We continue our year-long series called Unemployment Vocabulary this week. If you do not work within the unemployment industry, some of the terminology utilized may be challenging to follow. It’s important to know the “lingo” to be sure that you understand what is going on within your company’s unemployment program. We’re examining the concept of “Partial Unemployment” this week.

Partial unemployment refers to a state of employment that is less than full time (40 hours per week). By definition, any worker who has a job, but works less than full time is technically considered “partially unemployed.” Of course, this is in contrast to people who are not working at all and are fully unemployed.

There are a few distinct categories of partial unemployment:

  • Regular Part Time: This is someone who works a consistent part time schedule. Their hours do not vary, and they were hired to work part time. Many states have provisions that allow employers to be relieved of charges when a regular part time worker files for unemployment. However, there are some states that will consider workers eligible even if part time hours were part of the hiring agreement.
  • On-call, As-Needed: These employees work an inconsistent or unpredictable part time schedule. They usually do not have a set schedule, and their part time hours can vary dramatically from week to week. Nearly every state will consider this class of worker to be eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Seasonal: These employees may work full time hours, but only during certain times of the year. During the off-season, they are not scheduled for work, or their hours are reduced. However, there are states that allow employers to apply for a seasonal designation, which protects the employer from liability.
  • Reduced Hours: These are employees who were hired to work full time but had their hours reduced later. These workers will be considered eligible for unemployment since a reduction in hours constitutes a change in the hiring agreement.

It is important to note that employees who file for unemployment while working part time are only potentially eligible for “partial unemployment benefits,” which makes sense since they are only partially unemployed. What this really means is their benefits are reduced based on the wages they earn. This is the state’s way of recognizing that they are not totally unemployed. In addition, unemployment benefits are based on total wages earned. Since part time workers generally earn less than full time workers, they also tend to be eligible to collect less when they file for unemployment, which means that the total potential liability to the employer is lower as well.

Another important concept for employers to remember is that part time workers, just like claimants who are totally unemployed, must meet the state’s requirements to collect unemployment benefits. These include demonstrating that they are able and available for work, accepting all suitable work that is offered and accurately reporting all hours worked and wages earned each week. Often, a part time worker might be technically “eligible” to receive benefits, but earns too much to be entitled to collect or are disqualified from collecting based on failure to meet other state requirements.