Just after the New Year in 2017, the Washington Employment Security Department deployed a new software system and website, which crashed under the weight of claimants attempting to file for benefits. The Seattle Times reported that the $28 million system, meant to help claimants help themselves, caused delays for weekly claims. The crash forced claimants to use the telephone filing system, which was quickly overwhelmed.
The state claims that they’ve resolved the problems. However, it is unknown whether new bugs won’t reappear, causing more delays for those who depend on the system. New claimants or those reopening claims should be aware of what it takes to be eligible and file for unemployment benefits to avoid greater delays.
In order to be eligible for unemployment benefits in Washington, you must meet the following criteria:
- You must have at least 680 hours of employment in your base year
- You must be able and available to work
- You must be unemployed through no fault of your own.
- You must live in Washington and have worked in the state
The state requires to maintain your eligibility status if you receive benefits. This entails engaging in active job searches each week, among other requirements.
Eligibility Requirements Explained
Unemployed Through No Fault of Your Own
You cannot have caused your separation from work to be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. If you quit without a good cause connected to work, your decision to leave caused the separation. If you were fired for misconduct connected to work, your actions caused the separation.
Lay offs and plant closings are two examples of losing a job through no fault of your own.
Able and Available
You must be physically and mentally able to work when you file your claim. You also have to be available to accept suitable employment. If your initial claim is successful, you may not refuse an offer of suitable employment. Your self-employment work or class schedule will not be a sufficient reason to refuse work.
Hours Worked in the Base Year
A “base year” is a 12-month period the state uses to determine whether you’re eligible for benefits and if so, how much you’re eligible to receive. The base year is divided into 3-month periods called quarters, and the state observes your wages and hours over the first four of the last five quarters prior to your filing the initial claim.
If you don’t have enough hours in your base year using the standard base period determination, the state will use an alternate base period. This will be the 12 months prior to your filing your initial claim.
Maximum Benefit Amount in Washington
The amount of unemployment benefits you will receive each week is called your weekly benefit amount (WBA). To find out your WBA, the state will take the average of your two highest paying quarters in your base period, and then take 3.85% of the average.
Washington has a maximum and minimum WBA. The maximum is $681. The minimum is $162. No one who is eligible for benefits will receive less than the minimum, regardless of base period wages.
You can collect a limited amount during your benefit year (the 52-week period after you file your initial claim). That amount is the lesser of:
- 26 times your WBA or
- 1/3 of your total base year wages.
The Employment Security Department offers a WBA estimating widget on their website.
How to apply
You can apply for unemployment benefits in Washington by phone or online. If you would like to apply over the phone, you can call the claims center at 800-318-6022 (TTY 800-365-8969) Monday-Friday from 8am to 5pm.
To file your claim online, visit https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/. You will create a user account at the webpage or answer a few questions at the claims center.
Before you file your claim, you should have the following information available:
- Your social security number
- Your contact information (it may help to have your driver’s license handy)
- Information of all of your previous employers for the past 2 years (names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates employed at each employer). If you had more than 16 employers in the past 2 years, you must call the claims center to apply.
- Your approximate gross monthly pay from each employer
- The name and local number of your labor union (if applicable)
- Your SF-8 and SF-50 form if you were a federal employee for the past 2 years
- Your DD-214 form if you were in a branch of the military for the past 2 years
- Your alien registration number if you are not a U.S citizen
In order to file for an extension, you must apply over the phone by calling the EUC/EB Unit at 1-877-588-8509.
Maintaining Eligibility and Weekly Certifications
Once you successfully file an initial claim for benefits, you will continue to be eligible through the benefit year if you maintain your initial status and look for work. The requires you to file a claim for benefits each week, sometimes called weekly certifications or filing a weekly claim for benefits.
You file your weekly claim in the same way as you filed your initial claim. You may file online or by telephone, using the same portal or telephone number. In special cases, you may file a paper form by mail or fax. You’ll want to file online or by phone, however.
When you file the weekly claim, the system will collect information from you to help them determine whether you are eligible for benefits that week. These questions intend to discover:
- Whether you are able and available to work
- Whether you have started a new job or quit one
- Whether you have earned any wages or received income
- Whether you have refused suitable employment
- Whether you are actively looking for work
The ESD’s system may ask other questions regarding your status, but all related to eligibility issues.
If you miss a week or make a mistake when certifying, call the claims center for assistance ASAP.
Work Search Requirements
The ESD requires that all benefit recipients make regular job searches as a condition of remaining eligible each week.
The first step is to register with a WorkSource employment center. You can register online or find a location near you. Once registered, you can upload a resume and perform job searches. However, simply searching the database a few times each week will not satisfy the job search requirements to stay eligible. You must:
- Make employer contacts, or;
- Participate in training sessions at a local WorkSource location.
