New ESD rule on work-hours eases a major pain point for unemployment benefit claimants as they look for new jobs

Photo by Andrey Grushnikov from Pexels

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

Newsletter 2021: A Year in Review

In this issue: Policy Wins | Empowering Communities | Impact of Representation | Language Accessibility | Staff Spotlight | Summer Interns | Thanks from the Director


ULP Logs Long-Sought Policy Wins During the Pandemic

By Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director

When ULP’s policy program, ambitiously named the Employment Security Redesign Project, got its start in 2017 through a community redevelopment grant from the Legal Foundation of Washington, we didn’t break any records for rapidly reforming unemployment insurance. 

It ended up being a landmark year for Washington as our state passed the nation’s first Paid Family and Medical Leave law (and that was thanks in great part to MomsRising and lobbyist Pamela Crone, a former executive director of ULP). But at the time, our quest to improve claimants’ access to unemployment benefits seemed to amount to little more than a mass of meetings, e-mails, phone calls, letters, and testimony, plus terabytes of research files on our computers.

During legislative sessions from 2018 on, we have fought for passage of essentially the same bill, to add caregiving inaccessibility to Washington’s very restrictive list of “good cause” quits under which the worker would be allowed benefits. The current law with its inflexible structure has been difficult to amend. It still leaves many workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own—particularly women caregivers—stranded without benefits. Each year our bill raised some awareness but made little progress towards passage.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, while it has brought immeasurable anguish and tragedy to our entire country, has also been a turning point in some ways and we can report some milestones on the policy front as 2021 draws to a close.

  • The legislature mandated a study comparing Washington’s voluntary quit law with policy in other states and assessing the impact of proposed changes (2020). The study, completed in September 2020, definitively demonstrates that our voluntary quit law is unusually harsh and that amending the law to support caregivers would have a minimal impact on the trust fund.
  • The Employment Security Department finalized a rule reforming hours of availability requirements for all claimants (2021). ESD policy on hours of availability has created special inequity by requiring a large sector of the labor force whose jobs are defined as having customary hours of 24/7 (40 percent of occupations in Washington) to be literally available to accept jobs with any hours—day or night, fixed or variable, with no limit on the number of hours. One of ULP’s major policy successes has been to get requirements on hours of availability modified, through rulemaking, to allow workers to limit their availability to only 40 hours a week on a schedule that works for them. This rule was initiated by former Commissioner Suzi LeVine in response to ULP’s concerns about workers with caregiving conflicts. The rule, taking effect January 2, 2022, covers all claimants with 24/7 jobs.
  • The House and Senate passed a law that ULP helped develop to adopt multiple reforms of claims handling (2021). Following the chaos of UI benefit administration in 2020, there was near unanimous agreement among state legislators that reform of claims handling was essential. ULP helped draft and promote SB 5193, enacted last April, which sets requirements for comprehensible notices and determinations, establishes a trained adjudicator reserve force, mandates dedicated phone lines for people with limited computer access, and requires ESD to regularly report on phone call volume, hold times, overpayment and appeal volume, and other performance measures. 
  • The legislature added a 12th good cause to Washington’s voluntary quit list (2021). ULP helped recruit witnesses to testify for SB 5061, enacted last April, which allows high-risk persons to voluntarily quit a job during a public health emergency and to be considered available to work if they can work from home.
  • ULP also won some new roles in monitoring ESD’s performance in providing benefits. ULP withdrew from a petition for writ of mandamus which we filed in 2020 to require ESD to pay claimants benefits promptly “when due.” But we ended up as a participant in another lawsuit on due process in clams handling, filed by the Northwest Justice Project, which through a settlement with ESD gives ULP a formal role as a monitor and reviewer of ESD performance and the agency’s reports to the U.S. Department of Labor.

In 2022, we look forward to a new legislative session and the possibility of seeking fundamental change in the Employment Security statute. While we continue to serve as an outside critic of ESD policies, our working relationship with ESD has also evolved into a collaborative one. Under Commissioner LeVine, ESD agreed to hold regular monthly “check-in” meetings with ULP to discuss problems claimants are encountering with ESD’s policy team. These sessions continue under Commissioner Cami Feek, allowing ULP to raise a range of equity issues and engage with policy staff on potential solutions.

Our gratitude to the many ULP attorneys and staff, legal analysts, academic experts, lobbyists, law school interns, legislative and ESD staff, and all ULP supporters who continue to help bring important changes to the unemployment insurance laws that have such a profound impact on all Washingtonians.


Working in Partnership to Empower BIPOC Communities

By Juliana Repp, Managing Attorney, Spokane Unemployment Law Project

The Unemployment Law Project (ULP), like other state-wide legal aid organizations, continuously engages in outreach. While the ULP has a known record of advocacy to help unemployed workers secure unemployment benefits, we knew that we had to do more to reach certain historically underserved communities such as the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, especially during the pandemic. 

