Can You Collect Unemployment If You Work Part-Time?

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Many people mistakenly think that holding a part-time job after they lose a full-time job may compromise their ability to collect unemployment benefits. However, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits even if you are currently working part-time. You also may be eligible if you've lost your part-time job.

Eligibility for Unemployment When You Work Part-Time

Expanded unemployment benefits are available for laid-off workers due to the coronavirus pandemic. Eligible workers will receive supplemental payments and extra weeks of unemployment compensation.

Review information on filing for unemployment compensation and use the CareerOneStop Unemployment Benefits Finder for information on unemployment guidelines in your state. Check the FAQ section for details on eligibility and how to apply.

Unemployment benefits are designed to help workers temporarily bridge an income gap caused by a loss of employment due to no fault of their own. Some people find themselves with reduced hours or are only able to find part-time employment after being laid off when what they truly want—and need in order to pay their bills and remain financially solvent—is full-time work.

Partial unemployment benefits are available to encourage workers to continue to work part-time while they seek full-time work. Check with your state unemployment office for eligibility and benefits guidelines.

Who Qualifies for Partial Unemployment Benefits

If you have chosen to scale back your work hours for family or personal reasons, you normally will not qualify for partial unemployment benefits. However, there are expanded unemployment benefits due to COVID-19.

  • Claimants unable to work due to the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible.
  • Most states provide partial benefits to individuals whose work hours have been reduced through no fault or choice of their own—for example, when a company is sold, liquidated, and/or restructured.
  • Many states also cover employees who have lost their full-time job and have partially replaced the lost income with one or more part-time jobs. Some states even cover individuals who were working two or more part-time jobs and lost one of these jobs.
  • In addition, workers who are not technically laid off or terminated but placed on “zero-hour schedules” are eligible for unemployment compensation in most cases, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, per Business Insider.

Eligible workers need to meet the requirements within their state for minimum earnings during the base period. They will also need to satisfy the minimum time-of-employment state requirements. Check with your state unemployment office for guidelines.

Each state has its own eligibility formula; for example, in New York, workers must have worked and earned enough wages in covered employment, and must be ready, willing, and able to work.

How Partial Unemployment Benefits Are Calculated

Most states will calculate the total amount of your benefits by first figuring what you would be entitled to if you were still fully unemployed. Most states add a percentage, some as much as 25%, to the amount of the benefit as an incentive to employees to maintain at least some income through part-time work.

The amount you are earning through part-time employment will usually be subtracted from this figure. For example, in New York, you can work up to 7 days per week without losing unemployment benefits for that week if you work 30 hours or fewer and earn $504 or less in gross pay, excluding earnings from self-employment. Benefits will be reduced in increments based on your total hours of work for the week rather than on the days you work. 

Under the CARES Act, even part-time workers who would not be eligible for unemployment benefits under ordinary circumstances may now be eligible. Contact your state department of labor for details.

You must be available for and actively seeking full-time work to qualify for partial benefits. Since requirements and benefits vary state by state, check with your state's unemployment office for the precise information which is pertinent to your situation and for your location.

In addition to providing information on unemployment benefits, the Department of Labor website for your state can direct you to important information about job searching—including job postings, job fairs, effective job interview preparation and techniques, and supplemental job training, education, and seminars.

Document Your Earnings

When you are working part-time while receiving unemployment benefits, it is important to report your weekly earnings accurately. It’s illegal and considered fraud to collect benefits to which you are not entitled.

You will also have to meticulously document your search for either full-time or—in some cases—part-time employment to continue to receive partial unemployment benefits. 

Extending Your Claim

In some states, working part-time can extend the number of weeks you are eligible to draw benefits. It can also enable you to qualify for a new claim when your benefit year ends because of your accumulated part-time earnings.

Why You Might Consider Taking a Part-Time Job

Taking a part-time job after losing your full-time position might seem like a step back, but it comes with many benefits that could boost your career in the long run—not to mention some extra cash that might come in handy right now. You’ll likely earn more money by combining your partial unemployment benefits with income from a part-time job.

Progress Toward a Full-Time Job

Working part-time while you are collecting unemployment can be beneficial not only to your pocketbook but also to your long-term job search. In every job you hold, even if it’s not in your chosen field, you will make contacts, gain experience, and develop new skills. You can use the opportunity of part-time work to explore other fields or to get training or experience that would be helpful to your career goals.

Boosting Your Self-Esteem

Accepting part-time work while you seek full-time employment can also provide a psychological boost, as it provides a positive focus even in the midst of a new job search.

No Gaps on Your Resume

It also allows you to demonstrate a continuous work history on your resume to potential new employers, avoiding the possible red flag of significant gaps in employment.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law.