An employer contact means contacting someone with hiring authority at some business and either inquiring personally about work or applying for a job. The business you contact has to be looking for employees for this activity to satisfy the state.
The activities at the job centers revolve around improving your ability to find suitable employment. You will learn to improve your resume and interview skills.
You must perform three of these activities per week to remain eligible. Keep a log of all your job search activities. An ESD representative may ask to see proof of your work search activity at any time.
Your logs should contain information the ESD can verify. Any kind of current contact information for employers should work. The representative will also want to know what jobs you applied for and when.
The ESD will exempt some workers from the job search requirement. If you have a definite date when you will return to work, you may be exempt. Membership in a union hall with a placement program may exempt you from the requirement. If you participate in a Commissioner-approved training program, the state may exempt you. The ESD will inform you if you are exempt.
Part-time Employment and Maintaining Eligibility
You can work part-time and still receive unemployment benefits. However, the state will deduct earnings from your WBA. The state observes your gross earnings, subtracts $5, then takes 75% of the difference. Remember, you still keep the money you earned for that week. Only your benefit amount is reduced. If you earn $100 in wages, the state will deduct about $72 from your WBA.
The ESD publishes an unemployment benefit handbook and that handbook includes a chart to help you find the right deduction in the week you have wages.
You must report the wages (and/or income) you earn. Report when you file a weekly claim and report the wages in the week you earned them, not when you were paid.
Some wages are not deductible, like severance pay or Social Security payments. Typically, most earned income is deductible. If you accept goods for work performed, you will have to estimate the value of those goods and deduct them from the WBA.
You must report any wages or income earned. The state could consider the withholding of such information to be fraud.
Reasons for Denial of Benefits
You must have been employed during the base period in a business covered by unemployment laws (“covered employment.”) Self-employment is not covered. If you earn income through commissions, the employment is not covered. Some small businesses may not be covered. Your employer will be able to give you this information.
If you fail to make enough wages in your base period, the state will not approve your claim for unemployment benefits. The wage issue is a “threshold” question. You will not receive further consideration after this determination.
The state will notify you in the Statement of Wages and Hours regarding your wages. This statement will also tell you your WBA.
Even though you make sufficient wages to qualify, the state may deny your claim because of how you were separated from work. If your actions or decisions were the main factor in you leaving work, the state may deny your claim.
If you quit without a good cause connected to your work, the state may deny benefits. You may consider going back to school full-time a good cause, but it was a decision to benefit you personally. It is not connected to work.
If the state denies benefits because you quit, you can work for at least seven weeks to earn seven times your WBA. Then you may reopen your claim.
If your employer fired you for multiple violations of policy after several warnings from your employer, the claims examiner may consider that your actions amounted to “misconduct connected to your work.” Your action caused the separation.
If the state finds misconduct, you can work for ten weeks or until you earn 10 times your WBA. Then you may reopen the claim. If the state finds gross misconduct, you may lose eligibility no matter your wages in the base period.
Quit and Still Eligible
The ESD looks at quit issues on a case-by-case basis. The claims examiner will look at the reason you quit the job before denying benefits. There are a few situations the examiner will consider the quit to be for a good cause:
- Your employer reduced your salary by at least 25% or more
- You found a new, or better, job
- You had to leave because of a domestic violence issue
- You worked under unsafe conditions or suffered undue harassment
You had to show that you tried to remedy the situation before quitting the job. In many cases, this means discussing the matter with your supervisor or with HR.
Fired and Still Eligible
If the ESD denies the claim for benefits because you were discharged for cause, you may still be eligible for benefits. You may have been discharged for a one-time incident. The state may not consider this to be misconduct. However, severe violations of policy, like violence against another employee, may be considered misconduct even though it happened only once.
Your former employer will receive notice when you file a claim. The state will ask them about the circumstances of your separation from work, and they may offer information to counter your side of the story, resulting in a denial. You may have to exercise your right to appeal.
What Happens When Benefits Are Denied: The Appeals Process
You have the right to appeal any adverse decision the state makes against you. If you disagree with a decision, you have 30 days in which to file an appeal of that decision to the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). If your appeal is late, you will have to show the state a good cause to accept your appeal. If you cannot, the state will dismiss the case.
The OAH is not a part of the ESD. The ESD will forward your appeal to the OAH.
When you receive your letter of determination, it will include instructions on how to appeal the decision. It is important to note that you will be required to submit detailed information as to why you are appealing and you may be asked to complete a phone interview.
If you are denied benefits, please visit our section on appealing benefits decision in Washington.
Read the unemployment handbook for more information on all aspects of filing a claim
Find employment with Work Source
Emergency unemployment compensation phone number
Visit the “One-Stop Shop” for assistance or contact the ESD online
Mail repayments to: Benefit Payment Control, Employment Security Department,
P.O. Box 24928, Seattle, WA 98124