Can You Qualify for Unemployment if You Work Per Diem?

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If you work per diem and have faced a reduction in work or lost your position, you may feel concerned that you might not get access to unemployment benefits like regular part- and full-time employees do. However, state laws often cover per diem employees as long as they meet the other requirements for benefits. Further, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that lasts through the end of 2020 has opened up eligibility for per diem independent contractors who usually couldn't get benefits. You'll need to check with your state to find out if your situation qualifies.


Unemployment for Per Diem Employees

While state requirements vary, you can often get unemployment benefits if you've been laid off, got fired without cause or have faced reduced hours as a per diem employee as long as you've met any work or earnings thresholds and you're not at fault for the employment issue. Also, you need to be able to work again in the future and be willing to follow any state rules about job search requirements. This means that you shouldn't decline shifts your employer does offer you, and some states might only offer per diem workers benefits on weeks you get no work at all.


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Impact of the PUA Program

Typically, unemployment benefits would only apply to per diem employees and not independent contractors who worked per diem. That's because the latter workers are considered self-employed. However, if your job loss or reduction happened due to COVID-19, you can now seek benefits even if you are a contractor. You could qualify through the PUA program for reasons such as needing to take care of a household member with the virus, not being able to work since your employer closed or isn't accessible or needing to quarantine due to sickness or exposure.


The same PUA program has also made the requirements for qualifying for unemployment as a per diem employee or contractor more flexible. It's now possible to get benefits even if you don't meet your state's usual work history requirements or if you have gotten a job offer but couldn't start because of the pandemic. Further, states may waive the waiting period for requesting benefits and temporarily reduce or eliminate the work search requirement.

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

To find out if you qualify for unemployment benefits as a per diem worker, check with your state's unemployment website. There, you can find a list of requirements and often use an online calculator that will ask for your last four or five quarters of wages and help determine what your benefit amount may look like. Each state has its own minimum and maximum payments, and if you qualify through the PUA program, you can receive a bonus of $600 a week until the end of July 2020.


Since many unemployment offices have closed due to the pandemic, you'll likely apply for benefits over the phone or through your state's unemployment website. The application process requires providing contact information along with details about your employment over the last 18 months, income and bank information for direct deposit. You can check the status of your application over the website or by phone, and you will receive a letter about eligibility.

The typical time to get your first payment is two or three weeks; however, an overload of applications has led to delays due to the pandemic. Luckily, you can expect your payments to be retroactive from when you applied.


Maintaining Your Unemployment Benefits

After you've begun getting benefits, follow your state's requirements closely to keep getting them. Depending on your state, you'll need to report any money earned either every week or every other week. You usually won't get any benefits during a week if you make more than your state's unemployment benefit amount, and earnings will generally reduce your payment that period. You'll also need to check your state's procedures for applying for jobs or registering for work since even the flexible policies vary and may expire at different times.