Unemployment Rules for Seasonal Workers

Not everyone fits the traditional, eight-to-five, year-round job scenario. Seasonal employees work for defined, often short periods of time during specific times of the year. This phenomenon is created by variations in certain industries that are affected by seasonal shifts in demand or weather-related impediments.

Seasonal unemployment is most commonly associated with the tourist and seasonal-recreation industries (ski resorts, amusement parks, etc.) as well as weather-related jobs (landscaping, construction, lifeguarding, etc.). The phenomenon can also apply to sporadic, but predictable employment areas like certain types of farming, working for a theatre company, or employment structured around an academic calendar (this one is special, we’ll cover it below).

Seasonal Unemployment Requirements

Seasonal unemployment can get a little complicated, because it is a subcategory of structural unemployment. In the latter, qualifying for unemployment is a matter of meeting two simple criteria factors: 1) being unemployed through no fault of your own and 2) meeting your state’s requirements for wages earned.

Seasonal unemployment is unique in that lack of work is caused by a trend that is predictable of a particular industry. This unique trend means that seasonal workers are not considered “unemployed” in the traditional sense and many states act on that view by denying seasonal workers unemployment benefits outright.

Since a seasonal worker technically has a job to return to, collecting unemployment benefits during their “break” is not something certain states are willing to fund. Unemployment benefits for seasonal workers are determined state by state, however states that do provide seasonal unemployment benefits do so on the basis of wages earned during the base period.

The base period is a one year period sectioned off into five quarters and most states require that applicants earn a minimum amount of wages during this time as a qualification for unemployment benefits.

Note that states that rely on a tourist-based economy are generally more generous to the seasonal worker.

Understanding Independent Contractors

The first thing you need to know about seasonal unemployment is whether or not your employer is required to provide you with benefits.

Independent contractors are defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration as self-employed individuals and as such, they hire seasonal and part-time workers, they don’t employ them. It is a one-word difference, but understand that only an employee can claim unemployment benefits.

Find out whether you are working for an independent contractor right off the bat, this will help you prepare better for a period of unemployment.

Weather Related Unemployment: What’s the Difference?

First thing’s first: do not confuse seasonal unemployment with a weather-related job disruption. While there are jobs that entail seasonal unemployment caused by weather (snow doesn’t make a beach very appealing), these should be viewed as seasons, therefore the layoffs are due to seasonal demands.

Weather-related unemployment only becomes valid when a weather-induced disruption causes loss in wages or outright unemployment. A lifeguard who goes home for the winter is not the same as a construction worker laid off for a few weeks because of snow. In this scenario, the construction worker would qualify for unemployment benefits, but not the lifeguard.

Seasonal and Tourism-Related Unemployment

True seasonal unemployment is not technically unemployment at all. Rather, it is a gap between work commitments. While most seasonal workers are not receiving a paycheck in between working seasons, states do not readily classify them as “unemployed” because they technically have a job pending. The reason collecting unemployment benefits has become difficult for such workers is that states do not want to be responsible for giving workers with a job a paid break.

States whose primary economy relies on the tourist industry however, have higher percentages of seasonal unemployment and in addition to unemployment benefits (or as an alternative), may provide other resources to ensure that their employees return to them during peak season.

Seasonal Unemployment Alternatives

Given recent changes in state unemployment laws, many seasonal workers find it hard to collect unemployment benefits; actually, only construction workers and agricultural workers seem to qualify for what was once a wider pool of unemployed seasonal workers. That being said, many employers are providing their workers with alternate benefits in hope that they will serve as incentive for their workers to return during peak season.

One of the arguments against providing seasonal unemployment benefits is that a seasonal worker is self-aware and knows that a period of unemployment is on the horizon. This is partly true, so if you’re a seasonal worker that does not qualify for unemployment benefits, below are some things you can look for to cushion lost wages.

Part-time Job Opportunities

Many seasonally operating companies are willing to employ their workers part-time in order to help them keep a source of income during off-season. As an employee, this will initially seem like a cut in wages, but given that collecting unemployment benefits may be out of the question, it is your company’s way of providing you with some semblance of income between peak seasons.

Employer-Aided Job Placement

Other companies are implementing post-season job placement programs to ensure that their employees have a job when the season ends. This aid may come in the form of networking or providing a great recommendation. This type of collaboration is also convenient because the process is cooperative; it takes competition away from the picture and ensures risk-free employment year-round.

Competitive Wages

Actors, musicians, performers, and athletes are a great example of seasonal workers armed with competitive wages. Good wages allow employees to save for that period of unemployment between peak seasons, ensuring that they will have enough to survive on and that being a seasonal worker will be a sustainable lifestyle.

