COVID-19 business information
Employment Security has programs to help Washington’s employers weather the financial impacts of COVID-19.
A lot has changed.
Federal and state government moved rapidly responding to COVID-19, and a lot has changed for workers and employers.
- More workers can qualify for more benefits over an extended period.
- Government funding will be available to assist employers.
- New government assistance is available for businesses at the federal, state, and local levels.
See which benefits are available for some of the most common scenarios.
How is Employment Security responding?
We’ve adopted a series of emergency rules to relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation, and quarantine for workers and businesses. Visit our COVID-19 rulemaking page for the latest rules and amendments, supporting documentation, and responses to public comments.
Employment Security webpages on employer taxes
Visit our webpage on annual tax rates and another on legislative proposals for reducing unemployment tax impacts on businesses.
Have things changed? We updated this page on January 19, 2021.
- Questions from employers about returning to work
- State and federal changes for:
- CARES Act
- Employers that pay unemployment insurance taxes.
- Reimbursable employers.
- People and organizations that haven’t previously paid unemployment insurance taxes. These include people who are self-employed and independent contractors as well as religious employers.
- Filing your quarterly tax reports and responding to information requests
- Getting help over the phone
- Temporary shutdowns, SharedWork, standby, and partial employment
- Unemployment and health insurance, paid leave, and FMLA
- Paying claimants while they’re getting unemployment benefits
- Permanent business closures
- Requesting relief of benefit charges
- Reimbursable employers
Please visit the Return to work page for a range of resources for workers and employers, including frequently asked questions from employers and information on situations where an employee may decline to return to work.
Federal stimulus in the CARES Act creates Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) for businesses and workers affected by COVID-19.
How will the CARES Act help me?
The CARES Act (extended through March 13, 2021) helps employers by:
- Federal funding of benefit payments: Your unemployment tax rate won’t go up because your employees are using funds from the CARES Act. The same is true if you are using Shared Work
- Relief for reimbursable employers: Half of the bill from employees using standard unemployment benefits will be reimbursed by the federal government for non-profits, governments, and other employers who have elected to be reimbursable.
Can self-employed people get benefits?
Yes, individuals who are self-employed may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Can independent contractors or self-employed get benefits?
Yes, independent contractors may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
Currently, reimbursable employers are required to pay 100 percent of benefit charges. Will these employers be eligible for any relief of benefit charges?
During the national emergency period, the federal government is offering some relief to reimbursable employers through March 13, 2021. If they have reduced hours or shut down to follow public health recommendations, the federal government will pay 50 percent of their benefit charges.
Can church workers who are laid off due to COVID-19 qualify for unemployment or other assistance?
Workers employed by a church can get unemployment benefits if the work is not for religious purposes. People whose work is primarily for religious purposes, such as priests, ministers, pastors, elders, clergyman, clergywoman, etc., are exempt from unemployment benefits. These people may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), under the federal CARES Act.
We need your tax reports—filed early or on time—more than ever before. An unprecedented number of Washingtonians are applying for unemployment and your reports are crucial to finding out if they can establish a claim. Quarterly tax reports are due.
We know you're experiencing this crisis too. We are offering more leniency to employers who can't file on time because of COVID-19. You will need to request a penalty waiver in writing.
What if I am late in filing tax reports, paying taxes, or responding on time to requests for information as a result of COVID-19?
Late reports and responses impact benefit claims. At the same time, we know COVID-19 has disrupted operations for many businesses.
- We’ve made emergency rules to offer more leniency for meeting UI deadlines.
- We may now waive penalties for responses that are late because of COVID-19.
- Please do everything you can to provide information on time.
- You will need to request a penalty waiver in writing.
How do I get help with my employees' claims?
If you need help with your employees' claims, please send us a message through web services using your eServices account or call our employer line at 877-504-5607. Have your 12-digit employer ID number ready before you call.
If I need to temporarily shut down my business due to a possible COVID-19 contamination or quarantine at the worksite, can I receive a relief of benefit charges?
You must send us a written request for relief of benefit charges.
If you reduced hours or shut down to follow public health recommendations, the federal government will pay 50 percent of their benefit charges.
What is an essential business?
Find Washington state’s list of essential businesses.
Can I get relief of benefit charges if I need to temporarily lay off employees due to a slowdown of business which is not directly linked to COVID-19?
Employers who put their employees on standby have an opportunity for some relief. The legislature approved $25 million for employers who apply for relief by 9/30/2020. This money will buy down some benefit charges incurred while employees were on standby.
Is there a difference between a temporary layoff and a furlough?
Temporary layoffs are when employers let employees go due to reductions in force. Employers do not have to rehire those employees.
Furloughs are a form of temporary layoff that may consist of a complete stoppage of work or reduced work hours for a specific period. For example, a reduction of one day a week for a year.
Note: Unemployment benefits are determined on a weekly basis. Full-time workers whose hours of work are reduced by one workday each week usually aren’t eligible for partial unemployment, usually because they earn too much in the week to be eligible.
