Who Is Covered By Unemployment Insurance?

Covered Employees

Almost every employer in Massachusetts is required to take part in the unemployment insurance program, which covers almost every worker. The Massachusetts UI law (G.L. c. 151A) covers all employees within the Commonwealth, with the exception of those types of employees listed in G.L. c. 151A, §§ 6, 6A (such as employees of churches, trainees at certain nonprofit organizations, work-study jobholders at a college or university, certain municipal, state, and federal employees, real estate brokers or salespeople paid solely by commission, prison inmates, certain agricultural laborers, independent contractors (as determined by DUA and, most recently election workers). St. 2014, c. 144, § 41 amending G.L. c. 151A, § 6A. Although employees serving on a temporary basis in case of fire, snow or other emergencies are exempt under G.L. c. 151A, § 6A (5), the Board held that was not the case for an on-call part-time municipal snow-plow driver who was routinely called on to handle heavy snowfalls. BR-0015 1081 68 (8/26/16) (Key).

Although DUA takes the position that inmates participating in work release programs involving employment outside the prison walls are not eligible for UI when the job ends, see UIPP #2016.03, Proper Procedure for Processing UI Claims Filed by Former Work Release Inmates (3/2/16), at least one District Court has ruled otherwise. Dawson v. Cunningham, et al., Boston Municipal Court, Civil Action No. 1501 CV 2126, (McKenna, J.)(8/9/16) (reversing the Board decision on which DUA relied in UIPP #2016.03).

UI legislation enacted in 2014 made it significantly more difficult and cumbersome for farmworkers to obtain UI.  Farms are exempted from providing UI coverage if they pay their workers $40,000 or less during a calendar quarter, up from $20,000 per quarter.  St. 2014, c. 144, §§ 42 – 44, amending G.L. c. 151A, § 8A. This change also means that a new determination about a farmworker's UI eligibility must to be made every quarter.

Seasonal workers are excluded from collecting UI based those wages earned during seasonal employment of 20 weeks or less. St. 2014, c. 144, §§ 39, 61 amending G.L. c.  151A, §§ 1, 24A430 CMR 12.03; AH c. 11, § 4.

Employee, not Independent Contractor

The UI law carries a strong presumption that a claimant is an employee, and not an independent contractor. Workers are presumed to be employees, and the burden
of proof is on the employer to demonstrate to DUA that their workers are independent contractors who should be ineligible for UI. (See Question 39 for the test that DUA employs to distinguish an independent contractor from an employee.)