Worth getting up a little early for: today I got a call from DES telling me that I would finally be getting my unemployment check for the week of January 5. (I'll have to take his word for it since I can't log into the website this morning, but...well, if that keeps up I guess I'll have more to tell later.)
To recap: I've been doing some freelance work which paid no money upfront and which will pay an unpredictable amount of royalties in the future. I asked how to report this on my weekly unemployment claim, and a nice but incorrect lady told me on the phone that I should say Yes I worked and my earnings for the week were $0.00. This resulted in DES paying me nothing for the week, and I've spent most of the month trying to get it corrected -- I've posted about it previously on 01-09 and 01-17.
Well, after the failed phone call of the 17th, I submitted an E-Mail asking for help. A week later, I got a call back. I missed it; I noticed it late the next day and, since it was Friday by then, I didn't get a chance to call back (at last! a phone number for a real person!) until yesterday.
It wasn't what you'd call a productive conversation. We talked in circles; she said I should estimate my earnings and correct them later if the estimate was wrong, I said there was no way for a reliable estimate, she said I should just estimate $240 (a week's unemployment pay) then, I pointed out that well then I'd be SOL if the thing never made that much money, this repeated for awhile until she offered to put me through to her supervisor. I got his voicemail and left a message.
And he got back to me this morning. He told me that, while the lady I'd talked to yesterday was right for the general case (like if, say, I'd built some furniture with intent to sell it), in rare cases like mine where there's no reliable estimate, I shouldn't report the work when I do it, I should only report it when I get the income from it. Which, you know, I'd figured out three weeks ago, but I guess it's nice to get it from an official source after only two letters, two E-Mails, and seven phone calls.
He added -- and I already knew this, too, but it bears mentioning in case any other poor soul winds up in the same predicament -- that the important thing is to make sure I keep looking for work and logging my search, even if I'm working on a freelance job in the meantime.
So, if you're in Arizona and face the same issue I did -- producing work on a royalties-only basis -- that's the official response from DES: don't report the initial work, report the money as it comes in, and don't stop looking for other work while you're doing it.
I can't vouch for other states. If you're not in Arizona...well, typically I'd say "You should ask your state's DES," but to be perfectly honest asking is what got me into this mess in the first damn place. So if I were offering a recommendation, it'd be do it the same way: keep looking for a day job, don't report the royalty gig until the money comes in. (Obviously if you're getting money upfront, as most people working for royalties do, do report that; I'm only speaking of cases where you get just royalties with no stipend/advance/etc.) If it turns out that's not the way it works in your state, I think you're better off apologizing and correcting it later.
It should go without saying that this isn't legal advice, it's advice from an out-of-work computer scientist who just spent most of a month trying to get an unemployment check. Like most of what's on this site, it's worth exactly what you paid for it.