Can Misclassified Workers Apply For Unemployment in California?

misclassified worker attorney

Yes. California has relaxed qualification guidelines so that more people who are out of work can benefit, including independent contractors, business owners and the self-employed. The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program started taking applications at the end of April and will provide payments for these individuals.

One of the biggest reasons unscrupulous employers try to misclassify workers as independent contractors is so they can pay out less in taxes and benefits. Because of this, independent contractors are not covered by the same workplace protections that employees are, including unemployment, under typical circumstances. However, now that the COVID-19 crisis has put many workers out of work temporarily, the need for unemployment benefits is greater than ever and many misclassified workers need to know if they are entitled to benefits under expanded benefits qualifications.

Applying for unemployment benefits could trigger an investigation of the employer that has misclassified the worker and could result in steep penalties. Misclassified workers are being encouraged to apply for benefits based on their rightful employee status for now.

In addition to state expansions, the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, enacted on March 27, provides extra unemployment funds for affected workers, up to $600 per week on top of regular unemployment payments. Unemployment is calculated based on the amount of the applicant’s regular wages, from between $40 to $450 per week. This is only a percentage of previous income, though, and the $600 payment provided by the CARES Act seeks to make up some of that lost income.

The quickest way to apply for unemployment benefits in California is online. Go to to access the application or mail/fax a paper application to the Employment Development Department. Phone applications are available too but not recommended as extremely long wait times are common.