January 5, 2022
The New Year brought a change in Washington law that directly affects at least 3.2 million people in our state—that is, everyone currently or potentially eligible for unemployment insurance benefits when they lose a job. The change, which kicked in January 2, 2022, is a new rule governing the hours that unemployment benefit claimants must be available to work. (See revised WAC 192.170.010 effective January 2, 2022).
For anyone to collect benefits, they must be able and available for full time work as long as it is suitable work based on their experience and other qualifications. But until now, our state has given many employers unusual latitude to require people they hire to be available to work on almost any schedule.
That meant that if you were unemployed and receiving unemployment benefits, you were required to accept a job in your occupation that was offered to you during hours customary to your occupation, even if there were no set hours, even if there was mandatory overtime, even if the hours conflicted with your child care responsibilities or other family care obligations or other responsibilities such as a separate part-time job. If you refused, your benefits could be denied or you could be hit with an overpayment.
The law is much more straightforward with Washington’s new Hours of Availability rule. Now, as long as you are available for at least 40 hours a week during your occupation’s customary hours, you can choose which hours and which days.
There is one caveat: The 40 hours you choose cannot significantly restrict your ability to find a job. For example, if you can only work from 5 a.m. to 1 p.m. and there are no jobs in your field with those hours, you will not be considered available to work. But as long as your chosen hours do not substantially limit your employment prospects within your general area, declining a job offer with other hours will not affect your eligibility for unemployment benefits.
In addition to allowing you to choose your hours of availability, the new rule adds your own prior work shifts to the elements of a job that will help determine whether it is suitable work for you. For example, if you have generally worked a daytime shift in your occupation, now you will not be required to accept a job with a swing shift.
The new Hours of Availability rule promises to make life, work, and job-seeking less stressful for unemployed workers in Washington. The Unemployment Law Project wishes to thank the Employment Security Department for developing this rule in response to concerns ULP raised about hardships created by the old Hours of Availability requirements, especially for family caregivers.
Note: One important protection in Hours of Availability policy for the unemployed remains to be adopted. If your current employer changes your hours and they create a conflict with the schedule under which you have been working—for example, they would keep you at work after your child’s day care center is closed—right now you do not have the right to quit the job and receive unemployment benefits. The Unemployment Law Project and other advocacy groups including MomsRising are supporting legislation in the 2022 session (HB 1486) so that a change in work-hours that makes caregiving for which the employee is responsible inaccessible would constitute good cause to voluntarily quit a job and seek new work.
For further information about the rule and its impact on your benefit eligibility, please see ULP’s website at https://unemploymentlawproject.org/2021/08/10/unemployment-law-project-wins-fight-to-reform-hours-of-availability-rules/
Full details of the new Hours of Availability rule may be viewed at https://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/Law/WSR/2021/11/21-11-004.htm