Do my employees have to look for other work to get unemployment benefits?
During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, claimants will automatically be placed on standby. We have also made the work search requirement optional through the duration of the Governor’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order. That means while we encourage workers to look for work, it is not required. We don’t know how long this requirement will be waived. When the waiver is gone, you could request to place your employees on standby for up to 12 weeks.
Can business owners get unemployment benefits?
If you previously elected to be covered for unemployment and paid unemployment taxes, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. Under the corporate officer rules, LLCs are not covered. The best way to find out is to apply.
Those business owners not eligible for regular unemployment and are unemployed due to one or more of the COVID related reasons may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Can employees of non-profits get unemployment benefits?
Most non-profit employees are eligible for unemployment benefits. But some might be exempt. The best thing they can do is apply for benefits to find out. Non-Profit employers who have questions about unemployment can contact our Accounts Management Center via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 855-829-9243. Learn how the federal CARES Act affects reimbursable employers.
For claimants to be on SharedWork, their employers must apply to participate in the SharedWork program. It allows employers to reduce hours by as much as 50 percent, while their employees collect partial benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. We use the SharedWork chart to deduct their earnings from their weekly benefits.
- Employers must apply to participate in the program.
- SharedWork is for employees who are both:
- Permanent; and
- Paid hourly or who can calculate their salaries as an hourly wage.
- Claimants on SharedWork do not have to look for other work.
- They must be available for all work offered by their regular employer.
- Employers must continue to pay for employees’ health insurance.
- SharedWork plans last one year and have a maximum benefits payable amount.
- Employees who work fewer hours may run out of benefits more quickly.
- SharedWork participants may be eligible for benefit extensions.
Standby is a way for your employees to collect unemployment benefits without having to look for other work. Standby is available for employees who have been laid off or had their hours reduced, and for those who have a probable return to work date.
- Available for full and part-time employees. (See emergency rules).
- While on standby, workers must accept any work you offer that they can do without breaking isolation or quarantine.
- Emergency rules have increased the maximum amount of time for standby.
- It’s now available for up to 12 weeks.
How do I request standby for my employees?
During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, all claimants are automatically placed on standby.
How do I request an extension of standby?
ONLY employers can request an extension beyond the first 12 weeks. Weeks of standby during the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order do not count toward the 12 weeks of regular standby.
How do I designate my employee to be on standby for the maximum amount of time?
During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, all claimants are automatically placed on standby.
My employees were denied standby and they should have been able to get it.
During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, all claimants are automatically placed on standby. Previous denials for standby won’t affect this status and they will still be considered on standby.
How do we change original standby dates?
During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order, all claimants are automatically placed on standby. Once the order is lifted, if your employees have not yet returned to work, you should request standby at that time, but you will need a probable return-to-work date.
What do we do if our employees are on standby but we have to lay them off because we aren’t reopening?
Employers should contact us if they don’t plan to reopen reopen or won’t be bringing certain employees back to work. Once the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order ends, standby will only be available if your employees are returning to work. In that case, we can take those employees off standby.
We are an essential business. What are your availability requirements for our standby workers?
If you are an essential business and your employees are choosing not to go to work, we need to know the reason they aren’t working to know if they are eligible for benefits. You can self-report an employee’s refusal of work on your employer eServices page. Directions are provided on ESD’s Refusal of Work webpage.
Is there a specific amount of notice an employer needs to give their standby employee to come to work?
This is Labor & Industries’ area of expertise. Visit their website for more information.
This describes employees who continue to work at least 40 percent of their regular full-time hours each week.
- When they apply for benefits, they should choose “currently working reduced hours (partially employed).”
- They must report any hours and earnings for each week they claim benefits.
- We use this standard chart to deduct their earnings from their weekly benefits.
To be considered partially employed, all of the following must apply. Your employees:
- Were originally hired as full-time employees.
- Work at least 40 percent of their regular full-time hours during the period of reduction (16 hours) each week.
- Expect to return to their employer full-time within four months.
If partially employed claimants file a weekly claim and report less than 16 hours, they may need to search for work, depending on current rules.
How does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) affect Paid Sick Leave (PSL)?
Effective 4/1/20 through 12/31/20, FFCRA provides up to two weeks of payment for employees who qualify. PSL is not available for layoffs due to lack of work. It is designed for employees who are unable to work for COVID-19 related reasons, like the Governor’s order to stay at home. If you can’t offer your employees work due to a lack of business, they can’t get PSL.
- As of 3/31/20, claimants may receive PSL and still qualify for unemployment benefits during weeks that their hours or pay have been reduced if they meet the definition of “unemployed.” Claimants must report all hours paid, whether they were worked or taken as leave, on each weekly claim.
- Full time employees can receive up to 80 hours of PSL.
- To calculate available PSL for part-time employees, visit U.S. Department of Labor’s website.
- PSL is not retroactive.
I want to continue paying for my employees’ health insurance while they’re laid off. Can they still claim unemployment?
