Washington Unemployment Benefits and Eligibility

In this article...
  • Learn about Washington state's eligibility requirements for unemployment, and discover the benefits you can receive while you're looking for a new job.

Unemployment assistance is designed to help you cover expenses when you're between jobs. In Washington state, the Employment Security Department (ESD) manages unemployment claims and benefits. If you're planning to make a claim, make sure you meet the requirements; a complete, accurate application can help you get funds faster.

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Who Is Eligible for Unemployment Benefits in Washington?

You may be eligible for Washington unemployment benefits if you:

  • Worked at least 680 hours during your base year
  • Spent part of the base year working in Washington state
  • Left your last job for an approved reason
  • Are available for work while you're collecting unemployment benefits

The "base year" refers to the period of time that Washington uses to assess your income. For most people, this period is the first four calendar-year quarters of the five most recently completed quarters. The quarters are:

  • Quarter 1: January to March
  • Quarter 2: April to June
  • Quarter 3: July to September
  • Quarter 4 October to December

If you apply in March of 2024, the five most recently completed quarters would be Quarter 4 of 2022 and Quarters 1-4 of 2023. That means that your base year would be the first four of those quarters: October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2023.

What happens if you didn't work for 680 hours during the base year? The state will look at your alternate base year, which is the four most recent complete quarters.

The Washington ESD also examines your reasons for leaving your last job. In most cases, you'll qualify for unemployment benefits if you were laid off, your seasonal job ended, or your position at the company was eliminated.

You may be eligible for unemployment if you quit, under certain circumstances. This can happen if you:

  • Were sick or disabled
  • Needed to protect yourself from a stalker or a domestic abuser
  • Moved for your partner's job
  • Were faced with a large reduction in pay or hours
  • Were dealing with an unfair, hostile or unsafe work environment

Can you get unemployment if you were fired? If you were fired for misconduct or gross misconduct, the ESD will probably deny your claim. This includes dishonesty, unexcused absences, embezzlement and theft. The ESD investigates each application individually, so you can expect to answer additional questions. Officials may also get in touch with your last employer.

Continuing Eligibility for Unemployment

The initial employment claim is just the beginning of the eligibility process. If you receive benefits, you'll need to file a new claim every Sunday using your eServices account or by phone at 800-318-6022. Each claim requires you to answer a set of questions about your job-search activities, income and availability for work.

In addition to a weekly claim, Washington requires you to search for work. This includes:

  • Keeping a weekly job-search log
  • Completing at least three employer contacts or job-search activities per week
  • Registering with your local WorkSource office or American Job Center

Approved employer contacts include inquiring about a job or applying for a position. Job-search activities are typically run through WorkSource and American Job Center offices; they include training sessions, skill-building workshops and other relevant classes. 

Washington State requires you to keep a written log of each contact or activity that includes:

  • Date
  • Type of contact or activity
  • Result

The ESD can audit your log at any time up to 30 days after you stop receiving unemployment benefits or the end of the benefit year. If they find that you aren't following the rules, they may deny benefits or audit the benefits you've received in the past.

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How Do You Apply for Washington Unemployment Benefits?

If you think you're eligible for unemployment, you can file a claim on the ESD eServices website or by phone through the Claims Center at  800-318-6022. Be prepared with personal identification and details about your work for the past 18 months, including dates, employer information and income.

After you complete the application process, you must register with the nearest WorkSource office. If you no longer live in Washington, you'll need to register with an American Job Center.

You may not have to register for work if you are:

  • Signed up for an ESD-approved training program
  • On standby from your employer
  • Out of work because of a strike or labor dispute
  • Protected by a court-issued anti-harassment order

How Much Do You Get From Washington Unemployment?

In Washington, the most you can receive each week in unemployment is $929 per week. The actual amount depends on your earnings during the base year. 

Washington doesn't have a set number of weeks for unemployment. Instead, it allows you to claim unemployment benefits until you hit the lesser of:

  • 26 times the weekly benefit
  • One-third of your gross income during the base year

To get an idea of your maximum employment benefit, add the earnings from your two highest-income quarters. Then, multiply that amount by 0.0385. If the amount is between $295 and $929, it will be your weekly benefit amount. If it's higher than $929, your weekly benefit will be $929.

If the number is lower than $295, the state will multiply it by 4 and divide the result by 52. Compare that number to $295; your weekly benefit will be whichever is lower.

Factors That Affect Your Weekly Benefit Amount

The number you calculate is the maximum you can receive each week. Other factors can reduce the benefit amount, including:

  • Part-time income
  • Worker's compensation
  • Separation pay
  • Retirement income
  • Child-support payments
  • Income tax

What Happens If Unemployment Claims in Washington Are Denied?

If you're denied unemployment, you can appeal it within 30 days through your eServices account. If you prefer a mail or fax appeal, follow the instructions on your denial letter. Continue to file weekly claims during the appeals process.

If the ESD changes its decision, you'll get a notice by mail. Otherwise, they'll send the appeal to the Washington Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). An official will schedule a phone hearing or a Brief Adjudicative Proceeding, and the judge will make a decision. After that, you'll have one final opportunity to appeal; you can find instructions on the OAH order.

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