Unemployment for Regular Employees

for payroll employees who have lost work during COVID-19

If you’re unemployed due to the coronavirus, whether from lay-off, reduced hours, mandatory closures, or a loss of self-employment income, you are likely eligible for unemployment benefits and should consider an application.

This article describes how to apply for regular unemployment benefits and the related COVID-era extensions.  If you lost work as a regular full-time (or nearly full-time) payroll employee, this article is for you.

However, if you are a worker in the creative economy, your main source of income may not be from typical employment.  Maybe you make money off an artistic practice. Maybe you are a gig-worker or contractor.  This typically lands you in the self-employed classification, which isn’t usually eligible in the same way for unemployment benefits. 

But COVID has changed things.  So, if you are a contractor, an independent artist or otherwise self-employed, please refer to the article on Unemployment for Self-employed, Contractors and Gig Workers to find out about the extended COVID-era benefits for you.

For more information about the history and policy behind unemployment insurance, see Unemployment Insurance & Benefits: an overview. And if you are the owner or manager of a business with employees, you may read this to understand how to help them, but you might also take a look at our separate article about Unemployment Insurance for businesses and employers.

This article is a part of the Financial Survival Handbook [link forthcoming], which is one section of the COVID-19 HANDBOOKS FOR THE CREATIVE SECTOR.  All this month, we will post new daily articles on Financial Survival and other refreshed articles from the Handbook.

What are unemployment benefits?

Unemployment benefits provide workers with temporary income when they lose a job through no fault of their own. The money partly replaces lost earnings and helps cover expenses while looking for new work.

The benefits, generally paid by past employer(s), are not based on financial need. Usually, while receiving benefits, the goal is to get back to work as quickly as possible.

More details on the background of Unemployment Insurance, overall benefits and eligibility is available in our article, Unemployment Insurance Benefits: an overview.

Applying for Unemployment Benefits

Generally, the best and fastest way to apply for unemployment benefits is online.  Especially during COVID, wait times by phone are very long and in-person applications are not available.  

The rest of this article will walk you through these steps, as laid out by the Employment Security Department (ESD) on their website.

  1. Check Eligibility 
  2. Submit an Application
  3. After you apply
  4. Look for work (optional)
  5. Submit a Weekly Claim
  6. Other Considerations

Step 1: Check Eligibility

If you were laid off as a result of COVID-19, you are likely eligible for regular unemployment benefits.  Use the “eligibility checker” to explore whether and how you will be able to apply for benefits, provided by the Employment Security Department (ESD) here.

The eligibility checker is in two sections, one per page, to explore both regular unemployment benefits and expanded benefits due to COVID. If you are unsure of your eligibility after completing the checklist, ESD recommends you apply anyway. 

If you think you are ineligible on page one for regular benefits, please visit the other article about Applying for extended benefits for Self-employed, Contractors and Gig Workers.

Step 2: Submit Your Application

As mentioned above, it is recommended that you apply online. COVID has increased the wait times by phone absurdly.  Plus, online you can apply 24 hours a day, seven days per week. Also, ESD suggests you use a laptop or desktop computer—not a mobile device or tablet.

When applying, the system will time out after 15 minutes to protect your security.  So before you start applying online, it really is important to gather the required documents from the preparation checklist (as mentioned above).

Need help? Check the eServices User Guide or technical support FAQs.

Step 3: After You Apply

Once you apply, ESD will review your application and notify you if your application has been approved.  That notification should include information about how much money you will receive and what to do next. You will also be notified if you are not approved.

Unfortunately, due to the massive numbers of claims and applications, ESD is overwhelmed with work and taking longer than usual to reply to new applications.  But if you have an application submitted, you will be considered and contacted eventually.

Other important information about acceptance

  • You have to submit a claim every week that you are without work and are wanting to collect unemployment benefits. Directions for submitting claims will be provided with your acceptance information.

  • You have to submit a claim every week that you are without work and are wanting to collect unemployment benefits. Directions for submitting claims will be provided with your acceptance information.

  • Report honestly.  If ESD discovers unreported income and work, they will require you to repay any overlapping benefits, with penalties.

  • Watch for and read any information they send you. They offer a system called eServices, which allows you to login and manage your account directly through a portal.  It’s a good option, with email notifications.  This information may be time sensitive and affect your eligibility for benefits so stay tuned.

  • Sign up for direct deposit or a debit card to receive your weekly benefits faster and more securely.

  • Start your optional job search.  Usually, it is required that you apply for a minimum number of jobs each week, but that requirement has been waived during COVID.  Currently, it is waived at least through the month of October and the Governor has announced the extensions right at the beginning of the month.

  • Read the Unemployed Worker Handbook to learn about the requirements and dive deeper into the information here.

