How to Apply for California Unemployment as a Gig Worker (aka Covid-19 Stimulus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)

How to File for California Unemployment as a Gig Worker (aka Covid-19 Stimulus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)

UPDATE (APRIL, 17) — It looks like the State of California Employment Development Department (EDD) has finally created a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) website portal specific to gig workers / independent contractors!

If you’re a self-employed / independent contractor, you can apply for PUA on Tuesday, April 28. According to Julie A. Su, California Labor Secretary, “this new system will be able to pay individuals within 24 to 48 hours of their application.”

You can find all the information you need, including benefit payments here. To get an estimate of how much PUA money you will receive each week, use this calculator.


If you’re looking to file for unemployment, aka Covid-19 Stimulus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, as a gig worker or independent contractor in the State of California, you have come to the right place. We recently created a guide for ‘Gig workers eligible for covid-19 unemployment benefits and rebate as part of $2 trillion Senate stimulus bill’ and now have gone through the actual process of applying for unemployment benefits as a gig worker.

Yes. You CAN apply for unemployment benefits as a gig worker / independent contractor. Is it easy? F*ck no. It’s pretty confusing and if you’re like me, I have no patience for work-arounds and any digital platform that is not user-friendly; but I got through it! Read on!

How To Apply For Covid-19 Unemployment as a Gig Worker in California

First off, make sure you have all your necessary items in front of you. This includes stuff like social security, driver’s license, etc. Be aware that the EDD unemployment portal times out every 30 minutes. So don’t multi-task during this time and be sure to pay attention. That last thing you want is to lose all your work. There is also a “save draft” option, however it can be shitty. I hit “save draft” once and lost a full page of data input.

1. Register for a new account here. If you have an existing State of California Employment Development Department (EDD), just login with your account info.

2. Once you register you will need to verify your email. So check your email asap.

3. Once verified, you will be prompted to return to the Benefit Programs Online and login with your new account. Once logged in you will see the screenshot below.

How to File for California Unemployment as a Gig Worker

4. Select ‘UI Online

5. Select ‘File A New Claim‘. Please note, there are certain hours of the day where you can file for a new claim. For example, Tuesday – Friday 2 a.m. – 10 p.m.. See the screenshot below for hours.

6. You will then arrive at the ‘Unemployment Insurance Claim Filing Instructions‘. This will run you through a series of questions you need to answer.

When filing for your UI claim, you will be asked for your last employer.

If you own your business or are self-employed, you should list yourself as your last employer. If you are an independent contractor, you should list yourself as your last employer.


7. When you hit the ‘Last Employer Information‘ section, under question #3 be sure to select ‘Related to the coronavirus (COVID-19)’ as your separation explanation. See screenshot below.

8. When you arrive at the Disaster Information section, select “other” from the drop down menu and be sure to “Explain briefly how the disaster affected your ability to continue or begin your self-employment.”

From there on, you continue to answer the questions that are served to you.

It’s a shame that the State of California Employment Development Department has not set up a portal specific to unemployment for gig workers and independent contractors. The process can get pretty confusing since we are technically applying for unemployment under w2 standards. The questions definitely reflect that. Just be sure to answer them to your best judgement and remember to list yourself as the last employer.

What’s Next?

You wait. Check your email for updates from the EDD and stay in tune with your phone! Turn that ringer on. The EDD might call you for an interview and or further detials.

Also, it doesn’t hurt to follow up, although you may go through severe wait times if you’re calling the EDD. Or you just might get lucky. I recently called and only waited about 1 minute.

Also: Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”)

If you’re an independent contractor, self-employed and / or small business, you can apply for Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”). These loans are forgivable loans to small businesses that pay their employees during the COVID-19 crisis. So if you’re continuing to pay your employees, you can received PPP.

When can I apply for PPP? Where can I apply for PPP?

You can find the answers to all your Paycheck Protection Program questions here. Thank you Liz is All Biz for this useful info about PPP.

For more information about Unemployment as a gig worker (aka Covid-19 Stimulus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) in the State of California, visit the FAQs page.

You can also call the State of California Employment Development Department (EDD) at 916-654-6288. I called them on a Monday at 2:55pm and didn’t have to wait more than a minute to speak with a representative. From my experience, the best times to call busy places are usually 2:30pm-4:30pm.

On The Bright Side …

Gig workers / independent contractors in the State of California are pretty lucky right now to even have the option to apply for unemployment due to the coronavirus / covid-19 pandemic. Some other states, especially the Republican-controlled states, really have it bad. Some gig workers in the U.S. don’t even have the option to apply for unemployment just yet. As confusing as it is, California is at least making the option possible.

25 thoughts on “How to Apply for California Unemployment as a Gig Worker (aka Covid-19 Stimulus Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)

  1. Sandra Burciaga Olinger Post author

    If you can’t prove your earnings (i.e. tax returns), than you can’t get free government money. Seems pretty normal to me. Hope you submitted your tax returns to you can get PUA benefits.

  2. brenda kaye foster

    I am self employed gig workerand recently moved to California from LasVegas so my last work was in vegas I couldnt return due to covid .The site made me fill out a paper form that was very specific about wages and employer like it wasnt for gig workers . should i reapply

  3. ric

    OK, so they set up this portal for gig workers of which I am one (according to MY definition of what a “gig” worker is) I put that I roughly made around 30k mostly repairing and fixing computers and removing viruses from them). I did the math and I did earn over 30K doing this and other odd jobs… NOW THEY WANT ME TO PROVE IT! If I don’t provide them with some kind of proof by the 10 of Dec. then they will drop my weekly benefit to 167 a week and a threat of having to pay the rest back… what kind of crap is this… not cool… can anyone help?

