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Losing umeployment insurance benefits by finding temp work?

Posted by Elaine Varelas  May 12, 2010 10:00 AM

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Q: I know someone who was laid off in January and has had no luck in getting a new position. He has been collecting unemployment. If he were to get a temp job then obviously he wouldn't be collecting unemployment. But what happens when the temp job is over? Wouldn't he be ineligible for any more unemployment payments then?

Taking temporary roles while unemployed can offer experience, an introduction to a company, the opportunity to learn new skills, and perhaps an advantage in a “temp-to-perm” hiring situation. What it also offers is great confusion about the impact on unemployment insurance benefits. To help sort out the issues around temping and get the answers to our questions I consulted with Judi L. Cicatiello, Director, for the MA Division of Unemployment Assistance.

All the details do matter when eligibility decisions are made, and Judi explains “You haven't indicated the potential duration of the temporary job and that can be important. When an individual files a claim for Unemployment Insurance benefits, the claim is generally good for a one-year period. In the example you referenced the claim would be good from January 2010 to January 2011 at which time it will expire. Assuming the claim has not expired at the point the temporary job ends, then the claim can be reactivated and the individual can resume receipt of any remaining benefits.”

There are other special circumstances that can affect eligibility, and Judi offers her expertise on two additional areas of which applicants need to be aware. Eligibility for benefits is always based on the reason for unemployment at the time benefits are claimed. “If this individual accepts temporary work and then quits or gets discharged prior to completion of the job, his eligibility would be subject to adjudication.” If you quit a temp job, regardless of the reason, you may no longer qualify for Unemployment Insurance benefits.

Jobs obtained through temporary agencies carry special provisions regarding unemployment which they are required to inform you about right up front. Judi explains, “Once you accept an assignment with a temp agency you are obligated to check with them for additional work upon completing each assignment before reactivating your Unemployment Insurance claim. By law, failure to contact them for additional assignments is considered "quitting" and can be disqualifying.”

Q. I am a radiation therapist. I was laid off and am looking for a full time job. I was offered per diems, and would like to take these as a way to get my foot in the door. What happens to my unemployment benefits?

Taking per diem work offers job seekers similar benefits to taking temp roles. According to Judi, unemployment allows for partial benefit to individuals who work part-time jobs after losing their primary employment or who obtain part-time or per diem work while receiving benefits.

Judi offers the following example. “Individuals can earn up to 1/3 of their weekly benefit amount and still receive the full benefit payment. Any earnings over the 1/3 limit result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the benefit payment for that week. For example: With a benefit amount of $300.00 per week an individual could earn up to $100.00 and still receive the full benefit. Earnings in excess of the $100.00 limit would result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the benefit payment for the week. If the individual in this example earned $300.00 in a week, the first $100.00 is ignored because it's under the limit but the remaining $200.00 in earnings over the limit results in a $200.00 reduction in the $300.00 benefit for the week and this individual would receive a benefit payment of $100.00.

When working on a per diem basis, the earnings will likely vary from week to week and the amount of the benefit received will also fluctuate if earnings exceed the 1/3 limit.”

Judi also offers information on extended benefits currently available. These benefits are payable after the expiration of the individual's benefit year provided the individual is not able to file a new claim. Individuals who accept temporary or part-time work during the benefit year may earn enough to be able to establish a new claim when the benefit year expires. Often the weekly benefit amount available on a claim based on temporary or part-time work is substantially less than the weekly benefit payable on the original claim. Federal law requires individuals to exhaust the benefits from their new claim before they can resume receipt of any extended benefits that may be available on their original claim. This can pose a financial burden on individuals who qualify for benefits on new claims because they accepted temporary or part-time work while receiving benefits.


This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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