Can You Collect Unemployment If You Work Part-Time?

How to Qualify for Partial Unemployment Benefits

Woman serving customer in coffee shop,
••• ColorBlind Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Can you work part-time if you’re collecting unemployment? Many people mistakenly think that applying for part-time work after their loss of a full-time job may compromise their ability to collect the unemployment benefits to which they are entitled. However, you may in fact be eligible to receive unemployment benefits even if you are currently working part-time. 

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.

Taking a part-time job 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. You’ll likely earn more money by combining your partial unemployment benefits with income from a part-time job as well.

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. 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.

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

When you are working part-time while receiving unemployment benefits, it is important to report your weekly earnings accurately. It’s both 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 in order to continue to receive partial unemployment benefits.  

Who Qualifies for Partial Unemployment Benefits

If you have chosen to scale back your work hours for family or personal reasons, you most likely will not qualify for partial unemployment benefits.

However, 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.

Eligible workers need to meet state requirements for minimum earnings during the base period and minimum time of work. Generally, you must have worked for at least a year prior to filing for benefits. 

How Partial Unemployment Benefits Are Calculated

Most states will calculate the amount of your benefits by first figuring what you would be entitled to if you were still fully unemployed.

The amount you are earning through part-time employment will be subtracted from this figure. Most states add a percentage, some as much as 25%, to the benefits amount as an incentive to employees to maintain at least some income through part-time work.

You must be available for and actively seeking full-time work to qualify for partial benefits. Your state unemployment office can clarify the procedures for seeking employment and maintaining your eligibility.

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.