Can You Get Unemployment After a Contract Job Ends?

Can You Get Unemployment After a Contract Job Ends?

Can You Get Unemployment After a Contract Job Ends?

You took a contract job because it paid well and seemed like a great opportunity. But now as the end date approaches, a sense of dread is settling in. What happens when the contract ends? Will you be able to collect unemployment benefits to hold you over until you land your next gig?

The short answer is: it depends. Eligibility for unemployment benefits is typically based on being a W2 employee directly with the company. Independent contractors who receive a 1099 form are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits.

However, if you are a “W2 Contractor” where you are technically an employee then you have access unemployment benefits. Be sure to red their employment contract for these details.

Contract Work 101

First, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what exactly constitutes contract work:

  • You’re hired for a specific project or time period
  • You’re not considered a permanent employee
  • You may not receive benefits like health insurance or paid time off
  • You’re responsible for paying your own taxes on a Form 1040 tax form by inputting your amount earned from the 1099-NEC received from the staffing agency

Basically, as a contractor, you’re like a mercenary of the job world. Companies hire you to swoop in, get the job done, and then ride off into the sunset. It can be liberating, but it also comes with some risks – like the possibility of having gaps between contracts.

The Unemployment Lowdown

So what about unemployment benefits – can contractors even qualify for those? The answer is “maybe” if you are set up as a W-2 Contractor.

The Unemployment Lowdown

Unemployment benefits are typically reserved for traditional W-2 employees who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. Think layoffs, downsizing, your company going under – that sort of thing.

As a contractor, you’re in a bit of a gray area. Some key factors that will determine your eligibility:

How your contract ended?

If your contract simply reached its natural end date, you’ve got a decent shot at qualifying for unemployment. But if you were let go early for cause (e.g. performance issues, violating contract terms, etc.), or if you quit, it’s going to be a tougher sell.

How long you worked on the contract?

Most states have what’s called a “base period” that they look at to determine if you’ve worked enough to qualify for benefits. Usually, it’s the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters before you file your claim.

So let’s say you file in June 2024. They would look at your earnings from January-December 2023. If your contract earnings during that time meet the minimum threshold (which varies by state), you could potentially qualify.

What type of work you did?

The type of work covered by unemployment is determined by each state. Some states exclude certain types of contract work from eligibility. For example, independent contractors like freelance writers or Uber drivers are often out of luck when it comes to unemployment.

Tips to Boost Your Benefit Chances

Okay, so now you know the basics of how this all works. But what can you actually DO to improve the odds of collecting unemployment after your contract wraps? Here are some pro tips:

1. Keep detailed records

Make sure you have a copy of your contract that clearly outlines the scope of work, pay rate, and anticipated end date. Keep track of your hours worked and invoices submitted. The more documentation you have, the better.

2. Don’t jump the gun on filing

Wait until after your contract officially ends to file for unemployment. If you try to do it preemptively, it will likely be denied since you’re still technically employed.

Don't jump the gun on filing

3. Be honest and accurate on your claim

When you file, you’ll have to provide information about why your contract ended. Be truthful, but frame it in the best possible light. “Contract ended as scheduled” sounds a lot better than “They didn’t want me anymore.”

4. Keep up with your work search requirements

Most states require unemployment recipients to be actively seeking work and document their job search. Make sure you understand what’s required and follow through, even if you’re hoping to snag another contract gig.

5. Consider other options

Unemployment isn’t your only lifeline. Look into things like freelancer grants, small business loans, or part-time W-2 work to supplement your income between contracts. Having multiple revenue streams is always a smart move.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My contract ended early because the project was cancelled. Can I still get unemployment?

A: If you were a W-2 Contractor, then maybe. If the contract ended early through no fault of yours, that’s akin to being laid off as a regular employee. Document what happened and make your case.

Q: Can I collect unemployment benefits while working on a contract?

A: Probably not, since most states consider you employed while under contract. You can still file a claim, but be prepared to report your contract earnings, which will likely disqualify you from benefits for those weeks.

Q: What if I have multiple short-term contracts back-to-back?

A: Treat each contract as a separate job for unemployment purposes. You’ll have to reapply (and potentially face a waiting period) between each one. Make sure you’re staying on top of your job search requirements throughout.

Q: Do I have to pay taxes on unemployment benefits?

A: Yes. Uncle Sam always gets his cut. Unemployment benefits are considered taxable income, so make sure to set some aside to avoid a nasty surprise come tax time.

The Bottom Line

Collecting unemployment as a contractor can be a bit of a gamble. There’s no guarantee you’ll qualify, and even if you do, the benefits may not be as much as you’re used to earning.

But don’t let that scare you away from contract work altogether. The key is to go in with your eyes open and have a solid plan for weathering any gaps between gigs. Save diligently, network constantly, and always be thinking about your next move.

With a little preparation and a lot of hustle, you can make the contractor life work for you – with or without unemployment benefits. Now get out there and start slaying those contracts!