  • If you stopped submitting weekly claims for some reason before exhausting your benefits, don’t submit a new application.  So long as your application was within the past 12 months, you can just start submitting claims again as normal.  

Exhausted regular unemployment benefits?

As it mentions in our general article on Unemployment Insurance, the CARES Act and other efforts have created extended benefits that will cover you to go beyond the usual 26 weeks of coverage.  But you may need to take action in order to extend them. 

When you reach the end of your 26 weeks of regular benefits, look for the alert in eServices called “PEUC claim”, click it and apply. If you are eligible, your benefits will be extended 13 weeks.  Hopefully, by then you’ve found work!  But if not, keep a lookout as there is yet another extension available for benefits at that point for another 20 weeks should you need it.

Step 4: Look for Work (optional)

Usually, people receiving unemployment benefits are required to look for work and document their search. This requirement is now optional due to COVID-19. This change started March 8, 2020. Currently, the waiver on the work-search requirement is being extended every month, and will continue until further notice. 

Many employers are still hiring, even now, so we encourage anyone who has lost work to continue searching.

Take a look at our section on finding work for job listings, tips and tactics for finding work opportunities during COVID. 

Now hiring: Employment Security itself is hiring additional staff in claims center operations. See ESD’s available jobs page at careers.wa.gov, and filter for Job Category “Insurance.”

Step 5: Weekly Claim

After you are approved for unemployment benefits, you must submit a weekly claim for every week you wish to receive benefits. When submitting the weekly claim, you are reporting on the previous week. For unemployment purposes, a week is Sunday through Saturday, and you can’t claim for a week until it’s over.

Once you have your application accepted, ESD will send you directions for all of these systems as well, but we’ve listed the steps for submitting your claim below.

The fastest way to submit your weekly claims is online, 24 hours day, seven days a week.  

If you were approved for unemployment benefits within the past 12 months, but stopped claiming for a week or more for any reason, don’t submit a new application. You can restart your claim this week, then begin filing weekly claims next week, as normal.

Other Important Considerations

Imposters & Fraud

This year has seen a record number of issues with security for our Unemployment system throughout the country and especially in Washington State.  If you suspect someone has filed for unemployment benefits using your information, don’t worry.  It will be sorted out.  But you should report it ASAP. 

Report any instances of suspected fraud or identity theft here.

At that link is more information from ESD, along with a reporting form.  They will ask for some basic information, such as your full name, SS#, address, date of birth and a description of the suspected fraud.

In addition, they provide other resources if you suspect identity theft:

Mistakes, exceptions & snags

There are so many ways that your application and/or claims can get snagged in the system, leading to delays in payment, confusion and frustration. Most important note in these cases is to not give up hope.  The answers and path forward are there, it just may require some patience, diligence and/or creativity.

Here are some issues that have been discovered by others:

  • Time sheet issues – Are you working part-time but still collecting benefits for under-employment?  Maybe you are paid by output and not by time.  Or maybe there are other oddities to the way your timesheet is reported by your employer.  Always report the actual numbers and use special notes to explain further.
  • Site issues – The ESD site is really inconsistent due to the amount of traffic and activity.  They have improved it since March, but there are still outages and issues with individuals getting “kicked off” of the site while in the middle of a form or report.  If that happens, just continue to try logging back in.  Your work may still exist, or you may need to re-submit.  If you think you may have finished a claim or other submission but do not see it in your account, assume it has not been submitted.
  • Mixed signals / confusing notifications – ESD sends email notifications often inviting additional applications and claims information and it isn’t always clear if a response is required.  If you have applied, are submitting weekly claims and are receiving benefits as described, you should be fine to continue.  Invitations to “apply for benefits” or other notifications may be written for someone who is working part-time or intermittently, or otherwise has different circumstances.
  • Violation / Repayment requirement – This one can be scary.  Maybe you got paid for a quick gig and ESD assumed you were fully employed again.  Maybe a mistake was made.  But ESD is now asking for the money back.  Don’t despair.  There are options, including the following:
    • Appeal the decision.  They describe the process in the unemployment handbook.  Sometimes they reverse the decision.
    • Wait. It may take a couple weeks or even months for the bureaucracy to work itself out.  They aren’t going to come actively seeking the money right away.  And when they do, they’ll work out a payment plan, usually taken out of your paycheck.
    • Read the fine print.  In some cases, ESD recollected funds given under regular unemployment when a mistaken approval was given and then reversed.  But then the applicant was in fact eligible under PUA and got the benefits again there.
    • Get help.  The Washington Unemployment Law Project is here to help pro bono.

Other links & resources

Immediate questions about your health?
King County Public Health Hotline