Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) says people with a valid reason for not returning to work amid the coronavirus pandemic are eligible to continue receiving unemployment benefits from the state.
The governor released a statement Thursday, one day before his Open Texas plan goes into effect, regarding new guidance from the Texas Workforce Commission that assures, "Texans can continue to receive unemployment benefits throughout the COVID-19 response if they choose not to return to work for certain reasons as specified by TWC."
"As the Lone Star State begins the process of safely and strategically opening the economy, our top priority is protecting the health and safety of all Texans — especially those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19," said Abbott. "This flexibility in the unemployment benefit process will help ensure that Texans with certain health and safety concerns will not be penalized for choosing not to return to work."
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Each unemployment insurance claim is currently evaluated on an individual basis. However, because of the COVID-19 emergency, the following are reasons benefits would be granted if the individual refused suitable work.
Valid Reasons for Refusal
- At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Diagnosed with COVID: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
- Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
- Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
- Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.
Until today TWC rules stated ‘if an employer offered an individual a job and they refused the job offer without good cause the employee would not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. This is in part because the state requires those who receive unemployment insurance benefits to accept offers of suitable work.
An independent public policy group in Austin joined 10 other groups including labor unions and sent a letter to the TWC on Wednesday asking for emergency rule changes, clarifying what a suitable workplace looks like given Covid-19 safety guidelines and to clarify ‘good cause’ allow employees more leeway in refusing to return to work.
“If you left your job because you don’t feel safe in that environment or you have underlying health conditions…that should qualify as ‘good cause’ for leaving your job and you should still be eligible for the benefits that your employer and your work has paid into,” said Jonathan Lewis, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy in Austin.
Cherish Maynard manages a coffee shop at a mall closed because of the coronavirus. She's been out of work for weeks.
Maynard is on unemployment but got the call Tuesday to return to work.
"I'm thinking if I don't go back to my job I'm given, I'm not going to collect unemployment and I'll lose my job so at the end of the day I have nothing to support my children so i'm returning to work," Maynard said.
Maynard said 95% of her staff feels uneasy about returning to work.
"Everybody thinks it's too soon to be opening," Maynard said.
Employment attorney Steve Kardell said his advice for workers fearing returning to work to gather evidence and any documents including doctor’s note indicating underlying health conditions.
“If you have a real concern about going back try to get the employer to understand the situation and document it,” he said.
Kardell says TWC hearings are held to determine if an individual’s refusal of work is justified and can continue to receive benefits.
“Be prepared to make your best case to that particular unemployment examiner and say objectively this is a situation where anybody would be justified in not coming back to work,” said Kardell.
The Texas Workforce Commission has released a dashboard showing the claims Texans are making, statewide, for unemployment insurance (UI). The dashboard shows the Top 5 industries affected by the shutdown in a number of geographical ways -- by region, county, ZIP code, Texas House and Senate districts and congressional districts -- and breaks it down further by gender and monetary eligibility.
The dashboard is embedded below, but to see it full screen click here.
Millions of Texans have called the TWC to apply for unemployment insurance -- many reporting they spent hours trying to reach someone on the phone.