Working during COVID-19

Information about unemployment benefits

Updated September 13, 2020

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.
  • The one-week waiting period to be eligible for unemployment benefits is waived.
  • As of April 15, ESD is initially placing all individuals on standby in order to process requests more quickly.
Unemployment under federal CARES Act

The federal CARES Act, signed into law March 27, 2020, resulted in three key changes:

  1. Expanded eligibility to people who don’t usually qualify because they don’t have the typically required 680 hours, or are otherwise excluded under WA State law (may include student employees).
  2. Benefits will be available for longer, up to 39 weeks (usually up to 26 weeks) for both people already on unemployment and those who are newly eligible.
  3. For the period from March 29, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020 an additional $600 each week was paid to those on unemployment.

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 the federal CARES Act.

Unemployment under federal Lost Wages Assistance Program

Lost Wages Assistance is a federal program that adds $300 for each week the program remains federally funded. Applications are currently approved for weeks ending August 1 through September 5. If you receive unemployment benefits for those weeks and you are unemployed or working fewer hours because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be eligible for LWA. For more information, visit ESD’s LWA webpage.


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 the CARES Act or LWA. 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 and UWMC Northwest) 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

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.