Unemployment benefits are available to employees who are out of work temporarily, through no fault of their own. Most people who collect unemployment have lost their jobs. However, you may be eligible for benefits even if you are still working, if your hours or pay have been cut or you have been forced to take a part-time position and you can't get additional work. This article explains the requirements for this type of unemployment compensation, called partial unemployment benefits.
Eligibility for Partial Unemployment
State law determines eligibility for unemployment benefits, including partial unemployment benefits. Generally speaking, however, an employee will be eligible for benefits if all of the following are true:
- You are underemployed, meaning that you are working part time through no fault of your own. For example, if your company cut the hours of everyone in your department in order to avoid layoffs, you would likely meet this eligibility requirement. You may also be eligible if you lost your full-time job and have only been able to find occasional or limited part-time work. Depending on your state's rules, you may be eligible for partial benefits if you had two part-time jobs and lost one of them. However, regardless of how your state determines eligibility for partial benefits, you will not be eligible if you could be working more. For example, if you voluntarily chose to reduce your hours or work part time so you could take care of your children, you would not be eligible.
- You meet your state's minimum earnings or minimum hours worked requirements. These are the same whether you apply for regular or partial unemployment benefits. (For information on these requirements, see How Long Must I Be Employed Before Being Eligible for Unemployment?)
- You are able and available to work more. In other words, if your hours are cut to ten per week, you won't be eligible if you decide to go back to school full time and wouldn't be able to work more hours.
Partial Unemployment Benefit Amounts
To figure out your weekly benefit amount, your state's unemployment agency will calculate how much you would receive if you were completely unemployed. (For information on how states make this calculation, see How Much Will I Get? Calculating Unemployment Compensation.) Then, the state will subtract what you are actually earning each week, less a small allowance. Most states let applicants keep a little bit of what they earn, without reducing their benefit amounts, to encourage people to take occasional work. The difference is your weekly partial unemployment benefit.
Here are a couple of examples:
David works in California and would be entitled to a weekly unemployment benefit of $400, based on his prior earnings. He currently earns $280 per week at his job because his hours and pay have been cut. California disregards the first $25 or one-quarter of an employee's earnings (whichever is more) in calculating partial unemployment benefits. The state would not count one-quarter of his earnings ($70), but would subtract the rest ($210) from the weekly benefit he would receive if he were unemployed ($400) to come up with his partial benefit amount: $190.
Susan works in Washington, D.C. and would be eligible for a weekly unemployment benefit of $300, based on her prior earnings. She was laid off from her job, and she currently earns $250 per week from a part-time job. The District of Columbia disregards one-fifth of her earnings plus $20, in calculating partial unemployment benefits. Based on this formula, the state would take her earnings of $250 and subtract $70 (one-fifth of her earnings is $50, plus $20). The remaining number, $180, is then subtracted from $300 (the amount she would receive if fully employed), for a partial benefit of $120.
To find out your state's rules on partial unemployment benefits, contact your state unemployment agency. For links to each state's agency, see State Unemployment Agencies.