Can the unemployed take a vacation and not lose their benefits?
August 6, 2010 1:58 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a recently laid-off friend - If you're receiving unemployment insurance checks, can you take a vacation?

My friend was laid off a few months ago (in California) from a long term corporate job. He's been receiving the standard unemployment insurance checks. Every 2 weeks he gets a letter to sign and send back saying he's still unemployed. With all the extensions and so on, this state you continue for a couple of years while he looks for a new job. However, he's worried that any break in the unemployment will terminate the benefits. For example, if he took a contract job that lasted for a few weeks, he wouldn't be able to resume receiving the balance of the unemployment benefits after it finished. So with some air-miles that are about to expire he'd love to go back and spend a few weeks with his family in Europe. Now obviously a helpful 3rd party could intercept the bi-weekly letters while he's gone and through the wonders of technology assure that they were returned correctly signed. However, this doesn't seem very honest. So he would like to know if there is a way he can take a few weeks to go abroad without breaking any laws or losing the many months of benefits he would receive if he just stays here.
posted by Long Way To Go to Work & Money (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about the specifics for California, but in general I would guess that no, he can't. Assuming the letter he signs states that he is available for and able to work for the weeks he is claiming, he would be neither if he was on vacation. Not sure about taking a temporary job...
posted by Jeeb at 2:16 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depends on your state.

From my experience, if you're not available to work - then you don't report that week(s) benefits. You only report the weeks you were available for work.

Not exactly sure about terminating benefits - depends on the state. I would imagine the benefits would terminate only when he starts working again or when they run out.

I also found these comments and links from someone on a board that may be of use:

"My sister in law went on vacation while she was collecting and the gov't discovered this 2 years later. She had to pay back for the time she was out of the Country because she was not available for work during that time. "

"I was in between moves and homeless for 2 weeks (stayed with parents): had to vacate my house but did not have possession of my new home yet. So, according to the gov't since I was not in my new location and available for work, I would not be getting anything for that period. "
posted by KogeLiz at 2:17 PM on August 6, 2010

sorry for the formatting of that reply. not sure how that happened
posted by KogeLiz at 2:18 PM on August 6, 2010

So he would like to know if there is a way he can take a few weeks to go abroad without breaking any laws or losing the many months of benefits he would receive if he just stays here.

Well, considering that LOOKING FOR A JOB is one of the requirements of unemployment, I don't know why he's hung up on honesty. He will already be committing fraud by checking the 'I looked for a new job' box.

This isn't supposed to be a simple payment for being alive, you're really supposed to be looking for work. Not vacationing in Europe. Not just 'stay[ing] here'.
posted by unixrat at 2:19 PM on August 6, 2010

IANAlawyer/unemployment expert, but in my experience, you are technically supposed to be both looking for work and available to start full-time work in order to be eligible to receive benefits in a given week. He could go on the trip and get the letters signed as you describe, but he would have to lie and say he was available to start full-time work during those weeks (which is up to him) (also "available" could be more loosely interpreted -- like maybe he would be available to work remotely, etc?). He still has to be making job contacts (however many California requires him to make per week), but he could likely fulfill that requirement from Europe (by emailing/calling/online job applications, etc). If he does NOT have the intention to lie/stretch the truth about his availability for full time employment, he can call the California unemployment office and ask about how he continues filing after the vacation. Otherwise, he can sign the letters and take his chances. In my opinion (again, IANAL/E), it's highly unlikely that anything will ever come of it.

Now, as for contract work, my understanding is that he can accept that. After the work is complete, the employer will have to fill out a form stating they have no more work available for him, and his UI benefits will restart. For the weeks he works, he'll have to report that income to the CA UI people and depending on how much money he earns, he may receive reduced or no benefits for the weeks he worked only. A couple of weeks of contract work doesn't make you ineligible to receive benefits after the work runs dry. BUT the rules on this vary from state to state... so still good to call and check.
posted by hansbrough at 2:22 PM on August 6, 2010

I wouldn't think he can collect for the time that he's away, if he's not actively seeking work (which I believe is a requirement), but I don't think that will take away his benefits when he returns and starts looking again. Really not sure, though, he should contact the unemployment office and ask.
posted by stennieville at 2:23 PM on August 6, 2010

One of the unemployment questions is "were you available for work during the claim period?" If your friend is in Europe with his family, he wouldn't very well be able to report to work. I think that is the way the unemployment agency would see it anyway. That being said, with the technology available today, most people can continue their job search while on vacation using the internet and email. I think that if he's only going to be gone for 2-3 weeks and has access to the internet, he should be able to comply with the spirit of the rule. Especially if he were willing to cut his trip a little short if he did receive an offer that was contingent upon a certain start date. I don't think that unemployment would buy that argument if he got caught, but I've had a couple of unemployed friends take that approach and unemployment was none the wiser.

