Can I collect unemployment during a layoff if I might be called back to work?

Question: I worked on an assembly line for a toy manufacturing company. The business is seasonal, with much more work in the few months before Christmas. Usually, the company hires temporary help for those few months. But business slowed down more than expected after the holidays this year. Six months after laying off the temps, the company also laid off 20 regular employees, including me. My manager said they might rehire me in the fall, depending on how much business they have booked and how they are doing financially. Can I still collect unemployment if they might call me back to work?

Answer: Yes, you can still collect unemployment even if your layoff might not be permanent. The purpose of unemployment is to tide workers over during temporary periods of unemployment, until they find new work. You are out of work, through no fault of your own, and not receiving pay during your layoff. Whether or not your employer eventually asks you to come back, you meet the legal definition of "unemployed" right now.

Although unemployment laws are fairly similar from state to state, there are variations in the rules about who is eligible to collect benefits. Typically, you have to show that you were not at fault in losing your job (that is, you were not fired for misconduct and you did not quit without good cause). It sounds like you meet this requirement. You will also have to show that you earned a minimum amount and/or worked for a set period of time during the "base period": the first four of the last five complete calendar quarters before you file for benefits. As long as you meet these requirements, you should be eligible for unemployment.

If your employer calls you back to work, your benefits will end. Although you can collect unemployment while earning small amounts of money, you will no longer be eligible for benefits once your earnings reach a certain threshold.

You might even lose your benefits if you decide not to accept your employer's offer to come back. To collect benefits, you must be able, available, and actively seeking work. You won't meet these requirements if you turn down a job that's suitable.

To learn more, see all of Nolo's articles on Unemployment Benefits.

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