ULP often partners with other legal aid firms to expand and advance community education to challenge systemic inequities and improve lives of the most underrepresented in our communities. Claimants contact our office because they have legal needs when their unemployment benefits are denied or challenged by an employer. These claimants are often simultaneously experiencing food security issues, potential eviction and other systemic issues. The Spokane ULP interns and I met and made a list of legal aid organizations and community-based service organizations that worked mainly with BIPOC communities in the Spokane area. We reserved a meeting room at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Outreach Center, located in the east central neighborhood – one of the most ethnically and racially diverse neighborhoods in Spokane. We hoped this interaction would foster a continuing community partnership with the MLK Center, and its long-term Executive Director. We contacted several other BIPOC led and focused organizations to ask if they would be interested in presenting information about their organizations and services at a community resource event. We also invited legal aid organizations that provide services and representation to these particular communities to participate in this event. All of the eight organizations that we contacted were eager to participate in this event to present information, network and collaborate in a two-hour event set for August 17, 2021. After the event was set, other organizations contacted us asking to be involved. We ran out of space for what we consider an inaugural event. But, we promised other organizations, pandemic permitting, we would host more community partnership events in the future.

At the event, we offered in-person and virtual attendance. We limited in-person numbers and required attendees to wear masks and socially distance. The event received overwhelmingly positive responses, even though it wasn’t without some technical glitches. The event reiterated what I learned long ago in working with and for numerous area Native communities. If you want to reach certain communities, you’ve got to meet with them in their spaces, meet with them face-to face and involve them in discussions. You’ve got to be intentional when working to form community partnerships.

The August 17th event lit a fire within us and showed us the potential we have to bring the community together to accomplish greater things than we could on our own.  We submitted a Race Equity Grant Application to the Legal Foundation of Washington to help fund our proposal for a Carl Maxey Race Equity Fellow to assist with organizing another outreach event in Spokane. We were thrilled to recently learn that we were awarded one of the grants. This grant will help continue our efforts to work alongside others to become more responsive and to help dismantle equity barriers facing BIPOC communities. We want this to be one more step toward a long-term community partnership among legal and non-legal entities for the benefit and interests of those who most need our services.


All Walks of Life: The Variety and Impact of Unemployment Representation

By Wesley Groot, Spokane Lead Legal Intern

Working at the Unemployment Law Project (ULP) the past year and a half has been an interesting and incredibly rewarding experience. I started in May of 2020, just after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have worked here since. As we all know, millions of people have availed themselves of the unemployment system in the past year and a half, and many have experienced more than their fair share of headaches in navigating the process. In my time at the Unemployment Law Project, I have been able to help claimants with the issues that have arisen with their claim, whatever those problems may be. The bulk of our work is to represent claimants in their appeals with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). The issues involved in the hearings can vary dramatically from case to case. For example, some are relatively straightforward where the claimant is having trouble with the identity verification process, so in representation we are helping the claimant prove they are who they said they are. On the other hand, some cases are more intensive, like in an instance where a claimant was discriminated against in their workplace and the Employment Security Department (ESD) has denied their claim for whatever reason, so our representation becomes focused on that discrimination as a good reason to separate from that employer. Working through the pandemic and the shutdowns, claimants from all walks of life contact us. Many of whom have never applied for unemployment before because they had been working in the same position for decades, and then their place of work closed due to COVID. The pandemic led a wide array of people to seek assistance from ULP, and because of that variety, access to justice has been a large focus of our office in the time I have been here. 

Many claimants who contact us are from historically underrepresented groups in our legal system. Agricultural workers who know English as a second language or not at all, members of the BIPOC community, individuals who are houseless or who do not have adequate housing, or those who have had negative experiences with the court system in the past and are disenfranchised. All of these claimants, as well as anyone else, deserves access to justice and the opportunity to plead their case. Outreach to these historically underrepresented communities is something that has been emphasized during my time at ULP. Many of these claimants feel powerless in their situation and see their legal issues as being insurmountable, often because of experiences with the legal system in the past. 

For many of these claimants, the contact with ULP is the first time they are informed of how the process works, what their options are, and how they should proceed. I have heard from many claimants that the contact with ULP is the first time they felt they had any sense of direction or surety. With burdensome backlogs at the ESD, claimants often wait for months in a sort of unemployment limbo waiting for issues with their claim to be resolved. With that backlog, contacting the ESD directly can be difficult so when they call ULP and someone answers the phone, it is often the first time a human has taken time to speak to them about their claim. I take pride in my work at ULP, especially in knowing that we are helping many access justice who may otherwise be left out in the rain. 


Language Accessibility at ULP

By Lavena Staten, Staff Attorney

Navigating the unemployment system in Washington is especially challenging for those who do not speak English. The Unemployment Law Project has historically eased this burden by using interpreters to speak with claimants in almost every language. We also advocate the Employment Security Department for greater language access and awareness.

