Washington State Unemployment Benefits, Services, Claims Process & FAQs

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In Washington, like in every state in the United States, employees who are out of work through no fault of their own are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. But the laws are not uniform and the details of Washington's laws are not the same as those of other states. Washington's unemployment insurance program is managed by the state's Employment Security Department (ESD). Anyone employed in Washington should get an understanding of how the law works, as well as how it is impacted by the federal pandemic unemployment assistance plan.

Washington State UI Benefits Program

A worker temporarily out of work through no fault of their own can apply for unemployment benefits in Washington. They must be eligible under regular Washington UI rules or federal pandemic rules.

Washington law defines eligibility in the usual terms:

  • Employees must be out of work due to no personal fault.
  • They must have worked a minimum of 680 hours in the base year defined as the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters.
  • They must be able to work, available to work and aggressively looking for work.

Washington unemployed workers who qualify will receive a weekly benefit amount of 3.85 percent of the wages they earned from the average of the two highest quarters of work in the base period. The minimum weekly unemployment benefit amount is $188 and the maximum amount is $790. 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.

Under the regular state UI program, the worker can collect up to 26 weeks of benefits. The state will, from time to time, extend that period if there is high unemployment in Washington.

Federal Benefits Program

The federal government passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to assist workers who lost their jobs or income due to the coronavirus pandemic. This expands and supplements Washington unemployment benefits. The initial CARES Act was signed into law in March, 2020. It authorized federal pandemic unemployment benefits that supplement the state unemployment benefits:

  • $600 per week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits in addition to state-provided unemployment benefits.
  • Up to 13 weeks of unemployment benefits in addition to the 26 weeks Washington provides. This is in the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Program (PEUC).
  • Unemployment benefit eligibility for self-employed and gig workers under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program.

The federal program for supplemental payments expired on July 31, 2020. From that date through December 26, 2020, workers received only their regular state benefits. However, the FPUC was amended and extended in December, 2020, by the Continued Assistance Act (CAA) to provide a $300 per week FPUC benefit in addition to state-provided benefits starting on December 26, 2020, and extending through March 14, 2021. This $300 payment was extended in March, 2021, by President Biden's stimulus bill (the American Rescue Plan). It now runs through September 6, 2021.

Extensions of PEUC and PUA Programs

Benefits under the PEUC program (extending the duration of benefits by 13 weeks) expired on December 31, 2020. The CAA extended the program to March 14, 2021, and upped the duration from 13 supplemental weeks to 24 additional weeks. The American Rescue Plan extended the program through September 6, 2021 and increased the supplemental weeks to 53.

Benefits under the PUA program for unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig employees were set to expire on December 31, 2020. Under the CAA, this was extended until March 14, 2021. This benefit was further expanded under the March 2021 American Rescue Plan to September 6, 2021.

Washington State Unemployment Eligibility Requirements

In Washington, as in every other state, unemployment insurance provides benefits to workers who find themselves out of a job temporarily as long as certain conditions are met. The Washington Employment Security Department determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis.

A worker must begin the claims process by filing a written claim with the ESD. They must show evidence that they are eligible for unemployment under regular Washington unemployment laws or under the expanded eligibility rules set out in federal pandemic unemployment assistance. In order to be eligible for state benefits, workers must show that:

  • They are unemployed but were not fired for fault or misdeeds.
  • They have worked 680 hours during the base period established by Washington law. To determine the base period, consider the year as being divided into three-month calendar quarters. Count back the five last completed quarters before the claim, then use the earliest four of them.
  • They are able to work, available to work and actively seeking employment.

Fault Under Washington Unemployment Law

Washington state unemployment benefits are intended to provide financial assistance to workers who lose employment due to no fault of their own. Employees fired for misconduct do not qualify. For example, if a worker is fired for showing up at work drunk or acting with violence toward other employees, Washington won't pay them for the time they are unemployed. The same is true even if the worker is fired for other misdeeds.

However, if a worker is let go because they were a poor fit for a job or the worker did not have the necessary skills to proceed with the position, they may be eligible.

The question is whether the true reason for being let go was the employee's misconduct. Washington law specifies that these acts and similar acts disqualify a worker from employment:

  • 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.

Eligibility for Good Cause for Quitting

A worker who quits a job may be eligible for UI benefits if they had good cause for quitting. In Washington, it qualifies as good cause if the worker quits because a family member has a serious illness; their spouse was relocated; their pay was reduced substantially; they experienced unsafe working conditions; they are victims of domestic violence; and unsafe working conditions that go uncorrected by the employer. This list is not exclusive and other circumstances may also qualify.

