You might think that unemployment benefits are available only to those who are completely out of work, but that's not necessarily the case in California. Even if you are still working part-time, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits, depending on your earnings and your situation. California has several programs that offer "partial" unemployment benefits: A portion of the benefit you would receive if you were fully unemployed, reduced to take into account your earnings.
In California, someone is considered "unemployed" during any week in which the person's regular wages, minus $25 or 25% of those wages (whichever is more), is less than he or she would earn as a weekly unemployment benefit. In this situation, an employee who meets the other eligibility requirements would receive a check for the difference. (For information on eligibility requirements generally, see Who Is Eligible for Unemployment? For information on California's eligibility requirements, see Nolo's article Collecting Unemployment Benefits in California.)
Whether you were laid off and do occasional odd jobs or you are still employed at reduced pay and hours, you can collect benefits if you meet these requirements. For example, let's say you would be eligible for a $450 weekly unemployment check (California's current maximum amount) if you were fully unemployed. You have been cut back to only one day a week, and you earn $320. To calculate your reduced benefit, you subtract 25% of your wages, then subtract that amount from your maximum benefit. You would earn $210 per week: $450 minus 75% of $320 ($240) = $210.
If you are on temporary layoff or work reduction, you may be eligible for benefits under California's partial benefit program. This program is for employees whose employers want to retain them, despite a current lack of work. The employer must complete a "Notice of Reduced Earnings" form, and the employee must fill out part of the form. By applying for benefits through this program, an employee doesn't have to show that he or she is able and available to work and looking for other work. Because the situation is supposed to be temporary and the employer wants to keep the employee, the employee isn't obligated to conduct a job search.
California also has a worksharing program, which gives employers who want to avoid layoffs some financial help. This program applies to employers that cut the hours of at least 10% of their workforce (and at least two employees) by at least 10%. These employers can submit a worksharing plan to the state agency. If the agency approves, it will send certification forms to the employer, which the employer and employee complete for each week of reduced hours, and submit to the agency. The employee is then eligible to earn a prorated share of his or her weekly unemployment benefit. For example, if the employee would be entitled to the maximum $450 benefit if fully unemployed, and the employee's hours were cut by 20%, the employee would be eligible for a weekly unemployment check of $90 (20% of $450).