COVID-19 frequently asked questions - Workers

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This Q&A is updated frequently. Check back for the latest information.

COVID-19 Scenarios and Benefits Guide

We have created a guide to help you navigate the available services and benefits from the State of Washington.

Download Guide

Unemployment eligibility checker

If you're out of work, and not sure if you're eligible for unemployment benefits, please use the eligibility checker for information about your possible eligibility.

Download checker

CARES ACT (Federal stimulus)

Information about the recently passed CARES ACT (Federal stimulus) has been posted to the main COVID-19 Page.

Questions from workers about returning to work

Q: What is the difference between regular unemployment and expanded benefits under the federal CARES Act?
A: Regular unemployment: Regular weekly unemployment benefits provide you with temporary income when you lose your job through no fault of your own. To qualify for regular unemployment benefits you must be able and available for work and accept any suitable work you are offered. If you refuse to return to work without good cause or because you are getting paid more on unemployment than your usual job, you will be denied benefits.

Expanded benefits: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) is a separate benefit program to cover many people who do not qualify for regular unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, including self-employed individuals, independent contractors and part-time workers (with fewer than 680 hours) and others affected by COVID-19. Use our eligibility checker to learn more.

Q. My employer has re-opened for business and asked me to return. Can I still collect unemployment if I refuse?
A: While unemployment claims are considered on a case-by-case basis each week, you will likely be denied regular unemployment benefits if you refuse to return to work, unless you have good cause reason for doing so.

If you cannot telework for pay during the pandemic, good cause can include:
• Being at higher risk for severe COVID-19 related illness as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
• Living in a household with a person at high risk
• Providing direct care for a high-risk person
• Being asked to work at a worksite that does not follow guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, or Washington Department of Health without telework as an option.

You may be eligible for expanded benefits if you have other reasons you can’t return to work during COVID-19 (see question below).

Q. My employer is open for business, I was offered to return to work, and I did not return to work and was denied state unemployment benefits. Will I qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
A: 
If you are denied regular unemployment benefits because you are not available for work, but the reason you are unavailable for work is because you are directly impacted by COVID-19, you may be eligible for PUA. For example, you have to care for a child in your household that is unable to attend school or daycare because it has been closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Use our eligibility checker to see if you may be eligible for PUA.


Q. What is considered “suitable” work offered by a previous or new employer?
A: Suitable work is employment in an occupation that is in line with your prior work experience, education, or training, and that you can physically and mentally do. Suitable work does not include work that would cause you to violate a request by a medical professional or order from a public health official to isolate or quarantine.

Q. My “essential” employer is open for business, but I do not feel the worksite is safe. Am I eligible for regular unemployment or PUA benefits?
A: Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, but this is not a simple case and may require us to do fact finding with both you and your employer. If you are working at a worksite that does not follow guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, or the Washington state Department of Health, and you are unable to telework, you’ll likely be eligible for unemployment benefits.

If fact finding shows that you refused work for an employer maintaining a worksite that does meet guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, or Washington State Department of Health, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits, unless you have another good-cause reason to refuse work, such as you are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, or you are caring for or in the same household as someone who is at high-risk. For more information, please see the state’s Workplace Safety Guidance.

Q. My “non-essential” employer received a federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan or is otherwise offering a return to employment and/or to keep me on the payroll even as I conduct little or no work from home. Can I decline the offer and earnings while continuing to collect unemployment benefits?
A: When you submit your weekly unemployment claims, you must truthfully attest as to whether an employer provided an offer to return to work (including being put back on their payroll). If you are offered employment or pay from a non-essential business that involves working from home (and you can telework) then you must accept that offer OR be eligible for expanded benefits and apply for that (PUA).

You must report wages earned each week you file a claim so we can determine your weekly benefit. While the weekly minimum unemployment benefit amount is $188 and maximum is $790, earnings in any given week may be high enough so that you are no longer eligible for a weekly benefit amount (including the extra $600 per week through July). This will appear on your weekly claim as “eligible for $0” that week.