CARES Act Rules About Fault

The CARES Act expanded the list of approved reasons an employee may quit work to add pandemic-related reasons. Essentially, a worker can continue to receive pandemic-related unemployment benefits 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.

Minimum Work and Income Requirements

Under Washington law, a worker is eligible for unemployment coverage if they have worked 680 hours in their base year. To compute the base period, count backward from the date the claim was filed, then determine the last five complete calendar quarters and use the first four of these as the base period.

This is how it works: If the employee layoff was in March, 2021, the five prior complete calendar quarters run from October 1, 2019 through December 31, 2020. The Washington ESD uses the first four of these quarters as the base period, which in the example are the final quarter of 2019 and the first three quarters of 2020. If the worker was employed for at least 680 hours during that period, they are eligible for unemployment benefits in this state.

Note that UI benefit eligibility doesn't turn on steady employment. If the worker held four different jobs during that period, they would still be eligible. The sole question is whether they worked the requisite 680 hours during the base period.

Job Search Requirements

Washington state unemployment insurance is meant to assist workers who are between jobs – workers who find themselves unemployed, but who are actively seeking new employment. The state does not intend to pay UI benefits to individuals who are simply taking a downtime period or a vacation from work. To prevent that, the state imposes a requirement that the workers be able to work, be available to work and be actively seeking employment.

To show that they meet these requirements, unemployed Washington workers normally have to seek work every week. To maintain their eligibility, the worker has to keep track of the employment-related contacts they reach out to. If a worker gets a job offer that has similar hours and salary to their prior position, they must accept it. The ESD may contact the listed potential employers to be sure that the worker contacted them for employment.

Pandemic Unemployment Modifications

Federal pandemic unemployment, under the CARES Act and subsequent legislation, changes the "must be willing to work" requirement in some circumstances. It modifies the requirement to fit the pandemic situation. For example, if an employee is infected with COVID-19, caring for someone who has COVID-19 or taking care of minor children because schools are closed, they are eligible for continued benefits without seeking other employment.

Filing a UI Claim in Washington

Anyone considering filing for unemployment in Washington should start by reading the How to File for Unemployment Benefits instructions published by the Employment Security Division. It leads the reader through the steps to file and helps them determine whether they are eligible and what forms to fill out.

Washington ESD suggests that everyone apply online, using the online claims system. Workers can also phone in to a claims center, but the phone lines are usually have a high call volume. It is possible to file both regular unemployment claims and pandemic-based unemployment claims online. First, get the materials required together.

Information Needed to File a Claim

A worker applying for UI benefits in Washington needs lots of identifying information. The ESD form asks for a complete recent employment history as well as contact information. A worker must provide their name, address, date of birth, Social Security number and copy of a photo ID like a driver's license.

To show work history, claimants must provide a list of all employers within the past two years, including wages and reason for separation, and verification of income. This can include tax returns or W2s for regular UI benefits. For Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for a self-employed individual, tax returns may also be necessary as well as 1099 forms.

The ESD reviews the claim and determines whether the person is eligible. They tell the claimant whether they are eligible and the amount and duration of unemployment benefits the worker may be eligible for. After that, a claimant is required to file weekly claim statements certifying their situation, such as work or wages during the period. This is mandatory to continue to receive payments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How much money will I get every week for Washington unemployment benefits?

A.​ There is a range of possible benefit amounts for regular unemployment benefits starting at $188 a week and going up to $790 a week. The more a person earned in the recent past, the higher their unemployment benefit will be. In addition, the person may earn $300 a week in federal supplemental pandemic assistance for claims weeks through September 6, 2021.

Q: How long can I get benefits?

A.​ The maximum number of weeks a worker can get regular Washington UI benefits is 26 weeks. Under the federal pandemic UI programs, the government expanded benefit weeks up to 53.

Q: Are the $300 supplemental payments authorized in the American Rescue Plan retroactive?

A.​ No, they are not. There were no supplemental benefits available for the period of July 31, 2020 through December 26, 2020.

Q. How can I apply for the $300 federal UI benefit?

A.​ Anyone receiving UI benefits under a state or federal UI program is eligible for the additional $300 a week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation. The funds are available for any weeks of unemployment beginning after Dec. 26, 2020, and ending on or before September 6, 2021. No separate application is required.