Funemployment Tales: What Jobless Benefits Can Freelancers Get?

PA's unemployment department might not even know

A couple weeks ago we asked readers to send in their stories of being unemployed—stories on the lighter side. Truth is, though, it’s really hard to be out of work and sometimes dealing with the red tape isn’t that hilarious. That’s how reader Laura L. felt when she was out of work and was offered a freelance position, of which the folks at unemployment disapprove. (They probably disapprove of the morning-after pill too. We’ll call for comment and get back to you.) Like me, Laura had to fill out a questionnaire that asked impossible hypothetical questions bordering on existential. Here’s her story:

I’ll preface this by telling you that I am now employed. Despite that, I still have a hard time finding humor in the runaround that is the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation system.

I was let go in March and literally the next week was offered a 1099 position. That’s good, right? Of course like all freelance-type jobs go, it ended. And when I tried to collect the fully unemployed benefits, it started badly and ended horribly. I was sent all the stuff—the letter, the debit card, etc. And on the day when the money was supposed to show, it didn’t. Four calls of 20 minutes each before I found out that I’d have to fight for this. And that questionnaire was in fact ridiculous! It was impossible to know how to answer. I was sweating for fear that I sounded sketchy by asking, “Do you mean what do I think an employer would say or what do I know now?”

The morning of my hearing I was driving to the court (it’s probably just an office) and got a call from someone who cancelled my hearing. It took four more calls (again, 20 minutes each) to find out that the Erie service center recalled my file. At first no one could tell me why—actually, their first response was, “No we didn’t.” Finally someone asked me to fax my invoices for the freelance job, which they somehow used against me to deny me a second time. But of course I could get another hearing!

That day broke me, figuratively and literally. I was so frustrated and angry that I knew it would be healthier to let it go. Then the next day I received the dreaded letter from the mortgage company. I’ve headed off financial ruin, but am still bitter. And I want my $6,000.

Thanks to Laura for sharing that incredibly aggravating chapter in her life. It amazes me how many times you speak with someone on the phone who tells you they didn’t mess up—and then you find out later that they did. The intervening hours are spent questioning your sanity and retracing your steps to the mailbox.

As for my progress, I had a phone interview scheduled this week. It was supposed to be on Thursday between 2 and 5. For some reason, I found it necessary to sit on my couch very quietly with my hands folded waiting for the call. It never came. The wave of sadness that came over me afterward was completely irrational. I thought it was a personal rejection. Then, as though I were going through stages of grief, I got pissed off. Then I got assertive. I sent an email saying, “Are you still interested in talking to me?”

The interview was rescheduled for the next day, and I suppose it went okay, though I abhor those standard interview questions. The first one was: “Is there anything you don’t want to do in a job?” I said, “Advanced calculus,” though to be fair, I can’t do basic calculus either. Another question was something akin to: “Did you ever have a situation where you didn’t have enough information to complete a project?” Er, yes, every day?

If I get called back for that interview, there are then two follow-up interviews. The funny thing is, I don’t even know what company it is; the whole process is blind. I just hope it’s not big tobacco.

What about you guys? Please, send in more stories. I love hearing from you: [email protected]