In addition to the obvious choices; go and have a friend intercept the letters (and by the way can't he just file online or does CA use the new password that we send you each time system?) or not go and lose the miles, would he consider just going for the 2 weeks in between filings (if he's mostly worried about the ethics of having someone else intercept the letters and sign on for him)?

I can't speak with any certainty as to whether or not he'd be able to sign back on after contract work I do remember from a previous period of unemployment, PA made it sound like that was a possibility in theory, but it sounded like more of a gamble in actual practice. I think that if he does that (and it truly is only a brief contract), the trick is to continue filing every two weeks, honestly reporting the income that you've received, and that way there is no break in your filing when the job ends. Obviously you do not receive any unemployment compensation for the weeks that you worked (unless you make under x amount determined by the state). He should try to verify this with someone at a supervisory level, if he can get through to a real-live person on the phone (and get a name and title).
posted by kaybdc at 2:38 PM on August 6, 2010

In Texas, you cannot collect for time you were unavailable, but being unavailable will not automatically kick you off the roles. If you take contract work, you have to show that the end of the work was not your fault and not voluntary to resume unemployment
posted by cross_impact at 2:40 PM on August 6, 2010

The California unemployment form requires your signature that you were looking for work and a record of the places he applied. So it would be fraud if he claimed he was looking for work while he wasn't and it would be fraud on behalf of the person faking his signature while he's away.
posted by sharkfu at 2:41 PM on August 6, 2010

I doubt it. A friend of mine got docked a week in Cali for filing change of address after moving to a cheaper rental. They assumed while moving he was unavailable to work.

If you have doubts, just call them up and ask the hypothetical. It won't harm you in anyway.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:57 PM on August 6, 2010

This was back in 2000, but I went on vacation and I just reported that I didn't look for work that period. I didn't get a check, which was fine.

I'm not sure if they called or I called in and asked, but the woman I talked to was like, "you know, if you pick up a paper and look at the want ads, that's considered looking for a job." I thought that seemed a bit of a stretch, but she seemed to be trying really hard to get me some money.

Anyway, I didn't get a check that period, but they started back up when I came back. I just made my call in the same as always. Just answer no when they ask if you were looking for work.
posted by iscavenger at 2:58 PM on August 6, 2010

There seems to be a lot of confusion about what an Unemployment claim is. Here's what it is, in California anyway:

A claim lasts for twelve months.* Six months worth of benefits are awarded. So if you were eligible every time for the maximum award, you will be out of money in six months.

But if you are not eligible for benefits during a certain two week period, then you don't get a check. This could be because you weren't available to work, were actually working, or whatever. You can also get paid less than usual, if you worked and earned a little money, but less than your weekly UI award.

But the point is, the money is there waiting for you, like it was a checking account. You don't "lose" any by not getting a check for a certain period- you just haven't withdrawn it yet. As far as I know, you can always pick up a claim where you left off, as long as you are still in the one year period.**

*There are extended benefits, but this is the basic claim you get at first.
**I'm sure there are exceptions for fraud, voluntarily quitting a job, etc.

posted by drjimmy11 at 3:11 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's not that hard. I haven't done it in a while, and I grant the bureaucracy has gotten meaner. But this involves you, not them.

Just decide you're going to devote a certain portion of your vacation time -- one hour, 5 hours, whatever -- to meeting your state's requirement. IINAL, and Hive please correct me, but I doubt many states require that your job search be conducted within a certain geography. And if yours does, it just means you have to leave later or come back earlier. This is the tax you pay for having no job.

Does it take time? Yes. So bring a book. To sweeten the pot, apply for a job that's a bit of a stretch -- a stretch you might not ordinarily make. Who cares?

