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Washington state Legislature approves $25 million in relief funds to businesses impacted by coronavirus

On Thursday night, the Legislature passed House Bill 2965, regarding coronavirus response. Included in the bill was an amendment the Washington Hospitality Association and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce requested to assist businesses who need to layoff employees because of economic impact related to the epidemic.

Emergency rules adopted by the Employment Security Department made significant modifications to their “Standby” program – an option available to employees and employers when a layoff is necessary, and the employer expects to re-hire. Employees are not required to search for work while on standby status. The department’s rules extended the program to part-time employees. Under this current program, employers who use the standby program are assessed an experience rating charge and could see a substantial rate increase for layoffs due to coronavirus.

The Washington Hospitality Association and the Seattle Metro Chamber requested the legislature appropriate funds to make sure businesses would not be penalized when using this program during the outbreak – the $25 million is directed to the Employment Security Department to payoff the experience rate charges. This will be significant relief for businesses impacted by the epidemic.

The Employment Security Department said it is ready to help you weather the effects of the coronavirus through:

  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Paid Family & Medical Leave
  • SharedWork
  • Standby status

Employers need to initiate this benefit through the department. The Employment Security Department will provide wage replacement to employees. Click the links below to learn more.

On March 9, 2020, the Employment Security Department announced emergency rules.

The department continues to stress that the very first line of defense is employee’s paid sick and safe leave, followed by any paid time off and the last option is unemployment insurance – because unemployment insurance benefits are a partial wage replacement.

The department laid out its plan for increased benefit flexibility and decreased penalties, with an emphasis on temporary layoffs, isolation and quarantine. Specifically the department will:

  • Allow businesses that are temporarily shut down to be treated as a catastrophic event, which is normally reserved for businesses in a natural disaster. Employers can receive relief from any benefit charges by placing employees on standby, meaning they intend to rehire after the COVID-19 epidemic is over. Employees can receive wage replacement and are not subject to requirements to search for new employment.
  • Make unemployment benefits available for employees who need to be quarantined.
  • Extend unemployment insurance benefit periods and deadlines for employees already out of work if unable to find work because of COVID-19.
  • Waive financial penalties for employers who are unable to make payments or are late reporting due to COVID-19.

Read more about the emergency rules here.