Submitting false information is fraud and subject to penalty, including criminal prosecution.

Q. I have been receiving weekly unemployment benefits, my employer has requested that I return to work, I refused this request, and I am waiting on the Employment Security Department to determine whether I still qualify for state unemployment benefits or PUA. Can I continue to receive unemployment benefits?
A: If you continue to file weekly claims then we will continue to pay weekly benefits to you while we determine if you are eligible for regular unemployment benefits or PUA. This is called “conditional payment” and we may collect any overpayments from you if it is later determined you were not eligible for the benefits received.

Q. What are the consequences if I do not truthfully report when I am able and available for work, when I refuse an offer of work or when I receive earnings?
A: You must answer truthfully all questions on your application and weekly claims. Breaking the rules, such as intentionally failing to report correct work and earnings or the reason for separation, can result in a denial of benefits, overpayments and penalties we will collect from you. Such actions may even result in criminal prosecution. Your employer is also notified when you collect unemployment and can contest your eligibility for the benefits or report you if you refused an offer of work and did not report it to us.

Fraud is knowingly withholding information about a claim. If you refuse an offer of work and fail to report that you refused an offer of work on your weekly claims, you may be denied benefits and assessed an additional penalty for fraud.
 


I have been exposed to COVID-19

Q.  What if I need to take time off work because I contract COVID-19? 
A
.  The first and best option for employees who need to miss work due to illness is to use their employer-paid time off. Labor and Industries has information about Paid Sick Leave. When this leave is not available, Paid Family and Medical Leave and federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance may be available to help.

Q.  What if I am asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID-19, but I am not sick?
A.  If you are following guidance issued by a medical professional or public health official to isolate or quarantine yourself as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer, you may be eligible to receive regular unemployment benefits. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. If you do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits, you likely qualify under the expanded benefits from the federal CARES Act.

Q.  What should I do if I contract COVID-19 on the job?
A.  See information from the Dept. of Labor and Industries information on Workers’ Compensation

Q. What is a request to isolate or quarantine?

A.  A request to isolate or quarantine is:

  • A letter documenting a voluntary request or involuntary order to isolate or quarantine from a medical professional, local health official, or the Secretary of Health.
  • A note from your medical provider or medical records office recommending isolation or quarantine.
  • A self-determination that Department of Health’s quarantine guidance applies to you.
  • An order from Gov. Inslee to "Stay Home, Stay Healthy."

Q.  Do I qualify for unemployment benefits if I become seriously ill and I am forced to quit my job as a result of COVID-19?
A.  If you are too ill to be able and available for work, you do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits. However, you may qualify for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Paid Family and Medical Leave while you are sick. You can learn more in this Q&A. Once you recover and are available for work again, you can apply for unemployment benefits.  

My work has changed because of COVID-19

Q.  My employer has shut down operations temporarily because an employee is sick and we have been asked to isolate or quarantine as a result of COVID-19. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A.  If you are not receiving payment from your employer, such as paid sick leave or paid time off, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits. If you receive paid sick leave or paid time off for fewer than your normal hours worked, you may qualify for federal pandemic unemployment assistance, for the difference in hours. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Use this eligibility checker, to learn more about whether you may qualify for regular unemployment or expanded benefits under the federal pandemic unemployment assistance in the CARES Act.

Q.  What if my employer goes out of business as a result of COVID-19? 
A. 
You may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you’re out of work due to a lack of work. Download this checklist to prepare to apply for unemployment if your job has been affected by COVID-19.

Q. What if I am temporarily laid off work because business has slowed down as a result of COVID-19?
A.
  If you are laid off work temporarily or if your hours are reduced due to a business slowdown or a lack of demand as a result of COVID-19, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

  • Standby is a tool that allows workers to collect unemployment benefits without needing to search for work because they will return to work with their employer. During the Governor’s "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" executive 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 we do not need workers to request, or employers to authorize or deny, standby at this time. Once work search requirements are reinstated, we will once again require workers to request and employers to approve or deny standby. For continued updates on this and other unemployment insurance matters, please sign up for our COVID action alerts.

