search activities for job seekers. The website helps to link unemployed workers with jobs.
Unemployment Applications in Texas
The easiest way to make an unemployment claim in Texas is to use the state's online system. Applying online starts at the Texas Workforce Commission' Unemployment Benefit Services website. The tutorial walks an applicant through creating an individual account and filing their claim.
If a person chooses to apply for benefits online, the TWC website provides the application on the website. Go to the Unemployment Insurance Benefits Services page, select "Apply for Benefits" link to open the unemployment application. Alternatively, call a Tele-Center at 800-939-6631 to speak to a customer service representative for assistance.
To make a claim, the claimant needs certain information, including:
- Last employer’s business name, address and phone number.
- First and last dates (month, day and year) worked for their last employer.
- Number of hours worked and pay rate received for the week they apply for benefits (Sunday through Saturday).
- Information about the normal wage for jobs they are seeking.
- Social Security number or Alien Registration number (if not a U.S. citizen).
- Valid Texas Driver License number or Texas Identification Card number.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.