Working during COVID-19

Information about unemployment benefits

Updated December 30, 2020

Federal benefits were extended by federal law. WA’s Employment Security Department (ESD) anticipates some delay in implementing the new law. Information is frequently updated on ESD’s COVID-19 information page. Separately, ESD announced a one-time payment, called the Pandemic Relief Payment program, for some recipients of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). More information is available on this ESD webpage

Unemployment compensation

The Washington State Employment Security Department (ESD) is responsible for administering unemployment benefits which partially replace regular wages when you are out of work. Benefits are normally not available if you decide to quit (resign) or if you are terminated for gross misconduct.

Emergency rules issued by ESD and changes to federal law and programs have expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits, increased the amount of time benefits may be claimed, and made additional funds available.

Qualifying criteria for WA State unemployment

Under WA state law individuals are eligible for benefits if they:

  • Have worked for at least 680 hours in WA during the “base year” (the first four of the last five completed calendar quarters) in a position included in WA’s unemployment program.
  • Have worked in WA State sometime in the last 18 months.
  • Have been laid off or fired (unless for gross misconduct).
  • Are looking and available for work, except if on standby while temporarily laid off.

Use the first page of ESD’s Eligibility Checker to help figure out if you are eligible for WA State unemployment benefits due to a layoff or reduction in hours unrelated to COVID-19.

Student employees are typically exempt from WA State unemployment under RCW 50.44.040 and UW does not report wage or hour information for student employees to ESD. Student employees may now be eligible under federal programs (see below).

New qualifying criteria for unemployment

Qualifying criteria under ESD emergency rules

Under the ESD emergency rules issued in response to the COVID-19 emergency, you may now be eligible for unemployment benefits when you are not receiving wages from the UW and:

  • You do not have COVID-19 related symptoms and are asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID-19.
  • You are temporarily laid off (on “standby”)
    • During standby due to COVID-19, you do not have to look for another job while you collect unemployment benefits, so long as you stay in contact with UW. However, you must accept any offered work you can do without breaking isolation or quarantine, such as telework.
  • Your hours are reduced due to a lack of work.
  • You meet CDC guidelines for being at high risk for COVID-19 and were laid off on or after March 23, 2020.

Additionally, under the ESD emergency rules issued in response to the COVID-19 crisis:

  • Work search requirements are optional for all claimants until further notice.
  • As of April 15, ESD is initially placing all individuals on standby in order to process requests more quickly.
Unemployment under federal law

The federal CARES Act was effective from March 27, 2020 to December 26, 2020 and created three federal unemployment programs. On December 27, 2020 a new federal law extended and modified these three programs as follows:

    1. Expanded eligibility: The law created a separate benefit program for people who don’t usually qualify for unemployment because they don’t have the typically required 680 hours, or are otherwise excluded under WA State law (may include student employees).
    2. Extended unemployment benefits: The law creates an extension program to provide benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks under state law, for both people already on unemployment and those who are newly eligible.

      Important information from ESD about additional weeks of benefits: After you’ve received all of your regular unemployment benefits, you must apply for an extension of benefits. This is not an automatic process and according to federal law, programs must be applied to in a certain order. For more information, view ESD’s benefit extensions website.

    3. Extra payment of $300: For the period from January 3, 2021 through March 13, 2021 an additional $300 each week will be paid to individuals on unemployment (previously $600 under the CARES Act).

Payments under the new federal law will be available from January 3, 2021 through the end of the week of March 13, 2021. For more information, view ESD’s COVID-19 website.

Use the second page of ESD’s Eligibility Checker to help figure out if you are eligible for unemployment benefits due to a layoff or reduction in hours related to COVID-19, either under ESD’s emergency rules or federal law.


The amount of paid unemployment benefit is determined by ESD. The amount of the WA state benefit can be estimated using this ESD tool. The amount of paid unemployment benefits may also increase due to changes in federal law as described above. Individuals eligible for unemployment report any earnings as part of a “weekly claim,” including payments from UW such as wages or paid time off (e.g. holiday pay), which may reduce the weekly benefit amount.

The minimum weekly benefit amount is $201 and the maximum weekly benefit amount is $844.

How to file for unemployment benefits

To apply for unemployment benefits, follow the application process on ESD’s Unemployment benefits webpage. Use this ESD Checklist to understand the process and know what information you need to apply.

If you need to provide wage and hour information, use your payslip to sum the total of your gross wages (per hour, week, month, or year) and to average how many hours you work on a weekly basis.

When asked to identify your employer:

  • UW employees (including UWMC Montlake, UWMC Northwest, and UW Neighborhood clinics) use Federal tax ID 91-6001537 and Employment Security Reference Number 000990180003
  • Harborview employees use Federal tax ID 91-6001537 and Employment Security Reference Number 000992172009

New claims for unemployment that have an effective date of Jan. 3, 2021, or later will have an unpaid waiting week during which time ESD verifies eligibility. For more information on payments, view ESD’s When will payments start? webpage.

Additional information

Questions about WA’s unemployment compensation , including eligibility, the application process, weekly benefit amounts, earnings deductions, and other topics should be directed to ESD.

For more information about unemployment compensation for UW employees, visit UWHR’s frequently asked questions (FAQs) about unemployment compensation.