Off-season Housing Benefits

Another great perk to look for, especially for employees in the tourist industry, are off-season housing benefits such as free or reduced rent. Many employees in this area may already receive such benefits during peak season, but many employers have started to extend it during off-season as a way to keep their seasonal employees. Since rent is an employees main monthly expense, providing off-season housing benefits has both reduced the need for employees to claim unemployment benefits (or seek work elsewhere) and increased the number of employees returning for the peak season.


  • Frank

    I work 2 jobs in Pennsylvania at the moment, both part time & seasonal but they are currently overlapping.

    Job #1 is at a college where I work 22.5 hrs/week & gross $235/week. It runs from Sep-May but I only started in January. It is ending in 3 weeks.

    Job #2 is a seasonal position at Lowe’s under a contractor company called Plant Essentials, from mid March-October with the peak season being May-July.. All in all I’m scheduled to work 860 hours over a 29 week span @ $10/hr. The hours vary weekly, but are steady around 35 hrs/week during the May-July time period. I started at Plant Essentials last year, but this is my first full season.

    Will I be able to collect seasonal unemployment from Plant Essentials during the winter even though I will be working at the College and grossing $235/week? And vice versa, next summer when the college lets out, will I be able to collect from them, even if I am working at Plant Essentials during the summer again?

    In summary –
    Job #1 Sep-May, 22.5 hrs/week, $235 gross/week
    Job #2 April-Oct, 860 hrs/29 weeks @ $10/hr. Peak hours being 35/week from May-July.

    Would I be able to collect anything from either job during their respective off-seasons? Thanks in advance for any reply.

  • Paul

    I work for a theatre company in KY and have employees that get laid off in the summer. If one of them chooses not to return, are they still eligible for unemployment? We have them state in writing that they choose not to return the following season, before they are actually laid off. Does this count as a refusal? Or would it count as a refusal when they would have returned to work?

    • Technically, KY should pay them benefits for the entire summer because they are unemployed regardless of potential work in the fall. If they are still unemployed in the fall and refuse to come back, only at that time do they lose their benefits, unless KY determines their job refusal was for good cause. They need to report this job refusal at the time the work is scheduled to resume.

      All that said, if you choose to contest because employee refuses to return, seeing as how this is KY – most southern states are very draconian on fairness issues – you would probably be successful in holding up their benefits for a good long while, possibly even get them a denial, which should be overturned on appeal. But many claimants never bother with an appeal.

  • James

    Maybe you can help. I just started a job that has a 4 month on 4 month off schedule. I live and pay taxes in Utah. During the off months I am essentially unemployed as I receive no pay or benefits from the company. Am I eligible to collect unemployment on my down time? I heard that is what some of my co-workers do. Is this a typical use of unemployment?

    • Absolutely. People subject to intermittent and/or seasonal employment receive benefits during these down times. They are required to search of other work, unless the state grants a waiver. Usually, if you have a fixed return date 28 days from day of layoff, waivers can be granted. Otherwise, you will need to perform work searches while you are collecting benefits.

  • Ryan

    I work for an accountant firm full-time during tax season (January to April). There are no available hours for me in the off-season and I qualify for unemployment benefits. I have done this the past three years.
    Would I still be able to collect benefits while working a part-time job from May to December and went back to my full-time job next January? Unemployment benefits not enough to live on. State of MN.

    • Certainly. You continue to file weekly claims and report your gross part-time earnings for each week worked – not when you are paid.

      MN will deduct 50% of your gross earnings from the benefit amount and pay the difference, provided your earnings do not exceed the weekly benefit amount.

  • Lola Brooke

    Hello I work for a seasonal swimming pool company in Pennsylvania. I have worked for this company for three years and during each winter I file for benefits. I was currently informed that a majority of obligations and job requirements are being switched around and I have less responsibility and less say in my schedule and overall duties. My title and pay will be the same, responsibilities have majorly changed. I am expecting to return back to work within the next week or two.

    My question is am I able to deny the opportunity to return to this company and position? With the current change in the position, I have decided to seek employment in Florida.

    Am I allowed to collect and claim that full amount, and explore my job opportunities for this full year before it runs out?

    Who is responsible for canceling my current benefits; My company who offered me the opportunity to return to work again? or the UC?

    Would it be an option to switch over my benefits from Pennsylvania to Florida before they offer me The opportunity to return to work?

    • I have reduced your post to the important issues.

      There is virtually no chance your employer will not contest continued payment of benefits if you choose not to return. That said, it isn’t the employer who makes the final decision, it is PA.

      If you choose not to return to your employer, you report this as a job refusal because of unsuitability as to job duties. PA will stop paying benefits until it conducts an investigation. Unless there is a glaring difference in your new job duties, initially PA will not view this a job refusal for good cause. Expect that PA will not resume benefits until you appeal and successfully demonstrate the unsuitability of this new position. The appeal process can take at least two months. That means no benefits until after the appeal hearing – and only if you win.