The "vacation tax" is unfair. But hey, so are most jobs.
posted by LonnieK at 4:57 PM on August 6, 2010

Sort-of related anecdote: My wife applied for unemployment (EI in Canada), and someone from the unemployment office called her, but on my wife's voicemail she mentioned she was on vacation (she found a cheap all-inclusive in Mexico). The lady on the phone's message was as follows:

"Apparently you have enough money to go on vacation, therefore we are denying your claim. Thank you!"
posted by blue_beetle at 5:33 PM on August 6, 2010

OK here's the thing.
1.DO NOT stop any claim. The unemployment offices are so overwhelmed it will take weeks to get it straightened out.
2. He will be looking for work while away. There's this new thing called the internets. You do not have to be physically present to look for work.
3. He will be immediately available for work. Unless he is vacationing in Antarctica, they have these whiz bang thingees called Jets! they can go across the continent and also across the oceans in just a few hours. I'll betcha they even go to Alaska.
posted by Gungho at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

OK here's the thing.
1.DO NOT stop any claim. The unemployment offices are so overwhelmed it will take weeks to get it straightened out.
2. He will be looking for work while away. There's this new thing called the internets. You do not have to be physically present to look for work.
3. He will be immediately available for work. Unless he is vacationing in Antarctica, they have these whiz bang thingees called Jets! they can go across the continent and also across the oceans in just a few hours. I'll betcha they even go to Alaska.

I guess I just thought he was trying to be honest about it.
I know I wouldn't want to spend ANY vacation time looking for work, if I did it would be half-hearted at best. I also wouldn't want to cut my vacation short to fly back for a job, and I probably wouldn't.

I would feel guilty taking a vacation at all when I didn't have a job, but this is all just me, I probably shouldn't project my own traits and ethics onto anyone else, of course it can be done.
posted by Jeeb at 6:01 PM on August 6, 2010

Thanks everyone for the answers. My friend took a trip to the EDD office and learned:

"Not to send in the forms that cover the weeks away. If forms for two periods are not received they stop sending them and the claim needs to be reopened (online, and not too much hassle apparently)"
posted by Long Way To Go at 6:32 PM on August 6, 2010

If I were your friend, then I would make sure that I was not away for two periods so as to avoid reopening the claim. People who work at the unemployment office are overworked, sometimes under-qualified, and not infallible. I say this as someone currently unemployed who brought some necessary forms down to the unemployment office (the place where I was laid off is a bit of a mess and the state has no history of my wages so I had to drop off copies of my last two pay stubs) and was told that I was "all set." The forms were lost, or the guy just never bothered to enter them. Now I have to appeal, resend the items via fax, wait for some case worker to get my case (up to 2 weeks) and then another month or so before I start receiving any funds. I filed on July 1st and it could be mid September before I see any money. I'm all for your friend taking the high road, but based on my recent experience, frankly I'd be leery of believing EDD's clain that it's not too much hassle to reopen a claim. Or maybe I've just been spectacularly unlucky.
posted by kaybdc at 6:54 PM on August 6, 2010

I wouldn't be gone for longer than one claim form. And these days he can always look for jobs online while he's gone. I'd be more worried about someone forging his paperwork, though.

So...make it a short trip.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:22 PM on August 6, 2010

I am unemployed and receiving benefits but in a different state (New York).
I have not remained tethered to my apartment. I have left to visit my family, to go to a funeral, etc.
I have looked for jobs while I was in New York and while I wasn't.
I could have returned to New York for an interview within a day or two at most for an interview or to start work if perchance they didn't want to interview me and instead just wanted me to start.

Have I followed the letter of the law exactly? I think so, but I'm not sure. But I in no way feel dishonest. If your friend would drop his visit to his family in Europe to come back for an interview, I think he can feel honest too.
posted by oreofuchi at 12:02 AM on August 7, 2010

The employees that you can call and ask are generally pretty helpful with nudging you towards loopholes such as some other people mentioned.

The reality is that if your friend booked a trip, there would be a paper trail. Yes, it may come back to haunt him with them saying he was out of town and unavailable for work. This is why it is crucial to document instances where he contacted companies during that period to show he was actively looking and available.

This means getting companies to write back or saving screenshots of confirmation pages and emails and such.

If he has a laptop or access to a computer while traveling he should be fine. Unemployment can definitely be funemployment.
posted by Elminster24 at 6:36 AM on August 7, 2010

"The California unemployment form requires your signature that you were looking for work and a record of the places he applied."

This is not 100% accurate. The California form asks if you looked for work (Yes or No) and you are only required to list places you contacted if the box on the left-hand side of the form is X'd. I'm on my 3rd extension and have yet to see that box checked.

I meet the looking for work requirement by reviewing numerous job posting sites daily. Given that this is a legitimate job searching method, I wonder if that left-hand box ever gets checked any more.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:09 PM on August 8, 2010


With the Internet you can look for work any time from anywhere. If you have a digital copy of your resume available, you can even apply for jobs.

Before taking a job, there's usually an interview involved. If absolutely necessary, it could be a phone interview. With a cell phone, this could happen any time from any where.

I would do everything possible to NOT let his UE claim lapse. Getting it back on track may not be as easy as they'd like you to believe.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 2:17 PM on August 8, 2010

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