COVID-19 and Unemployment Benefits in Washington (as of March 18, 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 the Questions and Answers provided by the ESD for Employers related to COVID-19:

Q.  What programs are offered to assist businesses to keep workers during COVID-19?
A.  We have expanded programs to help support businesses and workers whose financial stability is affected by COVID-19.

  • SharedWorkThis program allows employers to reduce the hours of permanent and hourly-paid employees by as much as 50 percent, and the employees can collect partial unemployment benefits to replace a portion of their lost wages. While on the SharedWork program, employees are not required to make an active search for work. You must apply to participate in the program. The application and instructions can be found here.
  • Partial employment (for reduction in hours): If you are temporarily reducing hours of work for your full-time employees, they may be able to receive unemployment benefits without needing to look for work.
  • Standby: In certain circumstances, your employees may be eligible for standby. Standby means they do not have to look for other work but need to be available for any work you offer that they can do if quarantined or isolated. Generally, standby is only allowed for up to eight twelve weeks during a claim year. We may grant an extension of standby for more than eight twelve weeks if you make your request in writing and can show extraordinary circumstances. Under the new emergency rules, temporary shutdowns related to COVID-19 infection at the place of business that cause you to close or severely reduce operations are considered extraordinary circumstances.  [NOTE: The Emergency rules enacted on March 20, 2020 extended Standby to twelve weeks.]

Q.  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?
A.  If you are a taxable employer, you may request a relief of benefit charges due to a business closure which is directly related to possible contamination at the business site. This will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Q.  What if I need to temporarily lay off employees due to a slowdown of business which is not directly linked to COVID-19?
  You may request to place an employee on standby for up to eight weeks and your employee can collect unemployment benefits without having to look for other work. While on standby, workers must accept any work you offer that they can do without breaking isolation or quarantine. Relief of benefit charges cannot be granted in this situation.

Q.  What if I am late in filing tax reports, paying taxes, or responding timely to requests for information as a result of COVID-19?
A.  Financial penalties may be waived if the delays are a result of COVID-19 impacts.

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2 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.

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