Washington, like every other state, provides benefits to employees who find themselves temporarily out of work through no fault of their own. The state's unemployment insurance (UI) program, financed by a tax on employer payroll, is managed by the Washington Employment Security Department (ESD).
Although the concept of UI benefits is an easy one to understand, the devil is in the details. Anyone with questions about Washington state's program, including how pension benefits impact unemployment benefits, should get an overview of the state's procedures and eligibility requirements. Frequently asked questions provide most of the answers an out-of-work employee needs to know.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
It is possible for an unemployed worker to receive both pension benefits and unemployment benefits at the same time. Some types of pension benefits are deducted from the amount of unemployment benefits received.
FAQs: Washington UI Benefits
Q: How much money will I get every week in Washington unemployment benefits?
A: The benefit amount a worker may receive in Washington state depends on the money they earned in the past, but there is a floor and a ceiling. Every qualifying worker gets at least $188 a week in Washington unemployment benefits and nobody gets more than $790. The more a worker earned in the recent past, the higher their unemployment compensation will be.
In addition, a worker can also get $300 a week in federal supplemental pandemic assistance. This federal program, as enacted, lasts through September 6, 2021.
Q: What period of time counts for "recent past" when the ESD determines benefits?
A: The ESD looks at what they term the base period, which is calculated by calendar quarters, each consisting of three, full, consecutive months, such as January through March. The ESD identifies the worker's wages during the most recent five completed quarters before the claim is filed, then uses the earlier four of these quarters as the base year. It averages the wages from the two quarters in which the employee earned the most, then provides a weekly UI benefit of .00385 times that amount. For example, if the worker earned an average of $10,000 in the two highest quarters, their weekly benefit would be $10,000 x .0385, or $385.
Q: How much did I have to earn in the base year to qualify for Washington UI benefits?
A: While some states set an earning minimum to qualify for UI benefits, Washington does not. Rather, it sets a minimum of hours an employee must have worked in the base period. That minimum is 680 hours.
Q: How many weeks can I get benefits?
A: Under the regular Washington state program, the maximum number of weeks a worker can get regular Washington UI benefits is 26 weeks. However, the federal pandemic UI programs have increased that period to 53.
Q: How do I apply for Washington UI benefits?
A: While it is possible to call in an unemployment claim for Washington UI benefits, the ESD suggests using their online application procedure. It is a good idea to start by reading the How to File for Unemployment Benefits instructions published by the Employment Security Division, which contains information about eligibility and procedure. To file, a worker will need identifying information including their SSN and a detailed work history with back-up documents like tax returns.
Q: How do I apply for the extra $300 federal UI benefit?
A: There is not a separate application for the federal pandemic benefit. Any worker receiving UI benefits under a state or federal UI program is automatically eligible for the supplemental $300 a week through September 6, 2021.
Q: Can I get UI benefits if I am a gig worker or freelance worker?
A: In order to be eligible for Washington state unemployment benefits, a worker must be an employee getting a W2 form for tax purposes, not an independent contractor, gig worker or freelance worker with 1099 forms. However, under the federal pandemic unemployment program, these workers are eligible for UI benefits if they are unable to work due to COVID-19. That is, any worker can receive pandemic-related unemployment benefits under federal law if that worker is:
- Unable to work because they are ill with COVID-19.
- Unable to work because they might have been exposed to coronavirus.
- Ordered to stay home by a doctor to prevent the risk of getting exposed to, or spreading, coronavirus.
- Unable to work because their employer shut down or cut back their business due to coronavirus.
- Advised not to work by public health officials.
- Unable to work because they must care for a family member or other person they live with and provide care for who is sick with coronavirus or is required to stay at home.
- Unable to work because they must care for a child due to the closure of schools.
Q: Can I get Washington UI benefits if I get Social Security retirement plan benefits?
A: Some pension payments will reduce the amount of Washington unemployment benefits. But, as of February 8, 2021, no deduction is taken from Washington unemployment benefits for Social Security retirement benefits. Likewise, no deduction is taken for retirement benefits based on a spouse's earnings or from disability payments.
Q: What type of pension payments will be deducted from unemployment benefits?
A: Currently, Washington law requires that an individual's pension payments are deducted dollar for dollar from any unemployment payments if the pension payment is under a plan maintained or contributed to by a base period employer. Only the portion contributed by the employer are deducted, not the portion contributed by the employee. Note that, under recent changes in the law, lump sum payments are not deducted from the weekly benefit amounts.
Q: Can I get unemployment insurance benefits in Washington if I was fired?
A: Washington state unemployment benefits provide financial assistance to workers who lose employment due to no fault of their own. Workers fired for misconduct are not eligible. Washington law specifies some actions that are considered misconduct in this context:
- Committing acts of insubordination.
- Repeatedly being late or absent.
- Lying on employment documents.
- Being dishonest in other work-related matters.
- Engaging in violence at work.
- Violating the law in a work-related manner.
- Intentionally violating a collective bargaining agreement.
- Intentionally violating company policy.
Q: Can I get unemployment benefits in Washington if I quit my job?
A: The general rule is that an employee who quits a job may still be eligible for UI benefits if they had good cause for quitting. Good cause is defined differently in different states. In Washington, good cause includes quitting a job in such circumstances as:
- A family member has a serious illness.
- A spouse was relocated.
- Their pay was reduced substantially.
- They experienced unsafe working conditions.
- They are victims of domestic violence.
- Unsafe working conditions exist that go uncorrected by the employer.
Other circumstances may also qualify.
Q: Do I have to look for suitable work to keep getting benefits?
A: Washington state unemployment insurance is meant to assist workers who are actively seeking work, not those simply taking a downtime period or a vacation. The law specifies that, to be eligible for UI, the workers be able to work, be available to work and be actively seeking employment. To prove their eligibility, unemployed Washington claimants normally have to seek a new job every week and document their job search efforts. However, those impacted by COVID-19 are not subject to these work search requirements.
- Nolo: Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Washington
- ESD: Washington
- ESD: Washington Unemployment
- Washington: Coronavirus FAQs
- DOL: New COVID-19 Unemployment Benefits: Answering Common Questions
- Washington State Coronavirus Response:How to File for Unemployment Benefits
- ESD: Eligiblity Chart
- Washington Legislature: Chapter 192-190 2021
- Washington Legislature: ENGROSSED SUBSTITUTE SENATE BILL 5061
- Washington ESD: Handbook for Unemployed Workers
- File Unemployment.com: How Retirement and Pension Affect Unemployment Benefits?
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.