N. TX woman can't get unemployment benefits due to sickness

A North Texas woman has learned that being sick can keep you from receiving unemployment benefits.

Debra Aiken found out when she was laid off while on medical leave, and she's now fighting a battle to get unemployment checks rolling

Aiken worked in RadioShack's IT department for 34 years.

A two-time cancer survivor, she was working a reduced schedule four hours a day because of her illness when she got notice of her layoff on March 17, after RadioShack filed for bankruptcy.

"They let go, I think my coworker told me, like a 169 people that day," said Aiken.

RadioShack told Aiken she'd be eligible for unemployment benefits. Then came a letter from the state Workforce Commission.

"She's fallen through the cracks," said attorney Leiz Dolghih. Dolghih says that's because the Texas Workforce Commission's "eligibility rules require claimants to be medically able to work in some field for which they are qualified, either by training or experience…thus claimants who are too incapacitated to work may not  draw unemployment benefits."

"Under the Texas Workforce Compensation Act, she has to be medically, physically and mentally capable of performing work in order to receive benefits, and she has to show the commission that she's looking for work," said Dolghih.

For Aiken, there appears no recourse for now.

"Because she's not able to actively look for work, that disqualifies her," said Matthew Scott with the Kendall Law Group. "The good thing is, when she is able to come back and actively look for work, then she should be eligible to get benefits again."

Dolghih advises that people invest in private unemployment insurance.

"It's something you have to take  into consideration, because if you do get laid off and for some reason you're sick and can't get unemployment benefits, you have no other source of income or money coming in," said Dolghih.

"Why is it so difficult?" said Aiken. "I was working enough to be laid off, so I'm not working enough to get unemployment? You know? That's the part that doesn't make any sense."

Aiken's doctors say the course of treatment she is on should be complete by the middle of July, and that's when they'll release her back to full-time work.

That's also when she can file for unemployment benefits.


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