Things are really uncertain right now and I know some folks – nurses, PT, OT, and social workers are having their contracts canceled right now. For many of you, this might be your first time questioning whether or not you should file unemployment.
The truth is, as a contractor, you can file unemployment following the completion of each contract under the category of “Lack of Work.” However, during this COVID Crisis, if your contract is canceled, there may be a different category you can file under, but this is going to change from state to state.
The unemployment lookback period is generally 1.5 year or 18 months. This means that if you just were canceled from a contract in North Carolina where you were for 2 months, but you worked for 6 months in the last 18 months in Florida, and that was your longest work period in those 18 months, you would actually file your unemployment claim in Florida.
I always suggest filing the day after your last day of work. Regardless of filing, there is always a wait period before your first eligible week, but better get the paperwork in sooner rather than later. When you file, you’ll need to identify where you worked (not necessarily your contracting agency, but your actual hospital’s information). You’ll need start date, end dates, supervisor names, phone numbers, etc. You’ll also need your agency info, just in case.
Be mindful that unemployment wages are determined by state and the wages will not be comparable to your current income. Your unemployment wages will be determined by your taxable wages as well, and every state has an income tier level. Some states top tier payments are as high as other states lowest tier payments.
In my experience, if you apply in a state but you’re eligible in another state, the state where you applied will contact you and encourage you to apply in that other state. This is to your benefit in the long-run. If you use your benefit from your most recent job and file unemployment again in another 6 months, you may have used your most recent benefit and have no money to draw upon. But if you file in the state where you were eligible 18 months ago and use that benefit, then in 6 months when you file again, you may have a few more states that are now options for you to draw upon. Confusing, but good to be aware.
When you’re approved for unemployment, you’re generally going to have to keep records of your job searches. Either keep a paper record (if required) or just be sure to email a recruiter the minimum number of times required by the state where you filed unemployment. Most recently, I used a benefit in Washington State. They required 3x weekly job applications/outreaches or contacts. I emailed my recruiter asking about jobs at least three times a week and reported those. Washington wanted to know, though exactly who you contacted, a phone number or a website where you applied. Be sure to be diligent about this process.
Finally, I recommend having both Federal and State taxes withheld from your unemployment benefit. You’ll have to report it as income on your taxes next year, so you may as well not be caught with your proverbial pants down at tax time, because you’ll owe on the money at that point. This will obviously lessen your weekly benefit, but if you’re like me, it’s worth it.
I know this is a weird time to be a traveler, but know that you are valued. Your worth and your skills are not determined by whether or not your contract is canceled right now.
To find any state’s unemployment insurance website, please visit this Department of Labor sponsored website: