Many people who file for unemployment want to work, but fewer jobs makes finding work difficult. While receiving unemployment benefits, many workers do whatever they can to try to get work, including starting their own businesses and working as an independent contractor doing per diem, or day-by-day work. Whether this kind of work will affect your unemployment benefits depends on your compensation and whether you are treated as an employee.
If you do per diem work while on unemployment, you may be able to retain all or some of your unemployment benefits. In Massachusetts, for example, people on unemployment can earn up to 1/3 of their weekly benefits per week and retain their full unemployment benefits. After 1/3, the unemployment benefits are reduced by the dollar amount the person made. For example, if you worked for one day as a carpet installer and made $100 over the 1/3 limit, your benefit would be reduced by $100.
Sometimes, per diem workers consider themselves independent contractors rather than employees. They may not work regular hours and are contracted on an as-needed basis. However, independent contractors who work regularly with a company may want to know if they can get unemployment benefits if they are let go. Whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits as an independent contractor depends on whether you were treated as an employee. According to the Texas Workforce, "independent contractors are independent business entities who are in a position to make a profit or loss based upon how they operate their own standalone business enterprises." A lawyer will be able to tell you more about your state's definition of independent contractor.
Even if you are eligible for unemployment as an independent contractor or despite your per diem earnings, other factors might disqualify you from receiving benefits. First, all states require that you are able and willing to work to receive unemployment. How long you have worked, the amount of money you have made and why you left your job are other factors used to determine whether you are eligible for unemployment benefits.
Although there are federal requirements for how the states offer unemployment, each state determines the bulk of its unemployment regulations. For this reason, different states have different rules regarding unemployment eligibility and disbursement. States also have different definitions of what "ability to work" and other key terms mean. Talk to your state's department of labor or an attorney about your specific unemployment eligibility.