Can Seasonal Employees Collect Unemployment Benefits?

The ebb and flow of Green Industry work often makes having seasonal employees a necessity. Now that the landscaping season has wound down, one thing you or your employees may be wondering is whether or not seasonal workers are permitted to collect unemployment benefits.

Are seasonal workers be allowed to collect unemployment checks in their downtime?
Traditionally, many people who worked seasonal positions had been allowed to collect unemployment benefits. However, a larger number of states are now saying that they shouldn’t be able to take benefits and employers are often surprised to discover that in certain circumstances, seasonal or temporary employees may still qualify for unemployment benefits at the end of their job obligation.

So why do some states allow seasonal workers to collect benefits and others don’t?
Federal law gives each state the option to decide whether or not to allow seasonal workers to collect unemployment benefits. Employers and the federal government pay into the unemployment system, and the states handle the distributions. The purpose of unemployment benefits is to act as a safety net, helping those who lose their job through no fault of their own. They are intended to help people get by until they find other works, not to replace full-time income. Unemployment benefits are a finite resource, and states must decide how to use their limited funds.

Additionally, many seasonal workers aren’t unemployed in the traditional sense; they are simply in between their work commitments. Some of these workers have jobs they will be coming back to in peak season, which means that they may have less incentive to find work while they are receiving unemployment benefits because they know they will collect it for a couple of months and then return to their previous job. Some states have decided that paying people in their off-season when they know they have a job to return to isn’t consistent with the intended purpose of unemployment benefits.

Are your employees eligible for unemployment benefits?
Seasonal employees in Minnesota may be eligible for unemployment benefits if they had sufficient earnings prior to their layoff. Those earnings are calculated during the income “base period”, which is defined as follows:

In Minnesota, a base period is a one-year (four calendar quarters) period of time. The four quarters of the calendar year are:
Q1- January, February, and March
Q2- April, May and June
Q3- July, August, and September
Q4- October, November, and December

In Minnesota, the last four completed calendar quarters are used as the base period, as long as the effective date of the unemployment insurance claim is not during the month before the fourth completed calendar quarter. Most states use the first four quarters. For example, if a worker filed a claim in October of 2015, the base period would be from June 1, 2014, through May 31, 2015.

It is important for employers to remember that the base period may include work they did prior to working for you.

Necessary Earnings within the Base Period:
During the base period, the employee must have earned at least 5.3% of the state’s average annual wage (rounded down to the next $100).

In Minnesota, employees may qualify for unemployment benefits if they have sufficient earnings within their base period. Overall, it is important for employers to understand unemployment laws in their respective states because each state defines how and when benefits are awarded. Base periods are calculated differently, the necessary earnings within the base pay vary, and some states have provisions that don’t allow seasonal employees to collect benefits. It is always a best practice to consult an employment attorney regarding your state’s unemployment laws and provisions.