      You can’t switch your claim to FL. And, even if you could, you would still need to report the job refusal and need to undergo the same investigation.

      If PA does approve this job refusal, of course, you can move and search for work anywhere you wish. You continue to claim through PA and collect PA benefits until exhausted even while searching for work in FL.

      Just so you know for future reference, FL’s unemployment benefit is NOTHING like PA’s. Max benefit paid in FL is $275/wk for only 13 weeks. You are moving to a red state. Most southern coastal red states have terrible unemployment benefits in comparison to the northern blue states. If you have options on where to live, you might want to review this list so you know what to expect the next time you are unemployed outside PA:


  • Ally Miller

    Hi, can you tell me if an employee hired as a seasonal part time employee is eligible to apply for separation pay/workers comp benefits in the State of Wyoming? Example: I am hired on as a snow plow driver (job completely dependant on the season and amount of snowfall). The job starts usually in October and ends usually in March. The employer does not lay us off. The job ends when the snow season is over. I was not guaranteed any hours. For one, two week period i had 40 hours, the rest of the season i had 10-25 hours per week. It is an on call when needed job. Do i have any options for unemploment?

    • Workers comp is paid to those injured on the job. Unemployment benefits are paid for to those laid off. In Wyoming, You must have earned at least $850 in one quarter. Apply for benefits and let WY figure it out.

  • Miguel

    I work in Ct in the lawn care industry each year we get laid off during winter and return date in spring, due to overwhelming bills i need to take a part time job to offset losses, my question is how long before i can quit the part time job before i get laid off from my main full time job and is this legal, thank you

    • If your question is can you quit the part time job, then work full-time at the seasonal job, and then apply for benefits when the full-time job ends, the answer is you need to earn ten times your weekly benefit amount at your full time job after the quit and before the next layoff from this seasonal job in order to qualify for benefits.

  • Tom

    I work full time for a farmer and have since 2003 can I be able to apply for benefits when I get old enough to to be put out to pasture? I don’t hardly see me working another year with the hours we put in my health just won’t allow it. 6 to 8 hours is about my limit it is just too painful. I started going to a chronic pain clinic hoping I could put in another ten years but they help me little if at all. I am just too used up from accidents, nany of them on the job accidents. But I do not have insurance. So it is paid out of my pocket.

    • Talk to your county social services people about programs available for someone in your situation. Unemployment benefits are paid to those who are able and available to search for and accept work. Whether or not you are entitled to benefits will depend on if your employer has been paying UI taxes for you and your fitness for work – not necessarily the type of work you have been doing, but something else.

  • Artee Clark

    I work during the baseball season am I eligible for umemployment during the off season?

  • Mindy McRae

    I am an landscape contractor in Utah. If I hire someone to work for me seasonally with a specific (agreed upon in writing) starting and ending date that goes for let’s say 7 months, can they file unemployment against me when their job is finished? If so, what can I do to hire someone seasonally to protect myself from this?

  • Jamie

    I am a w2 seasonal employee in Illinois, and at the end of 2016, received several weeks of work. But was told in January that they would not have any work for me until February, but now, not until April. The impression I got when hired was that I would be working 1000 hours for this company in 2017, but, at this rate, it doesn’t seem probable. They basically have me on call for when they have work, but, I was hired under the impression it would be pretty regular up to 1000 hours per year.

    Can I apply for unemployment while I’m waiting for them to call me back in? And how does it work if they call me back in for a week, and then don’t call me in for another 4 months? Do I have to reapply each time? (one week would be too much to still qualify for unemployment).

    • Apply for benefits now. The claim will remain in place for one year. File weekly claims – and report earnings when you work. You report gross earnings based on hours worked – whether or not paid – for each week worked. If your earnings are too high for IL to pay a benefit, IL will close the claim. You REOPEN the claim when your earnings fall off or are nonexistent.

  • Ann Smith

    Trying to find a straight answer, In Pennsylvania, can school bus drivers employed by a school district collect unemployment during the summer?

  • Gregory Perrigan

    I am currently unemployed and work for a seasonal motel, I have been drawing benefits and they are about to end, my job does not open back up until April 15,2017. If I do not get called back to this motel can i sign back up for unemployment as this is no fault of mine and this motel is under new owners.

    • You can file a new claim only when the current benefit year expires – one year from when you first filed for benefits. In other words, if you opened your claim last October, you are not eligible for a new claim until October 2017 – regardless if you have been paid all benefits due you under the existing claim.

  • Cecily

    I have been receiving unemployment for approximately 2 months. I just accepted a job offer(!), but the job doesn’t start for 3 weeks. Am I still illegible to receive unemployment over the course of the next 3 weeks while I wait for the job to commence?

