For some workers, the application for unemployment compensation filed with the Texas Workforce Commission is an easy and seamless process. They submit their application, they are granted benefits, and all is well. Unfortunately, that is not the case for all employees seeking unemployment benefits. Many employees will find themselves being denied benefits and fighting with their former employers trying to convince TWC that they should be awarded benefits.
After the application for unemployment benefits is filed and the initial determination by TWC is made, if the employee is denied unemployment benefits, they have the right to appeal that decision. Similarly, employers have the right to appeal TWC decisions that grant employees their benefits.
When either party appeals the initial benefits determination, the TWC appeals process begins with a hearing before the Appeal Tribunal. Under the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act, the Appeal Tribunal is the name given to Hearing Officers that conduct unemployment hearings.
Before the hearing is the point where it is best for an employee to decide whether they want to hire a lawyer. This is not to say that an attorney is unable to help in later stages of the appeals process – a request for reconsideration or a request to reopen a hearing for consideration of new evidence – but with each additional appeal step it becomes much more difficult for an employee to get benefits they have been wrongfully denied.
During an appeal hearing, testimony and evidence will be presented. The Hearing Officer will swear in witnesses and take testimony, review documents submitted as evidence, and make decisions on the information provided at that hearing. If there is later a motion for reconsideration, the matter goes to the Commission who will review the very same testimony and evidence. This is one reason why it is extremely important to make sure your testimony and evidence is presented at the actual hearing.
Employees seeking benefits will read on the Texas Workforce Commission’s website: “The appeal process is structured so that you do not need an attorney. You may choose to have an attorney or other person represent you at your own expense.”
Warning: take precautions when heeding the advice found on the TWC website.
As attorneys, we hear many stories about what people have experienced during their TWC hearings. There is no way to know whether the presence of a lawyer would have resulted in a different outcome. However, it is common for employees to say the following after their hearing: “I was nervous,” “I didn’t know what to say,” “they never asked me about that,” “my employer had an attorney,” or “I submitted my documents before the hearing, but they never looked at them.”
What is said or presented as evidence at the hearing cannot be undone. Likewise, if something is forgotten it may be difficult or impossible to later have TWC consider what could have been very important evidence.
An attorney may be able to give advice and guidance that helps the employee be prepared by knowing what to expect, which helps them remain calm. An attorney may know what additional questions need to be asked when witnesses are providing testimony. An attorney may be able to guide in having evidence properly admitted for consideration.
Each employee must decide if retaining a lawyer to assist them at their hearing will be useful or make them feel more at ease. It is better to ask, “do I need a lawyer” rather than “did I need a lawyer?”
The best opportunity for an employee to obtain benefits is during the hearing conducted by the Appeal Tribunal. If you would like to discuss your upcoming TWC appeal hearing with one of our attorneys, please contact our office. We are available and ready to help employees.