COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits in Washington (as of March 18, 2020)

(as of April 21, 2020)

Washington’s Employment Security Department (ESD) has issued emergency rules for the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.  They have also prepared a comparison guide for some common COVID-19 scenarios that affect benefits.

Here are Summaries and Questions and Answers provided by the ESD for Employers related to COVID-19:

CARES Act and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)  

Federal stimulus in the recently enacted 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 helps employers by:

  1. 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
  2. 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—but it’s going to take a few weeks to update our systems.

  • Self-employed workers should be able to start claiming mid-April.
  • Sign up for regular email updates about our COVID-19 response.

Can independent contractors or self-employed get benefits?

Yes—but it’s going to take a few weeks to update our systems.

  • Self-employed workers should be able to start claiming mid-April.
  • Sign up for regular email updates about our COVID-19 response.

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.

  • If they reduced hours or shut down to follow public health recommendations, the federal government will pay 50 percent of their benefit charges.
  • Workers at these organizations are eligible for the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation supplement of $600 a week.

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 as long as 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.

Quarterly filing and responding to requests for information

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 April 30, 2020.

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.

Getting help over the phone  

How do I talk to someone about my employees’ claims? 

You can reach the employer line in the claims center at 877-504-5607. Claims center hours have been extended to Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m through 4 p.m. If you’re having a hard time getting through on the phones, use our web services. If you have a problem that can only be fixed over the phone, please keep trying. Our dedicated experts are here for you, even if they’re hard to reach right now. 

Temporary shutdowns: SharedWork, standby, and partial employment  

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?  

Taxable employers: You must send us a written request for relief of benefit charges. 

Reimbursable employers: If you reduced hours or shut down to follow public health recommendations, the federal government will pay 50 percent of their benefit charges. More instructions to come. 

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 reliefThe legislature approved $25 million for employers who apply for relief by 9/30/2020. This money will be used to 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. 

  • 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
  • This is 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 

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 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
  • If approved for SharedWork, employers can request a relief of benefit charges.
  • As of March 27, 2020, the federal government is covering those UI benefits 100 percent through the end of the year (December 31, 2020), under Short-Time Compensation (STC) for states with SharedWork programs.
  • 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.

  • 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. 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.  

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. 

Partial employment  

This describes employees who continue to work at least 16 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 
  • Worked at least 40 percent of their regular full-time hours during the period of reduction (16 hours) 
  • 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.  

Unemployment and health insurance, paid leave, and FMLA 

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 cannot receive PSL and unemployment benefits in the same week.  
  • Sign up for regular email updates about our COVID-19 response.  
  • 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 

Where can I get more information about FMLA and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)?  

The U.S. Department of Labor has info about employees’ rights and get answers to employers’ FAQs 

I want to continue paying for my employees’ health insurance while they’re laid off. Can they still claim unemployment?  

The main issue here isn’t unemployment benefits. Depending on the contract with the insurance carrier, the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC) may not allow health insurance continuation while unemployed. Continuing to pay for your employees’ health insurance does not affect their ability to get unemployment. Contact the OIC for more info.

Are claimants eligible for unemployment benefits if they’re receiving paid sick leave?  

No. Your employees can’t receive unemployment benefits and paid sick leave at the same time.  

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.  

Paying claimants while they’re getting unemployment benefits 

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 benefitSee 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.  

Permanent business closures 

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 basisLayoff assistance may be available for businesses facing major layoffs. Learn more. 

Requesting relief of benefit charges  

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
  • Fax800-301-1796
  • Mail  

ESD—Experience Rating/Benefit Charging Unit 

PO Box 904 

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.  


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4 Responses to COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits in Washington (as of March 18, 2020)

  1. Vinnie Sposari says:

    We are an essential business (plumbing) running service calls, we had one of our employees say he was uncomfortable working in strangers homes afraid he would catch the virus. We have plenty of work for him and would not lay him off. Is this individual eligible to collect unemployment?

    • Chris Hilgenfeld says:

      Vinnie: Prior to the coronavirus, your employee would not have been eligible. With the coronavirus, the ESD has significantly lessened requirements as to eligibility; it is unclear whether they have relaxed them to the standard that the employee could claim that he was constructively laid-off due to the work environment. Ultimately, it is ESD’s decision.

  2. Cynthia D Wilson says:

    We have the same situation as above and are doing public road projects. The WA Employment Security has a matrix called COVID-19 Scenarios & Benefits Available. According to scenario (#7 Worker is following the advice of public health and government officials to self-quarantine and chooses not to go to work) the Emergency Rule says they are ineligible for Unemployment Insurance.
    This contradicts the US Department of Labor letter Dated March 12,2020 Unemployment insurance Program Letter No. 10-20 which states that though the States have flexibility, B. (3) Provided the State law definition of suitable work does not permit the individual to limit his or her availability in such a way that the individual has withdrawn from the labor market….
    With the contradiction, which would apply? Thanks

    • Chris Hilgenfeld says:

      There is interplay between the federal and state unemployment systems. It is a joint state-federal program. Federal law permits flexibility for states to amend their laws and interpret their laws. The DOL Program Letter is a guide to the states, but does not have the force of law. It is up to each state to determine how they will interpret the guidance and implement it. It is ultimately up to Washington State to implement its unemployment program consistent with federal laws.

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