Q.  I am a gig worker. Am I eligible for unemployment?

A: Maybe! Coverage under Washington's unemployment insurance law is broader than under most other laws. This means that just because you are classified as an independent contractor under some laws does not mean that you are an independent contractor under Washington's unemployment laws. If you are a gig worker who has been laid off or lost work, we encourage you to apply for benefits. We will evaluate each application for eligibility on a case by case basis. You may also be eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.

We realize that there are some challenges with the online application, and it is not currently designed for the way you work. We are working to resolve those issues. For now, fill it out the best that you can.

If you do apply, to help speed the process for determining your eligibility and potential benefit amount, please be prepared to gather your payment records from the last tax year to provide to the claims staff. This process may take some time, but we are doing everything we can to increase efficiency and hire more staff.

Q: What documents should I upload if I am self-employed, am an independent contractor or work with a business that doesn't report my hours and wages to ESD?

A: Here are examples of documents you can upload:

  • 1040 – Single Filing
  • 1040 – Joint Filing
  • 1040-SE
  • 1065 Schedule K-1
  • 1099-Misc
  • 1125-E
  • Schedule C
  • Schedule F
  • W-2

To be clear, these must be for 2019. We cannot use 2018 information. Even if you have not filed the forms with the IRS yet, due to the extension, please send ESD the 2019 information.

My existing unemployment claim has been impacted by COVID-19

Q: I received a letter to attend a mandatory Re-employment services appointment. Do I still need to schedule and attend?
A: Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, we will be temporarily suspending the requirement for individuals to attend a mandatory Re-employment Services appointment as of April 17, 2020. You don’t need to schedule an appointment. If you already scheduled it, you don’t need to attend the appointment. There will be no impact to your unemployment benefits.  We want you to know that WorkSource is still available to assist you with your re-employment efforts. While WorkSource offices currently are closed to the public, WorkSourceWA.com provides access to many resources. Visit WorkSourceWA.com to search and apply for jobs, sign-up for virtual workshops, and to access LiveChat features.

Q.  How am I supposed to meet deadlines related to my existing unemployment claim if I am in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19?
A.  
Under the emergency rules we put into place as a result of COVID-19, we are providing more leniency for many UI deadlines, such as deadlines for training programs. Submit your documents as soon as you are able and provide as much information as you can. Progress reports for training programs can be submitted with whatever information you have available. For example, if your school has closed, return your paperwork and tell us.  

Q. How long do I need to wait to be eligible for unemployment benefits?
A. 
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Inslee has waived the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. This means you can be eligible for UI benefits the first week of your claim. The average unemployment claim is approved with no issues and benefits become available 1-3 weeks after you apply. Other claims require more research to reach a decision on whether you’ll receive benefits and could take a little longer. Continue to file weekly claims during this time.

Q.  If I’ve been collecting unemployment benefits and either I or a family member gets sick with COVID-19, what options do I have for benefits if I need to recover or must care for another?
A. 
 If you have been receiving unemployment benefits and are now sick with COVID-19 or need to take care of a loved one who is sick with COVID-19, you may not be considered able and available for work. However, you may be eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. You also can apply for benefits with Paid Family and Medical Leave. You cannot receive both unemployment benefits and Paid Family and Medical Leave during the same week. You need to stop claiming unemployment benefits when you start receiving Paid Family and Medical Leave. Cancellation of your unemployment claim is not necessary. Please visit Paid Family and Medical Leave's website for more information. If you receive Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits for fewer than your normal work hours, federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance may be available for the difference in hours. Eligibility decisions for both unemployment and Paid Family and Medical Leave are made on a case-by-case basis. 

Q.  I am still confused about what benefits and programs may be available to individuals who are financially affected by COVID-19.
A.  This easy-to-read reference guide provides a simple list of many scenarios related to COVID-19 and the benefits that may apply.