  • Dina

    Hi, I had a part time job for 10 years, I quit on July 2016, I just started working on a seasonal job, feb.2017. I called edd, and the agent said, I needed to make at least $1260 at my new job to open unemployment. I am not sure if I will make that much, I made $500 so far, if I get laid off, will I be able to file for edd? Or not….
    State CA
    Worked for 10 years until July 2016, quit due to harrazment.
    Just started working at a seasonal job, field worker.
    Is it true I need to earn 1260 dlls at my new job to qualify? What if I make less?
    At my previous job I was part time but making over 10k a year.

    • When you quit your job last July, did you apply for benefits and did California approve the claim? If so, you are not eligible for another claim until this July/August and you need to earn either (1) $1,300 in one quarter or (2) have a high quarter of $900 + $225 in another quarter before next July to be eligible for another claim.

      If you never applied for benefits and/or or CA denied you at the time, assuming CA says your quit was not for good cause, you would be required to earn 5x your weekly benefit at any job after the quit before CA could pay you. This may be where the $1,260 figure comes from.

      Assuming you did not file when you first quit, you should file that claim now. There are still six months wages in your base period to provide an excellent claim. You will be denied at first, but have an excellent chance of winning your case at appeal if you can properly explain the harassment issue. CA looks for ways to find FOR the claimant. It always pays to appeal in California.

      So, did you file for benefits after that quit or not?

  • Cheryl

    I am in CT and will be working for a bus company soon as a part time school bus driver. When school ends, I am being told that I will be able to collect unemployment until the school year starts up again. Is this true? If so, how much can I expect to bring home on my off season? Ball park figure, of course. I should be starting this job within the next month or so, so I should have three months of working before the seasonal lay off.

    Thank you!

    • Ballpark figure? Without knowing your earnings, there’s no way to tell you that, but you can figure it out. Total your wages from what you anticipate will be your two highest quarters, divide by 2 to get the average, divide the average by 26 to get weekly benefit amount.

      In other words, if you earned a total of $11,000 in two quarters (6 months), average quarterly wage is $5,500/26 = $211 weekly unemployment benefit.

  • Mike

    Hello, I am employed in the HVAC(heating, ventilation, A/C) field, and from February till March is are slowest time of the year due to unknown weather conditions.
    I am full-time and put in atleast 40 hours a week during busy time.
    I have had some guys tell me I can claim unemployment to help.
    My question is, can I collect unemployment? Will I need my employer to provide proof of being laid off? Will i have to look for other work to be able to collect? How and where do I sign up for unemployment?
    I live in IL

  • Derek

    Hello, I work in the entertainment industry as a freelance employee. I recently was laid off from my main employer and have received no offers to work for other employers as it is our slow season. I potentially have a job lined up as a seasonal worker at a ski resort which will lay me off again on April 16. I currently have an active claim for the slow season of the entertainment industry which I periodically receive benefits from and will expire April 23.

    So here’s my question: I will be laid off again from the ski resort on April 16 will I be able to file a new claim even though my existing claim will terminate on April 22?

    PS: I’ll have remaining funds leftover in my existing claim and I’ll close it as soon as I start to work for the ski resort.

    • You REOPEN the existing claim immediately when you are laid off – either online or by phone call – and claim benefits for week ending 4/22. Any unpaid benefits under that claim are lost after 4/22. Because you have been working, you also qualify for a new claim.

      When you reopen the claim, ask to apply for a new claim at the same time. CA, for example, encourages people to reapply for a new claim a few days before the current claim expires.

      • Derek

        February 16, 2017 at 5:55 pm
        Hi Daphne, so it turns out my job at the ski area is only part time. I am currently collecting partial benefits during this time. When the ski season is over and I get laid off from the ski resort on Alpril 16. Will I be able to file a new claim even though I’ve used all my benefits in my previous claim which expires on April 22??

        • Yes. Already answered. Here it is again:

          “When you reopen the claim, ask to apply for a new claim at the same time. “

          • Derek

            Even though used up all my benefits on my current claim. I am eligible to fill a new claim immediately after?

          • YES – (1) because your current benefit year will have expired and (2) because you have been working during your current benefit year which automatically creates eligibility and earnings to support a second claim when the first benefit year expires. Unless yours is a state which requires a high proportion of your base period earnings occur outside your high quarter, you should have claim eligibility.

            Seasonal workers routinely work part of the year and collect unemployment benefits part of the year. The current work provides benefits for a new claim when the current claim expires. This is a way of life for many people and they plan their finances around it.

          • Derek

            This year I will have worked in Ca and Mt. are those eligible states to file a new claim?

          • Every state pays benefits. Which of those two states is paying your benefits now? That is where you apply.

          • Derek

            I’m collecting benefits from CA right now

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