If you wish to continue to pay for your employees’ health insurance, that would not affect their ability to receive unemployment benefits. Please go to the state Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) website for more information, or contact your insurance carrier for more info about who is eligible to participate in your health plan.
Are claimants eligible for unemployment benefits if they’re receiving paid sick leave?
Employees receiving paid sick leave must report it on their weekly claim. It is deducted from their weekly benefits and they may be eligible for partial benefits.
Am I required to pay my employees their accrued sick time if they aren’t sick?
That is Labor & Industries’ area of expertise. Check out their FAQs.
Are claimants eligible for benefits if they’re using other paid leave, like vacation?
Paid time off counts as earnings, but they may still be eligible for a partial benefit.
- They should apply for benefits and file a weekly claim to find out if they’re eligible.
- When they file, they must report the hours and earnings from any paid time off or work.
- Those earnings are deducted from their weekly benefit amount. See the standard UI or the SharedWork deduction charts.
Can I require employees to use all their paid leave before applying for unemployment because of a temporary shutdown?
While it is preferred, there’s nothing that requires employees to use up their paid leave before filing for unemployment. If employees cash out their accrued leave, they should not report it because it can’t be deducted from their weekly benefit. However, if it is assignable to a specific week that they claim benefits, they must report it on that week’s claim.
Can I pay my employees in a way that supplements their benefits?
Claimants file for benefits weekly and must report any payment they receive from their employer(s). That includes sick leave, paid time off, vacation, and other supplemental payments. Those payments are deducted from claimants’ weekly benefit amount. See the standard UI or the SharedWork deduction charts.
Can I pay the difference between unemployment benefits and my employees’ wages?
You could, but it probably won't work out like you intend. Any payments your employees get from you are deducted from their weekly benefit. See the standard UI or the SharedWork deduction charts.
What happens if I pay my employees severance pay before they file their claim for unemployment?
If you pay the severance to your employees before they file their claim and it doesn’t apply to any weeks they file for benefits, it will not affect their unemployment benefits.
Will the federal stimulus checks be deducted from claimants’ weekly benefit amounts?
No. These checks don’t come from an employer, so they’re not reportable wages.
What will happen to my employees if I go out of business due to impacts from COVID-19?
If you lay off employees due to a permanent closure, they can apply for unemployment benefits. We determine eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Layoff assistance may be available for businesses facing major layoffs. Learn more.
You must send us a written request for relief of benefit charges.
You can send it online or via fax or mail.
- Online via eServices
- Fax: 800-301-1796
ESD—Experience Rating/Benefit Charging Unit
PO Box 9046
Olympia, WA 98507-9046
We need to get your request no later than 30 days after we first mailed your Benefit Charging Notice.
We’re offering some leniency for requests received after the 30-day period.
- Employers must establish good cause for not sending their request on time.
- Through emergency rules, we’ve added to the list of reasons that qualify as good cause.
- Good cause now includes delays due to COVID-19.
Unemployment Insurance Reimbursable Employer FAQs
Q. What is a reimbursable employer for the purposes of unemployment insurance?
A. Some nonprofit organizations, states and political subdivisions of the state, and Indian tribes may qualify as reimbursable employers which reimburse the Employment Security Department for unemployment benefits actually paid to separated employees instead of paying unemployment taxes.
Q. How are reimbursable employers billed for unemployment benefits paid to their employees?
A. Reimbursable employers are billed the quarter after unemployment benefits are paid. Accordingly, benefits paid January through March were billed to reimbursable employers in April and are due by May 31.
Q. How does the CARES Act provide temporary relief to reimbursable employers?
A. The CARES Act provides payment to states to relieve reimbursable employers of 50 percent of the costs they incur through March 13, 2021 to pay unemployment benefits.
Q. How is the CARES Act provision providing 50 percent reimbursement for unemployment benefit charges to reimbursable employers being implemented?
A. Per U.S. Department of Labor guidance, the Employment Security Department must receive payment for 100 percent of the benefit charges owed by a reimbursable employer to then receive the 50 percent reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Labor to then provide the employer.
Q. How does the Protecting Nonprofits from Catastrophic Cash Flow Strain Act of 2020 (Protecting Nonprofits Act) improve implementation of the 50 percent reimbursement?
A. The Protecting Nonprofits Act provides flexibility to States so that reimbursable employers do not have to pay the full cost of benefits upfront to then receive relief.
Q. What can reimbursable employers do now to seek relief for unemployment benefit charges if they are unable to make a full payment to the Employment Security Department?
A. To explore potential repayment plans, reimbursable employers who are unable to pay their bills in full should contact the Employment Security Department via email at ESCTAX@ESD.WA.GOV.
Aid programs and information resources
Business.wa.gov: Small Business Guidance
Federal and national
- US Department of Labor
- US Chamber of Commerce: Small business guide, workplace tips and more.
- US Small Business Administration: Disaster loans, debt relief, and more.