Unemployment Laws for Actors

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Unemployed actors can get help from their unions.
Unemployed actors can get help from their unions. (Image: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The words "unemployed" and "actor" might seem like synonyms, especially when one is starting out in the acting field. Nevertheless, despite that harsh reality of nascent acting careers, unions can help unemployed actors obtain unemployment checks. Each acting union has different procedures and laws on how to get this help until employment offers become plentiful again.

Screen Actor's Guild Unemployment

The Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) has guidelines available on how to apply for unemployment in California if you’re an actor there who can’t find work. This is through the State of California Employment Development Division, or EDD. SAG’s guide on unemployment says that if you’ve had most of your income in California for the last 18 months, you can fill out an application for unemployment directly on the EDD website. But if, as an actor, you’ve worked in multiple states, you have to either apply in person or by phone. When filling out the application form, you need to indicate SAG as the union representing you.

Earnings and Base Period

SAG’s FAQ on EDD unemployment benefits says that you have to have at least $1,300 in earnings during one quarter of your base period. The base period is the tabulated year before the time you filed for unemployment. For instance, if you filed in May, June or July, the base period would be from January to December of the previous year. A periodic eligibility review interview will be conducted to determine if you’ve been looking for work as an actor. Casting directors and other acting sources you have may be contacted to determine the reasons why you haven’t received work.

Unemployment for Child Actors

A child actor can also obtain unemployment benefits through the EDD, though the parents have to prove that the child belongs to an acting union. If she's only worked one acting job, the EDD may turn the child down for unemployment benefits. During the interview process, the guardians of the child actor should also provide documentation that proves her ability to obtain unemployment. In some cases, it’s a good idea if they bring their agent with them to make their case.

Actor's Equity Unemployment

Actor’s Equity is another well-known actor’s union that helps represent stage actors in receiving unemployment. An FAQ page through Actor’s Equity on unemployment points out that laws vary by state, so requirements will also vary depending on where you’re working as an actor. The site points out that if you work in various states, you have to file your claim in the state where your employer resides. After applying, you generally have to wait about a week to obtain your benefits in most states.

Residuals and Unemployment

If you suddenly receive residuals from past acting jobs while receiving your unemployment benefits, you don’t have to report them as income. However, Actor’s Equity says that if you have residuals coming in while first applying for unemployment benefits, the residuals will need to be reported as part of your past and current income.

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