For workers affected by COVID-19 (coronavirus)
Employment Security has programs designed to help individuals and employers during this unprecedented time.
We have three very clear priorities: get benefits out more quickly to those who are eligible, expand eligibility for those who can utilize this benefit, and help employers find staff for essential jobs. We are currently evaluating the impact of the federal stimulus package. It is a positive step toward meeting the needs of Washingtonians. The best thing that you can do to stay up-to-date is sign up for ESD’s COVID-19 action alerts. We will use this channel, as well as our social media channels, to provide regular updates as this situation quickly evolves.
COVID-19 action alerts: Subscribe for updates about our response to COVID-19.
Recent changes to expand access to unemployment
We adopted a series of emergency rules to relieve the burden of temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine for workers and businesses. Some of the most recent changes include:
- If you are out of work as a result of the governor’s stay home order issued on March 23, you are eligible for unemployment benefits.
- When you apply for benefits, you should select “laid off” as your reason for seperating from your employer. Choose "Company temporarily closed" from the secondary options.
- As new information emerges, this is subject to change.
- Work search requirements are optional for all claimants until further notice.
- You can request standby status for up to 12 weeks.
- The one-week waiting period to be eligible for unemployment benefits is waived.
As you know, the situation is changing rapidly, and we continue to update our communications and our technology to reflect the new emergency rules as they are enacted. We know this can be confusing and we are so thankful for your patience.
You can find the most recent information about how our programs can help workers affected by COVID-19 in the Q&A below. And, this easy-to-read comparison guide lists some of the most common COVID-19 scenarios that may occur and the benefits that may apply. Check back frequently for updates.
Please know that the Employment Security Department and the entire state is mobilized and ready to help you through this difficult time. We are all in this together.
COVID-19 rulemaking: This page provides links to current emergency rules and rulemaking documents, and will host future information about new or amended rules, public hearings, responses to public comments, and supporting documents for all the Department’s COVID-19 related rulemaking.
This Q&A is updated frequently. Check back for the latest information.
In this section:
Q: I heard there is legislation that has passed to expand unemployment insurance, how does this affect me?
A: Recently the federal government passed an economic stimulus package that includes pandemic unemployment assistance. We are evaluating the package and what it means to unemployment benefits. In general, it includes three provisions that will help many individuals:
- Additional compensation added to unemployment benefits
- An extension of unemployment benefits for up to 13 weeks
- Unemployment assistance for many individuals who don’t qualify for regular unemployment benefits
Q: What benefits are available to me?
A: The legislation expands unemployment benefits to many Washingtonians that were previously not eligible, including many self-employed individuals and independent contractors. We are reviewing the details now. Sign up for COVID-19 action alerts for updates, or check back often for updates.
Q: I heard $1,200 will be part of this – when can I expect to get that money?
A: This should be a one-time payment to individuals who earn lower to middle incomes. It will come directly from the federal government; the Employment Security Department has no role in distributing these payments.
Q: I heard an additional $600 will be added to my unemployment payment each week. When will that start?
A: Under the plan, eligible workers may receive an additional $600 each week for up to four months. We are working quickly to understand the changes and update our technology to ensure everyone who is eligible gets the full amount they are owed. This may take several weeks to update, but you will receive any back payments you are owed.
Q: When will I know the system is updated?
A: The best way to stay up-to-date is sign up for COVID-19 Action Alerts on our home page at esd.wa.gov.
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 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 unemployment benefits. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. If you know you can return to your job as soon as your isolation or quarantine is lifted, you may not need to search for work. You must able to accept any work offered by your employer that would not cause you to break isolation or quarantine.
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.
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 unemployment benefits. However, you may qualify for Paid Family & 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.
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 and may qualify for standby during this time. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Basic eligibility requirements for a claim can be found here.
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 means you do not have to look for another job while you collect unemployment benefits, so long as you stay in contact with your regular employer. You must accept any work you can do without breaking isolation or quarantine that is offered by your employer, such as telework.
Emergency rules effective March 20 allow workers up to 12 weeks of standby. We are updating our technology to reflect the new rules. If you request more than four weeks of standby, you may receive a letter denying your request. Do not worry. We are reviewing standby denials on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet the new criteria. If your standby request is approved, you will receive another letter informing you of the approval. Keep filing weekly claims during this time. (Update 3/26: Our online application has been updated to reflect these emergency rules and new claims can request 12 weeks of standby.)
- Partial Employment or SharedWork: Under certain circumstances, you may work part-time while collecting unemployment benefits.
Q. I am a part-time employee. Am I eligible for standby?
A. If you have an anticipated date that you will return to work, under the emergency rules we put into place as a result of COVID-19, standby is available to all full-time, part-time, and other less than full-time employees. If you worked part time in the last 18 months, you must meet the minimum requirement of having worked 680 hours in your base year in order to have an unemployment claim. Basic eligibility requirements for a claim can be found here.
IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING STANDBY: If you request standby status (full-time or part-time), you may have received an automated notice indicating your request is denied. Do not worry, that notice does not reflect the emergency rules. We are in the process of updating our computer system. You do not need to call the claims center. We will review all standby denials from March 8 forward to determine if they meet the new criteria. If your standby request is approved, you will receive another letter informing you of the approval. Keep filing weekly claims during this time. (Update 3/26: Our online application has been updated to reflect these emergency rules and new claims can request 12 weeks of standby.)
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.
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 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. 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. Once we determine your eligibility, we process and issue payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim. The average unemployment claim is approved with no issues and benefits become available shortly after you file your weekly claim. 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. What if I’ve been collecting unemployment benefits and either myself or a family member gets sick with COVID-19 and I must care for them, what options do I have for benefits?
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. You can apply for benefits with Paid Family and Medical Leave. You cannot receive both unemployment benefits and PFML 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. Eligibility decisions for both unemployment and PFML 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.
Governor Inslee announced a statewide closure of schools beginning midnight, March 17, through April 24, unless it is extended beyond that date.
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, available and actively seeking work during each week you claim, unless you are approved for standby. 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, available and actively seeking work each week you collect unemployment benefits. If you do not have childcare so that you can return to your job or accept a work offer, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. 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, available and actively seeking other suitable work during each week you claim. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
There is now a page dedicated to resources and information for businesses and employers responding to COVID-19.
- March 10: Inslee announces support for workers and businesses impacted by COVID-19
- March 6: Inslee announces workers' compensation coverage to include quarantined health workers/first responders
- March 5: A special COVID-19 message to Washington state businesses and workers from Governor Jay Inslee
To quote the state Department of Health, “Sharing accurate information during a time of heightened concern is one of the best things we can do to keep rumors and misinformation from spreading.”
- The Washington State Department of Health’s website is the place to go for the best local information about COVID-19 in Washington state.
- If you have questions or concerns related to your health, call the state Department of Health at 800-525-0127, and press #.
- The CDC website is an excellent source of information, including guidelines for businesses.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has a mythbusters website with advice for the public.
- The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) website has information about community programs and eligibility.
- The Washington Department of Financial Institutions has a list of financial resources for consumers impacted by COVID-19.
- A comprehensive list of state resources is available on the governor's coronavirus page.