  4. Doug Kelimoff

    IF I applied, and got $167 dollars per week, I would feel extremely guilty, because I have been lucky to get one gig per month, max $50 , when I DID get any gigs ? The proof-of-wages-paid standard seems to be pretty lax. Thanks

  5. Cam

    THIS IS WRONG. When you are applying as an independent contractor or self-employed, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LIST YOUR PAST EMPLOYMENT HISTORY. PLEASE READ THE INSTRUCTIONS ON THE TOP before you answer.

  6. Mary E Cox

    Hi, Thanks for the info, but I logged in and pressed apply for claim and the first thing that comes up is a questionnaire. Y/N answers
    question 1 Have you worked outside of the state within the last 18 mos. (I am a independent contractor who work at conferences and incentive programs all over the US???
    question 2 Asking if I received various form from my employer????

    I am a little hesitant to file that out and get rejected for PUA
    Seems very confusing
    P.S. I went on site yesterday 4/28 when they said PUA would be availabel
    can you help

  7. jules ford

    the EDD can now process proper PUA claims.
    From their instructions:
    If you do not have employee wages for the past 18 months (self-employed or an independent contractor), you may apply for PUA on April 28 or after. You do NOT need to cancel your existing UI claim. You do NOT need to call EDD about the prior UI claim you filed where you may have received either a notice from EDD indicating a $0 award amount, or a notice of disqualification.

  8. Mikala

    I’m confused…do I still list myself as the last employer? It says this:
    SELF-EMPLOYED or INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: Self-employment or independent contractor cannot be listed as last employer. Provide your last W-2 employer.

    My last W-2 job was almost a year ago which I quit voluntarily but have been working part-time as a contract worker for the last few months. Please help!!!

  9. Lisa

    If you qualify for ppp loan that is forgivable, can you still apply for PUA as independent contractor?

  10. Sandra Burciaga Olinger Post author

    I’m not sure. But you’re not alone! This happens to me as well and a few other of my friends. I have submitted a question through the UI portal, but have yet to hear back. We all plan in applying (again) on April 28 when the PUA postal is available.

  11. Jennifer Aos

    I am a self-employed freelancer and applied for Unemployment at the end of March. I received a letter that says I am qualified for zero dollars and they did not factor in the quarterly earnings I reported according to the paperwork. I asked them about this 2 weeks ago through the online portal but have not heard back yet.

    Should I start over and apply on 4/27 when the new portal is open? Or will they transfer my old data automatically. I don’t want to cause confusion with 2 applications.

  12. Ana

    It looks like the PUA application process doesn’t open up until 4/28. Does anyone know what the “net income” for the prior year of business needs to be in order to qualify? If we even have to show a profit?

  13. Mark Levy

    I am in the same position as Linda above, in that I am an independent contractor who receives 1099’s. As a gig musician for my entire adult life, I am self-employed, 69, and not willing to train or look for other work. Wull this hamper my ability to collect?

  14. Zach Paterson

    My name is Zach I am a freelance independent academic writer in California and was wondering if anyone has been approved by using this method. As EDD says they are working ‘around the clock’ to put a new application process in place for people like us.

    I started following your method you listed on this page but after reading some articles I got worried that applying and getting denied since I paid no taxes given I made only 5k this year, would result in further delay of my PUA benefits once that system is situated.

    Can you please let me know if anyone has been approved this way and is a freelance/gig worker or self-employed.

    Thank you

  15. Linda

    What was not answered is if you have to look for work during this time. I am 71 and own my own business, but I told them I was in the vulnerable population and on lockdown as were my customers so I was not going to look for work. I also told them that I was returning to my business when the lockdown was lifted for us older folks. EDC has told me that you have to say you are looking for work, but that makes no sense in my case.
    Also, I avoided all the drama of filling it out online and printed the form so I could take my time and put explanations on the form. I filed 3/26, but have heard nothing back yet.

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  17. BP

    What if you did rover and airbnb? Should you just add yourself or should you list them to show you were a gig worker?

  18. Sandra Burciaga Olinger Post author

    I’m not sure about that one. Your best bet would be to call EDD. Try to call them after 3pm. I didn’t have to wait for more than 1 minute when I called them at 2:55pm on a Monday. Good luck!

  19. Jules Ford

    Amazingly helpful advice. As a self-employed small business owner I was sure I was SOL. This really put the steps in order for me and I’m very grateful for the help! Please keep safe and healthy!

  20. Kim McClain

    I should add that my employer is allowing me to continue working from home, so I will continue to work from home for that portion of my income. The contracting portion of my income is the portion that I have lost due to the pandemic – that self employed income is why I am hoping I can apply for benefits.

  21. Kim McClain

    Thank you for this detailed explanation! I am hitting a roadblock and thought I would leave a comment in case you have any spare time to advise me. For some context, I work part time as a contractor and part time as an employee.

    I followed the opening steps and am now seeing a screen that says “SELF-EMPLOYED or INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR: Self-employment or independent contractor cannot be listed as last employer. Provide your last W-2 employer.” The system has my employer listed on the list of employers.

    Do you know if the fact that I also work as an employee will exclude me from seeking benefits to help me cover my lost contractor work?

  22. Ginger Grant

    I read several articles explaining that self-employed people could claim benefits, but the website was extremely confusing. This article was sooooo helpful! Thank you!

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