I currently claim unemployment benefits

Q: I usually get my payment in a couple of days, but it was late or still hasn’t arrived. Where is it?
A: Because of the volume of new weekly claims submitted after the benefit was expanded, payment processing is taking longer than usual. The payments are coming; they are just taking a bit longer. Unfortunately, we anticipate this to be the case at least for the next few weeks as there are historic levels of Washingtonians filing for unemployment during this crisis.


Q: I haven’t seen my $600 additional payment yet. Where is it?
A: If you receive weekly unemployment benefits, you will now receive an additional $600 per week under the federal CARES Act’s expanded benefits. This comes automatically with your weekly claim (there is no need to apply for it separately), but it is a separate payment from your normal unemployment benefit. That means you will see two payments each week. Because payments are taking longer than usual to process due to the volume, there may be a gap between them. They are coming and we apologize for the delay.


Q: I was having no trouble submitting weekly claims before and now I am. What do I do?
A: First, if you haven’t gone into your eServices account in a couple of days, start there. We have made several fixes to errors and you may now be able to submit your weekly claim as normal.

  • If something went wrong and you can’t file anymore. For example, it says your unemployment claim is now “inactive” – we are so sorry and we are working as quickly to resolve it. If you are in this situation, please keep checking in your eServices account and make sure you have submitted any active weekly claims (whether it is unemployment, PUA or PEUC).
  • If you have multiple active claims open. If you applied for one of the new programs (“PUA” or “PEUC”) because you were prompted to, and now have multiple active claims open, please submit weekly claims for all active weeks you now have available.
    • Just click on each link on your homepage that says “You have a UI weekly claim to file” or “You have a PUA weekly claim to file” etc.
    • Submit all active weekly claims.

Depending on your personal situation and work history there are many reasons this could be the case for you.


Q: Why am I getting letters that tell me different information than the website?
A: Because of the COVID-19 crisis, requirements to look for work, request standby, and attend some WorkSource appointments have been temporarily suspended. Our automated letters haven’t been changed yet. You don’t have to worry about work search and standby letters, or RESEA appointment letters after April 17. Make sure to read and follow the instructions on all other letters you get.

School closures

Governor Inslee announced a statewide closure of schools beginning midnight, March 17, through the end of the school year. 

The first and best option for workers affected by school closures is employer-paid time off. When that is not an option, Employment Security may be able to help by providing access to unemployment benefits. Benefits can provide a partial wage replacement as a last resort. Below is information for teachers, school administrative staff, school support staff (i.e., janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers), and those with children impacted by school closures.

Q.  The school I work at is closed due to the Governor’s order to close. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A.
  If you are being paid by the school while your school is closed, you can apply for benefits, but you may be considered fully employed and not eligible. If your school is not paying you while it is closed, you may be eligible for benefits. You will have to be able and available for work that can be performed while following the recommendations from the state Department of Health during each week you claim. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Q.  My child’s school is closed due to the Governor’s order to close. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A.  It depends. If you cannot go to work because you don’t have childcare for your child while school is closed, you should call your employer and let them know why you are absent. If your employer fires you or lays you off while you are absent, you may qualify for benefits. However, you are required to be able and available for work that can be performed while following the recommendations from the state Department of Health each week you collect unemployment benefits. If you do not have childcare to enable you to return to your job or accept a work offer, you will not be eligible for regular unemployment benefits, but may be eligible for benefits under the federal CARES Act. If your situation changes, let us know. Remember, your first and best option should always be employer-paid time off.

Q.  I am a substitute teacher who is no longer able to secure work with a school because of the closures. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?
A.  You may be eligible for unemployment. You will have to be able and available for work that can be performed while following the recommendations from the state Department of Health during each week you claim. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Also, you may be eligible for federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. Take a look at the eligibility checker on the "unemployment" page of the website for more on whether you can be eligible for expanded benefits under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

I lost my job and I’m enrolled in college or career school

Q.  Am I eligible for benefits? 
A
.  The best thing you can do to find out if you’re eligible for benefits is apply. Many people who usually can’t get unemployment benefits now can. Check your eligibility and learn more about Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the federal CARES Act, which expands unemployment benefits to people impacted by COVID-19.

 


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