How to Collect Unemployment as a Temp Worker

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Getting a temporary or seasonal job is an excellent way to earn money quickly while collecting unemployment insurance (UI) benefits. Temporary jobs can lead to full-time positions and allows potential employees and employers to test the waters before there is a commitment between both parties. Temp work also gives an employee work experience they may not already possess. When a temporary employee finishes a job, they can receive UI benefits until the next employment opportunity comes along.

UI Benefits and Temporary Workers

According to The Balance Careers, a person who finds and accepts a temporary or part-time position can still receive UI benefits. State UI departments want applicants to continue looking for suitable work while getting benefits; this is normally part of the certification process.

A claimant at a temp job won't lose their UI once the job is over, provided they report their gross earnings during the time they worked. Seasonal workers can also be eligible under the same circumstances, but this varies from state to state. Seasonal workers should check with their state unemployment office for further clarification.

Reporting Work Hours

When someone goes back to work, even for a short period of time, whatever they show as earnings will cause a reduction or elimination of their UI benefits for the time they worked the temp job. In most circumstances, UI entitles claimants to the difference between their earnings and their benefits if they earn less on the job. For example, if a claimant has a part-time job and earns $100 in a week, but usually gets $400 from UI during the same time period, they will receive $300 in UI compensation. If they make more than $400 during that time, the UI agency will suspend their weekly benefit, but only temporarily.

When they complete their temporary work, a claimant can either continue to certify for benefits as they did before or open a new claim if the state requires it. A benefit period usually lasts about a year. If the temp job lasted longer than the benefit period, the claimant would need to reapply for UI. States base UI benefits on calendar quarters during the claimant's last work period, even in cases of temporary employment.

Looking for Work While Receiving UI

In most instances, a person who certifies a weekly UI claim must not only show availability to work, they must also actively look for it and report their job search to their state unemployment department. Each state has a minimum job search requirement per week. For example, claimants in California must contact and report three job leads each time they certify. A state may also require that claimants sign up for its job board when they first apply.

During the coronavirus pandemic, many states, including California, waived this particular requirement. When claimants certify at this time, they do not have to report every job lead for the foreseeable future. They do, however, have to show availability to keep receiving weekly claims. This may also vary from state to state.

Eligibility Requirements for UI Benefits

State agencies base eligibility for unemployment benefits on many factors, including how long a person has worked, what they earned, and the reason for leaving a job or having their hours reduced. When applying for the unemployment insurance program, potential beneficiaries must also show:

  • They lost employment through no fault of their own, such as layoffs, a reduction in force or lack of work.
  • The physical ability to work.
  • Availability to work.
  • Willingness to accept work immediately.

States establish UI claims during a four-quarter base period that the applicant worked prior to filing the claim. During that time, they must have made a specific amount of money to receive benefits, which varies from state to state. The range of UI benefits an applicant can receive also varies. For example, Massachusetts pays a maximum of $823 per week, while Mississippi pays up to $235 a week, according to Zip Recruiter.

Independent Contractors and Unemployment Insurance Benefits

Independent contractors, freelancers and gig workers don't get benefits under normal circumstances. However, this can change in times of high employment as it has during the coronavirus pandemic. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) fund was part of the federal government's Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and made benefits available to freelance workers, who aren't eligible to receive them from regular state UI. Claimants receive these benefits until March 13, 2021.

Congress has extended independent contractors' payments until September 2021 with the American Rescue Plan Act. Freelancers will continue to receive extra weeks of compensation and supplemental payments, as many people have yet to go back to work.

COVID-19 and Changes to Benefits

In mid-March 2020, people lost work overnight due to the coronavirus pandemic; states shuttered most businesses and millions applied for UI benefits. Unemployment went from low to high across the country within a week. Congress stepped in to subsidize state agencies by creating the CARES Act, which gave those ordinarily ineligible for benefits the opportunity to collect them.

In addition to PUA, claimants received Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC). This added 13 weeks of benefits for people still unemployed whose claims would have otherwise ended. PEUC ends on March 13, 2021, but Congress has extended it to September 2021 through the American Rescue Plan Act. The CARES Act also gave UI beneficiaries an extra $600 a week until July 25, 2020; the American Rescue Plan Act will continue this tradition with an additional $300 a week to UI, PUA and PEUC beneficiaries. Also included were stimulus payments of $2,000 and $600 in March and December 2020. A third stimulus payment of $1,400 will go out in March 2021.

Fraud and Unemployment Claims

Claimant fraud occurs when an unemployed person knowingly submits false information, collects benefits while also collecting wages or continues to certify as available to work when they are not available. Employers can commit UI fraud by attempting to avoid tax liability or by misclassifying workers to avoid paying benefits. Fraud can also occur through identity theft, which is not the unemployed person's or their employer's fault. The U.S. Department of Labor requires every state to investigate fraud claims and enforce unemployment insurance laws.

All states must assess a minimum penalty of 15 percent of the amount of the fraudulent payment. A UI fraud conviction can also result in criminal penalties including fines and jail time; the repayment of fraudulently attained benefits; the forfeiture of the convicted person's tax refunds; and the permanent loss of unemployment compensation eligibility.