The Texas Supreme Court has upheld a decision of the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) that an employee taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be deemed unemployed under the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act. (Texas Workforce Commission v. Wichita County)
According to court documents, Wichita County, Texas (Wichita ) employed Julia White beginning in 2006. White went on FMLA leave for depression and anxiety beginning in August of 2011. Her accrued paid leave ran out that same month, so she went on unpaid leave. Wichita continued paying White’s health insurance, but it did not pay her wages. During a meeting in September, Wichita determined that it could not accommodate White’s needs with a different position. Therefore, Wichita committed to follow the FMLA by protecting White’s employment and by paying her health insurance premiums through November.
White applied to the TWC for unemployment benefits in October. Wichita contested White’s claim on the basis that she was still employed and therefore could not receive benefits. TWC reached an initial decision that White was entitled to benefits, finding that “[w]hile [she was] on an unpaid leave of absence [she was] considered unemployed.”
Eventually, an accommodating position became available, and White returned to work for Wichita in a different department, therefore ending her FMLA leave, in November of 2011.
Wichita, over a period of six years, appealed the initial TWC decision until the case reached the Texas Supreme Court this year. In the end, the Court agreed with the initial ruling. The ruling in favor of White hinged on the court’s opinion that in the plain language of the statute, an individual who does not perform services for wages during a benefit period is unemployed and is not disqualified from receiving benefits solely because she is on FMLA leave.