Can I Collect Unemployment If My Hours Are Cut?

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If your employer has cut your job hours due to slow business or another reason, you may wonder if you can take advantage of unemployment benefits even though you didn't get laid off. States generally allow workers to collect unemployment if they experience a significant reduction in hours or had to take a part-time job due to losing their primary employment. You can expect to get less money for partial unemployment, and the amount will depend on your state, work history and current wages. However, you could get more in benefits if you've lost hours due to COVID-19.

Rules on Partial Unemployment

To qualify for partial unemployment benefits through your state, you need to have had your hours cut for a reason for which you're not to blame. For example, if your employer gives you fewer hours at a store since sales are down temporarily, you likely would qualify as long as other state requirements are met. On the other hand, if you tell your boss you simply want to work fewer hours due to a reason like attending college or handling other obligations, this would likely not qualify you since you've made the request.

Further, you need to meet other state requirements set to qualify for unemployment payments. While they can vary, they often involve having earned a certain amount of money over a period of four quarters and being available to work if your employer can offer you more hours. If you can't meet the work history requirement your state has set, you still could get partial unemployment benefits if your work reduction happened due to COVID-19. This is thanks to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, and it can also help you out if you're an independent contractor who's lost work hours.

Determining Your Partial Benefits

If you qualify for partial unemployment benefits, your state uses its rules on determining whether you're eligible on a given week and will usually use your past average wages to calculate the payment. First, they'll look at your earnings and calculate a maximum benefit payment you could get if you were fully unemployed; this amount is usually at least 50 percent of what you usually made during a full-time week, up to your state's maximum benefit amount. Then, they'd subtract a portion from that amount to account for your partial versus full unemployment.

However, your actual payment can be less due to the actual earnings you make each week, although many states will ignore a small portion of weekly earnings in the calculation. If you end up making too much that week, you normally won't qualify for a payment from your state. You can usually find a calculator to try on your state's unemployment website that can give you an idea of your potential benefit amount, and you'll also learn this when you file for unemployment.

It's important to note that if COVID-19 caused your partial unemployment, you can get another $600 a week from the federal government through the PUA program through late July. This program can also potentially help you if your state's calculator shows you'd get $0 in benefits based on your situation.

Getting Your Unemployment Benefits

As soon as you face a reduction in hours, head to your state's unemployment website or call the office to begin applying for partial unemployment benefits. After you provide some personal information and details about your employment and earnings, the state will determine the potential benefit amount and verify your eligibility. You'll get a letter or online notification once you've gotten approved. You can get your first payment in as little as a couple of weeks, but delays are common due to many becoming unemployed during COVID-19.

Your state will inform you of how often you need to claim benefits, and this is often weekly. This means you'll report your income regularly, so your state payments can fluctuate. However, if you qualify for the PUA funds, you can still expect to receive those $600 payments even if your state payment is lower for the week.

Alongside filing timely claims, also follow any other instructions your state has provided to avoid a break in benefits and the need to requalify.