Volunteering your time at a nonprofit organization is a wonderful thing to do, but you are not an employee. If you are not an employee of the nonprofit, you are not entitled to unemployment compensation if you no longer volunteer your time for the nonprofit organization. However, if you are an employee of the nonprofit organization and you are fired, you might be entitled to unemployment compensation. The line is very fine in this situation, which means there are various answers to specific parts of this question.
If you are a volunteer, you do not receive compensation when you spend time with the nonprofit. You are not paid for the work you do. You do this work because you enjoy the time you spend working on this project, and it’s probably a passion of yours to work for this specific nonprofit organization. If you are wondering if unemployment is an option for you, ask yourself if you get paid to work for this nonprofit.
If you collect a paycheck, you are an employee of the nonprofit. It doesn’t matter how many hours per week you work, you are an employee of the company. However, you could be a contractor who is not an official employee. For example, if you do work for the nonprofit and you are classified as a contractor rather than an employee, you do not get to collect unemployment benefits if you are asked not to provide any more work to the company.
If you are a volunteer for a nonprofit agency, you cannot be fired. You can be asked not to come back if you violate the rules volunteers are required to follow, but you cannot be fired. If you are fired from the nonprofit where you collected a paycheck because you are an employee, you might be able to collect unemployment.
Additionally, if you were a paid employee you must ask yourself if you were fired, or if you quit your job because they threatened to fire you, or you simply don’t want to work there anymore. If you quit your job with the nonprofit, you are ineligible to collect unemployment compensation. It’s only available to people who were let go or fired, and it’s not available to anyone who chose not to go back to work for the nonprofit. Unfortunately, this is the rule in almost every state. While each state has its own set of specific unemployment laws and requirements, the result of quitting is one of the universal rules shared in every state.
Now, there is one thing that might change the game for you a little. If you worked for a nonprofit as a paid employee who does qualify for unemployment after being fired, becoming a volunteer for another company could cause you to lose out on your unemployment benefits. In other words, you might be fired from a nonprofit and be able to collect your unemployment check, but volunteering for the same nonprofit or another might disqualify you from receiving your unemployment.
One of the major stipulations for receiving unemployment is that you are actively looking for another job. You were fired from a job unexpectedly, and you are entitled to unemployment benefits to keep you on your feet while you look for another job. If you are not actively looking for a new job, you can become disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits.
The general rule in most states is that you must be able to prove you are spending your time actively looking for a new job following being fired. The rules differ in every state, but the general rule is you must be able to prove this by logging in time at career fairs and centers, by meeting with advisors who can help you with your career search, and by submitting resumes and applications and attending interviews. The state might require you to provide proof of this in the meantime, and you could lose your benefits if you volunteer your time with another nonprofit.
Anything that makes it seem you have ample free time and you’re not looking for a job in that free time is frowned upon. If you’re fired from a nonprofit and you decide you want to volunteer, you must be aware this could disqualify you from receiving benefits.
If you’re fired from a nonprofit but volunteering is close to your heart, you can volunteer. However, you must be able to prove you are consistently and actively looking for a new job per state rules. You might be able to show that your volunteer work is a type of internship that might lead to a paid position. You might volunteer only at night when it’s less likely you need to go to job fairs, interviews, and other job-related situations. If you spend all day looking for jobs and a few hours at night volunteering at the hospital or food pantry, you might not be disqualified from receiving unemployment.
If you are not sure you’re being fairly treated by not receiving unemployment benefits from the state, contact an attorney. You might be able to file a motion to overturn the decision to take away your unemployment benefits and/or not provide them in the first place. Every situation is unique, and there is nothing you can do to change the way the state rules without appealing the decision.
While it doesn’t look good that you have time to volunteer but you cannot get a job, you do have a right to use some of your time being unemployed to live your life. You won’t be punished for attending your children’s sports games or dance recitals or showing up for a parent/teacher conference at their school. You shouldn’t be disqualified from spending some of your time volunteering and helping those in need.
If you are spending the bulk of your time searching for a new job, training for new positions, or even finishing up a trade or diploma you weren’t too far away from receiving to begin with, you can volunteer. If you’re unable to prove you are spending your time looking for jobs and volunteering only in your free time, it complicates the situation. Call an attorney and find out what you can do to seek unemployment benefits while still fulfilling your need to help others when you have the time. There is nothing wrong with doing both when you can.