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Here’s your primer on the Employment Security Department

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Amid the Washington state restaurant closures and work-from-home edicts, many of you are weighing tough decisions. You may need to lay off staff members. Maybe for the short-term, maybe for the long term – you’re not sure. What are your options? Let’s go over the basics:

  1. There are many options available for employees to get support, both from the Employment Security Department and from other resources as well.
  2. Consider right now – are you closing temporarily or permanently? If you’re not planning on re-opening, then your options are simpler. If you do hope to reopen, then you need to consider whether to place your employees on standby or in partial employment.
  3. Consider the information below, and then make calling the Employment Security Department your first step at 800-318-6022. You can skip the wait for phone service and apply online ast well.
  4. ESD is experiencing overwhelming amounts of call. They have 200,000 people to serve and are doing the best they can and are continuing to communicate our  member’s needs. Please be patient, tell your teams to try and re-try, and we are working with ESD to make this as helpful as possible.
  5. There is a glitch in the online application process, regarding the new emergency benefits. If your employee gets a rejection letter online, do not give up! This is an automatic response from their system that predates the emergency funding rules. Have them call the agency directly they can ensure that you get up to date available information on benefits.

As of March 25, by proclamation of Governor Jay Inslee, work search requirements in order to receive unemployment insurance are now waived. The Employment Security Department can provide immediate assistance to those who have been financially impacted.

Standby and SharedWork

If you plan to temporarily close your business, and you know that you intend to re-open for business within a 12-week period, then the best option for your employees may be placing them on Standby. Placing them on standby allows them to waive the job search requirements while collecting unemployment, enabling them the time to wait for your business to re-open. The qualifications for employees to the qualifications for employees to qualify for standby status have been expanded in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. As such, standby status is now available to part-time or less-than-full-time employees.  An employee can file for standby to up to four weeks without any action required by their employer – once an employer has verified that you are on standby, that period can be extended within an eight-week time frame.

Due to coronavirus there are special rules in place – employers who make use of the standby program will, during this time, suffer no rate hikes for it. The 680-work hour requirement has been waived

Partial employment, or SharedWork, allows employers to keep employees working at heavily reduced hours. An employer’s SharedWork plan can last up to one year, after which it may be filed for extension. To qualify for SharedWork, your business must:

  • Be legally registered in Washington state for at least six months prior to applying for the program.
  • Be current on unemployment taxes or a payment contract.
  • Have a tax rate less than 5.4%.
  • Enroll a minimum of two permanent employees in the SharedWork plan.
  • Comply with Internal Revenue Service, state, county and municipal laws, rules and ordinances.

Your employees must:

  • Be hired permanently and paid hourly.
  • Be eligible for regular unemployment benefits, apply for benefits and submit weekly claims.
  • Be able to work all hours and be available for all work hours offered by the SharedWork employer.


Workers qualify for unemployment if they have worked at least 680 hours in their base year, and at least some wages have been earned in Washington state, with exceptions made for military service. The reasons for unemployment that are considered include layoffs, terminations, quitting a job, military discharge, labor strikes or leaves of absence.

Read more here.

We know you have many questions, and we want to provide you the most authoritative answers to those questions. A webinar with staff from the Employment Security Department is scheduled  for 10 a.m. on Friday, where you will be able to field your questions about unemployment insurance, Paid Family and Medical Leave and more to the people in the know.  You can register by clicking here.

Important links:

ESD COVID-19 Benefits Infographic

Association of Washington Business layoff guidelines for COVID-19:


Temporary layoffs

Permanent layoffs

Because restaurants will be closed (for now) for two weeks? [JH1]