Collecting Unemployment Benefits in Washington

Learn the unemployment eligibility rules, benefit amounts, and more for Washington.

By , Attorney · University of San Francisco School of Law

In Washington, as in every other state, employees who are temporarily out of work through no fault of their own may qualify for unemployment benefits. The eligibility rules, prior earnings requirements, benefit amounts, and other details vary from state to state. Here are the basic rules for collecting unemployment compensation in Washington.

Eligibility Requirements for Washington Unemployment Benefits

In Washington, the Employment Security Department (ESD) handles unemployment benefits and determines eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Applicants must meet the following three eligibility requirements in order to collect unemployment benefits in Washington:

  • You must have worked a certain minimum number of hours.
  • You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, as defined by Washington law.
  • You must be able and available to work, and you must be actively seeking employment.

Do You Meet the Minimum Earnings Requirement?

Virtually all states look at your recent work history and earnings during a one-year "base period" to determine your eligibility for unemployment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Unemployment Compensation: Understanding the Base Period). In Washington, as in most states, the base period is the earliest four of the five complete calendar quarters before you filed your benefits claim. For example, if you filed your claim in October of 2019, the base period would be from June 1, 2018, through May 31, 2019.

To be eligible for benefits, you must have worked at least 680 hours during the base period.

Are You Out of Work Through No Fault of Your Own?

You must be out of work through no fault of your own to qualify for unemployment benefits.

Collecting Unemployment After a Layoff

If you were laid off, lost your job in a reduction-in-force (RIF), or got "downsized" for economic reasons, you will meet this requirement.

Collecting Unemployment After Being Fired

If you were fired because you lacked the skills to perform the job or simply weren't a good fit, you won't necessarily be barred from receiving benefits. As long as your actions don't rise to the level of "misconduct," you will still be eligible to receive unemployment. In Washington, misconduct means that the employee's actions show a "willful or wanton disregard" for the employer's interest, or a carelessness that is so serious or frequent to show an intentional disregard for the employer's interests. Under Washington law, the following are examples of misconduct:

  • acts of insubordination
  • repeatedly being late or absent after receiving a warning
  • lying on employment documents or other work-related dishonesty
  • engaging in physical violence at the workplace
  • work-related violations of the law
  • intentional violation of a collective bargaining agreement, and
  • violating a reasonable company policy.

Collecting Unemployment After Quitting

If you quit your job, you won't be eligible for unemployment benefits unless you had good cause for quitting. In Washington, a variety of reasons will qualify as good cause, including leaving a job because of the serious illness of a family member, the relocation of a spouse or domestic partner, a substantial reduction in pay, domestic violence, and unsafe working conditions that go uncorrected by the employer. Other circumstances may also qualify as good cause, but it depends on the facts of each case.

Are You Available and Actively Searching for Work?

To maintain your eligibility for unemployment benefits, you must be able to work, available to accept a job, and looking for employment. (For more information, see Nolo's article, Collecting Unemployment: Are You Able, Available, and Actively Seeking Work?) If you're offered a suitable position, you must accept it. For the initial unemployment period, whether a position is suitable depends on several factors, including the level of skill and training required, the similarity between the work and your previous employment, how much the position pays, and the distance between the job site and your residence. However, as time goes on, you will be expected to modify your standards and consider accepting any work for which you are qualified.

You must conduct a reasonable search for work. At a minimum, you must make contact with at least three potential employers or participate in three in-person job search activities per week. You should keep a log of your job search efforts, including the employers you have contacted, the dates you made contact, and the outcome. The ESD may contact you or your employer contacts to verify your efforts. You will also be required to register for work at a Worksource Employment Center.

Amount and Duration of Unemployment Benefits in Washington State

The ESD determines your weekly benefit amount by averaging your wages from the two highest quarters in your base period and multiplying that number by .0385. The minimum weekly benefit amount is $188, and the maximum weekly benefit is $790. For example, if you earned an average of $17,000 in the two highest quarters, your weekly benefit amount would be $637 ($17,000 x .0385).

An individual can collect regular unemployment benefits for up to 26 weeks, though this might be extended in periods of high unemployment.

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