Self-employed or independent contractor?
Benefits available for self-employed workers
Unemployment benefits are available for Washingtonians who have lost work because of the COVID-19 crisis—including freelancers, independent contractors and other self-employed workers. The new federal CARES Act extensions make this possible. On Dec. 27, 2020, federal law extended Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits through the week ending March 13, 2021. It also increased the number of weeks you can claim PUA benefits from 39 to 50.
If you’re a self-employed worker who’s lost income in this crisis, you may now qualify for unemployment benefits. The amount of financial help varies.
How to apply
- Download this checklist for information you need to apply for regular unemployment benefits.
- Download the COVID-19 unemployment guide then apply for regular unemployment benefits, even though you likely don’t qualify for them. This step is required before you can apply for the benefits for self-employed workers.
- Download this checklist and apply for expanded unemployment benefits (called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).
- Submit weekly claims to get paid.
Step 1: Apply for regular unemployment
You must apply for regular unemployment benefits before you can apply for the expanded benefits for people impacted by COVID-19. Please fill out the online application the best you can. Download this guide and use it when you apply - it can help you navigate the application and avoid issues that will delay your benefit.
- Create an account. Watch the tutorial on this page to avoid common issues that could delay your benefits.
- If you only worked as a self-employed person in the last 18 months, list no employers when asked. But if you also worked as an employee for a business, give that information.
- The job search requirement is optional during this crisis, so you can answer “no.” It won't affect your benefits. We also ask if you’re able and available for work.
- Move to Step 2 when you’re denied regular benefits. For some this will be immediate. For others it may take a few weeks. ESD staff may call you to ask for more information during this time. Please answer your phone! The call will be from an unlisted number.
A decision may take time
You can move on to step 2 as soon as you are denied regular unemployment. For some this will be immediate and for others it may take a few weeks. We are required by law to verify you are not eligible for regular unemployment and sometimes this requires we reach out to you for additional information.
Step 2: Apply for expanded unemployment benefits
(Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)
When your application for regular benefits has been denied, an alert will show up in your eServices account and email inbox. You then can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). If you do not receive an alert about applying for PUA and you receive an alert for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), you will need to complete the PEUC application before you can apply for PUA.
- You will need to upload documents such as your federal tax return or 1099 form as proof of income. This may increase your weekly benefit amount above the minimum of $235.
- If your application for PUA is approved, your weekly benefit amount will be based on your normal income, up to a maximum of $790.
Step 3: Submit your weekly claim
After applying, start submitting weekly claims right away—even before you’re approved—to get paid faster.
- More information about filing weekly claims is in this guide. We recommend submitting your weekly claims online, using eServices.
- These are the questions we ask you when you file your weekly claim.
- After your application is approved, we will process all the weekly claims you filed before being approved and provide you a lump sum for any payment you are still owed.
- You will receive payment via the method you choose: direct deposit or debit card.
- If you find work and no longer need to collect unemployment benefits, simply stop filing weekly claims. Your payments will stop. You do not need to notify us of your new job.
- If you find work, but are not working full time, continue filing your weekly claims. We will let you know if you have “excess earnings” and do not qualify for benefits that week of your claim.
How much will I receive?
We must verify wage information to determine your correct benefits. This typically takes up to three weeks if there are no issues with your application.
However, to get you money as soon as possible, we will pay you the minimum amount you are eligible for after you're approved and you submit your first weekly claim.
We will review the information you submit as quickly as possible and calculate the total benefits you’re owed. Any money you missed will be paid.