Frequently asked questions for workers

I have been exposed to COVID-19

What if I need to take time off work because I contract COVID-19? 

The first and best option for employees who need to miss work due to illness is to use their employer-paid time off. Labor and Industries has information about Paid Sick Leave. When this leave is not available, Paid Family and Medical Leave may be available to help.

What if I am asked by a medical professional or public health official to quarantine as a result of COVID-19, but I am not sick?

If you are following guidance issued by a medical professional or public health official to isolate or quarantine yourself as a result of exposure to COVID-19 and you are not receiving paid sick leave from your employer, you may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. If you know you can return to your job as soon as your isolation or quarantine is lifted, you may not need to search for work. You must able to accept any work offered by your employer that would not cause you to break isolation or quarantine.

What should I do if I contract COVID-19 on the job?

See information from the Dept. of Labor and Industries information on Workers’ Compensation

What is a request to isolate or quarantine?

A request to isolate or quarantine is:

  • A letter documenting a voluntary request or involuntary order to isolate or quarantine from a medical professional, local health official, or the Secretary of Health.
  • A note from your medical provider or medical records office recommending isolation or quarantine.
  • A self-determination that Department of Health’s quarantine guidance applies to you.

Do I qualify for unemployment benefits if I become seriously ill and I am forced to quit my job as a result of COVID-19?

If you are too ill to be able and available for work, you do not qualify for unemployment benefits. However, you may qualify for Paid Family & Medical Leave while you are sick. You can learn more in this Q&A. Once you recover and are available for work again, you can apply for unemployment benefits.  

My work has changed because of COVID-19

My employer has shut down operations temporarily because an employee is sick and we have been asked to isolate or quarantine as a result of COVID-19. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

If you are not receiving payment from your employer, such as paid sick leave or paid time off, you may be eligible for unemployment benefits and may qualify for standby during this time. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Learn more about the basic eligibility requirements for a claim.

What if my employer goes out of business as a result of COVID-19? 

  • You may be eligible for unemployment benefits if you’re out of work due to a lack of work. Download this checklist to prepare to apply for unemployment if your job has been affected by COVID-19.

What if I am temporarily laid off work because business has slowed down as a result of COVID-19?

If you are laid off work temporarily or if your hours are reduced due to a business slowdown or a lack of demand as a result of COVID-19, you may be able to receive unemployment benefits. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

Standby means you do not have to look for another job while you collect unemployment benefits, so long as you stay in contact with your regular employer. You must accept any work you can do without breaking isolation or quarantine that is offered by your employer, such as telework. 

Emergency rules effective March 20 allow workers up to 12 weeks of standby. We are updating our technology to reflect the new rules. If you request more than four weeks of standby, you may receive a letter denying your request. Do not worry. We are reviewing standby denials on a case-by-case basis to determine if they meet the new criteria. If your standby request is approved, you will receive another letter informing you of the approval. Keep filing weekly claims during this time.

Partial Employment or SharedWork: Under certain circumstances, you may work part-time while collecting unemployment benefits.

I am a part-time employee. Am I eligible for standby?

If you have an anticipated date that you will return to work, under the emergency rules we put into place as a result of COVID-19, standby is available to all full-time, part-time, and other less than full-time employees. If you worked part time in the last 18 months, you must meet the minimum requirement of having worked 680 hours in your base year in order to have an unemployment claim. Find basic eligibility requirements for a claim.

IMPORTANT NOTICE REGARDING STANDBY: If you request standby status (full-time or part-time), you may receive an automated notice indicating your request is denied. Do not worry, that notice does not reflect the emergency rules. We are in the process of updating our computer system. You do not need to call the claims center. We will review all standby denials from March 8 forward to determine if they meet the new criteria. If your standby request is approved, you will receive another letter informing you of the approval. Keep filing weekly claims during this time. 

I am a gig worker. Am I eligible for unemployment?

There is a lot of confusion out there about whether gig workers, like rideshare drivers, are eligible for unemployment benefits. But, if you are a gig worker who has lost work due to COVID-19, we want you to apply for unemployment benefits! There are some challenges with the application process that we are working to resolve. Read these tips:

  • The online application is not designed for the way you work. Fill it out the best that you can. Our claims agents work through these applications on a case-by-case basis.
  • Currently, independent contractors and sole proprietors are not eligible for unemployment insurance. Whether a gig worker is considered to be in one of these categories varies by situation. Our claims center agents will evaluate situations on a case-by-case basis. We want you to apply anyway.

My existing unemployment claim has been impacted by COVID-19

How am I supposed to meet deadlines related to my existing unemployment claim if I am in isolation or quarantine as a result of COVID-19?

Under the emergency rules we put into place as a result of COVID-19, we are providing more leniency for many UI deadlines, such as deadlines for training programs. Submit your documents as soon as you are able and provide as much information as you can. Progress reports for training programs can be submitted with whatever information you have available. For example, if your school has closed, return your paperwork and tell us.  

How long do I need to wait to be eligible for unemployment benefits?

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Inslee has waived the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. This means you can be eligible for UI benefits the first week of your claim. Once we determine your eligibility, we process and issue payments within a few weeks of receiving a claim. The average unemployment claim is approved with no issues and benefits become available shortly after you file your weekly claim. Other claims require more research to reach a decision on whether you’ll receive benefits and could take a little longer. Continue to file weekly claims during this time.

What if I’ve been collecting unemployment benefits and either myself or a family member gets sick with COVID-19 and I must care for them, what options do I have for benefits?

If you have been receiving unemployment benefits and are now sick with COVID-19, or need to take care of a loved one who is sick with COVID-19, you may not be considered able and available for work. You can apply for benefits with Paid Family and Medical Leave. You cannot receive both unemployment benefits and PFML during the same week. You need to stop claiming unemployment benefits when you start receiving Paid Family and Medical Leave. Cancellation of your unemployment claim is not necessary. Please visit Paid Family and Medical Leave's website for more information. Eligibility decisions for both unemployment and PFML are made on a case-by-case basis. 

I am still confused about what benefits and programs may be available to individuals who are financially affected by COVID-19.

This easy-to-read reference guide provides a simple list of many scenarios related to COVID-19 and the benefits that may apply.

School closures

Governor Inslee announced a statewide closure of schools beginning midnight, March 17, through April 24, unless it is extended beyond that date. 

The first and best option for workers affected by school closures is employer-paid time off. When that is not an option, Employment Security may be able to help by providing access to unemployment benefits. Benefits can provide a partial wage replacement as a last resort. Below is information for teachers, school administrative staff, school support staff (i.e., janitors, cafeteria workers, bus drivers), and those with children impacted by school closures.

The school I work at is closed due to the Governor’s order to close. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

If you are being paid by the school while your school is closed, you can apply for benefits, but you may be considered fully employed and not eligible. If your school is not paying you while it is closed, you may be eligible for benefits. You will have to be able, available and actively seeking work during each week you claim, unless you are approved for standby. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

My child’s school is closed due to the governor’s order to close. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

It depends. If you cannot go to work because you don’t have childcare for your child while school is closed, you should call your employer and let them know why you are absent. If your employer fires you or lays you off while you are absent, you may qualify for benefits.  However, you are required to be able, available and actively seeking work each week you collect unemployment benefits. If you do not have childcare so that you can return to your job or accept a work offer, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits. If your situation changes, let us know. Remember, your first and best option should always be employer-paid time off.

I am a substitute teacher who is no longer able to secure work with a school because of the closures. Am I eligible for unemployment benefits?

You may be eligible for unemployment. You will have to be able, available and actively seeking other suitable work during each week you claim. Eligibility decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.