Assisting Employees with Unemployment during COVID-19

As business and human resource leaders in our organizations, one of the toughest things to do is put on the brave face in the middle of all this chaos surrounding us.  That face has to stay strong as we explain to our employees – those we’ve built relationships with over the years, that we don’t have answers that will calm the fears, or more so, that those people will be laid off from their jobs because the organization simply cannot keep going.

What will stand out to each employee, in the long run, though, is the way that they were supported during the unemployment process.  Appreciation will follow, knowing they were not left to navigate these unknown waters themselves.  Remember, it’s likely they aren’t familiar with the jargon, acronyms and paperwork procedures that resemble daily processes within HR.  This is a time to share that knowledge and provide insight.

As of today, here’s what I know about what’s happening in Washington State’s unemployment (including some of the expanded aspects because of the COVID-19 pandemic):

  • The best way to file for unemployment is online. The phone lines are swamped, and the specialists at ESD are working hard to take calls and respond to emails as much as possible.
  • Have employees set up their SAW account. https://secure.esd.wa.gov/home/  Everything in the future related to their claim will be managed through this, and it is the step that needs to be taken before they can apply for unemployment.
  • ESD personnel also encourage individuals to participate in their “Introduction to Unemployment Insurance” webinar. Not only will it go through the application process and answer many frequently asked questions, it also means that there are opportunities to ask specific direct questions – instead of calling the phone lines!  Webinar information can be found here: https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/introduction-to-unemployment-insurance-public-webinar
  • There’s a little bit of good news: Washington State waived the one week waiting period for unemployment, so applicants are immediately eligible.  The other requirement that has been waived is the “search” provision, where people are not currently required to do weekly job searches.
  • There’s a little more good news: under the federal CARES Act, there is an additional $600 per week of unemployment aid that will go out to those receiving benefits. Those who have applied and are receiving unemployment benefits will, beginning in mid-April, receive this federal funding.  There is no need to apply for it separately.  This funding should be retroactively paid to either the beginning of the person’s unemployment, or to when the Act was officially law.  Note: this is the same $600 federal unemployment that business owners, sole proprietors, independent contractors, gig workers and many others will be eligible for, even if they are not eligible for the State’s unemployment benefit.  ESD will have their updated online application available for this group of individuals in mid-April.
  • To prepare for filling out the unemployment application form, ESD officials highly stress making sure to cover all of these things in this checklist https://esdorchardstorage.blob.core.windows.net/esdwa/Default/ESDWAGOV/Unemployment/COVID-19_Applications_CheckList.pdf
  • One more tip: many companies have an official business name, and then operate under another name – a DBA.  It is likely that employees will know of the company mostly by the DBA name.  When filling out unemployment paperwork, the process is designed to have their claim attach to the official business name, rather than the DBA.  Make sure that employees know to list their claim under the business name in order to keep the process running smoothly behind the scenes.

These things are easy to add to any list of resources you provide departing employees.

While individuals process the news of losing their job, reassure them that they are valued.  Treat them with value during the conversation.  Each person will take the news differently, so prepare yourself.  Keep composure.  And work to not internalize it.  Self-care will be a priority when the day is over.

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