This year, ULP made its website more accessible to those who speak other languages. Many pages on the ULP website are now available completely in Spanish. Over time, the entire website will be translated into Spanish and other languages used frequently in Washington.

Language access must be prioritized to ensure unemployed workers can access unemployment benefits. ULP looks forward to expanding its informational content in a way that reaches more people.


ULP Spotlight: Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator

By Andy Paroff, Employment Equity Fellow

Ahmed’s role at ULP

Ahmed is ULP’s Outreach Coordinator, who specializes in working with BIPOC and immigrant communities in the King County area. He found that these groups were hit hard in the wake of the pandemic and has been working hard to provide much-needed resources regarding unemployment issues. Ahmed provides know-your-rights trainings to groups and helps connect individuals to the help they need to solve their unique issues. Additionally, Ahmed collaborates with local community organizations, faith-based groups, and ethnic media channels to reach potential clients.

Ahmed’s background and how it informs his work

Ahmed has been interested in worker rights related issues for about 10 years, working as a union organizer and helping fight for a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac. After that experience, Ahmed began working closely with the local government on labor reform. Ahmed believes that having seen how issues are resolved from both grassroots and systemic perspectives informs how he approaches issues affecting our clients.

What inspires Ahmed about the work that ULP does

In Ahmed’s words: “When someone calls and says ‘Hey, I have nothing, I’m not working, I have no way to put food on the table, I’m facing an eviction, and my benefits are being withheld,’ and then we help them and they get their benefits and they come back with a full smile and tears of joy saying ‘Thank you so much, we won my hearing with the help of ULP,’ when I hear that, that is what inspires me about this work.”

Ahmed’s goals entering the new year

Ahmed’s primary goal moving into 2022 is to continue working to expand the outreach efforts and programs that ULP is already involved in. He feels that too many people are still in the dark about the unemployment-related legal assistance we provide, and are still having issues with the ESD. Many haven’t heard about us, don’t know how to navigate the ESD and OAH systems, or are unserved by various language accessibility efforts. But Ahmed is remaining optimistic: “Lots of organizations work with these kinds of issues, and the goal is to continue to broaden our accessibility through partnerships with local nonprofit organizations, faith-based groups, and even small businesses. However we can expand to improve those relationships, that is my goal.” Ahmed feels that even with improved outreach over the last year, the number of people who need our services is still greater than the number of people we have reached. “So many people need help navigating these difficult systems. We want to continue to improve however we can to help them.”


Seattle Summer Interns Recall Their Experiences

Lauren Jaech, UW Law ’23 – During my time as an intern at ULP, I was able to speak directly with clients about their cases and even represent a few in their administrative hearings. This was an incredible experience as I got to practice preparing for hearings, interviewing clients, performing direct and cross-examination, and giving closing arguments. I also got to improve upon my research and writing skills by helping to draft a superior court appeal and petition for review and by conducting policy research about current legislation surrounding unemployment law.  

Marisa Forthun, UW Law ’22 – As a Legal Intern this past summer, I had the fantastic opportunity to work directly with clients and advocate on their behalf at administrative hearings. It was really rewarding being able to see the impact that my work had on clients and their circumstances, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team at ULP—from the staff attorneys to my fellow law students—was also incredibly supportive, encouraging, and helpful.

Victoria Kroeger, SU Law ’23 – As a first-generation law student, ULP provided a unique opportunity to practice and hone skills that I previously had never experienced. The staff is incredible and stands true to their values and the belief that everyone deserves access to justice. I’ll never forget the joy and celebration in clients’ and attorneys’ voices as I shared wins with them; there truly is no other organization like ULP.


Thanks from the Director

By John Tirpak, Executive Director

The year 2021 has been even more challenging than 2020. Our offices receive over 200 calls per day from people needing help. Many people are facing overpayment notices for $20,000, $30,000, or more.

This year we have been able to represent over 1000 workers in hearings with ULP staff, volunteer attorneys, and law students.  We have referred over 1000 cases to attorneys on the Office of Civil Legal Aid panel.

Special thanks for ongoing funding for ULP from the Legal Foundation of Washington, Office of Civil Legal Aid, King County, and individual donors.

We would also like to thank the Washington State Labor Council, member unions, and other unions in the state for their generous contributions in 2021.

Extra special thanks to the Sheridan Law Firm for their pro bono work on the petition for the writ of mandamus. The petition asked the Washington State Supreme Court to order ESD to make prompt payment of benefits as required by law. The court remanded the case to Thurston County Superior Court and the judge ruled that ULP did not have standing. While the case has now been dismissed, the case had significant impact in bringing the issue to light. 

The ongoing support of our friends will allow ULP to meet the continued challenges in 2022.

The Unemployment Law Project Team

ULP STAFF
John Tirpak, Executive Director/Attorney
Juliana Repp, Spokane Managing Attorney
Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director
Hyun-Ji Lee, Senior Staff Attorney
Meg Bridewell, Staff Attorney
Lavena Staten, Staff Attorney
Mikayla Goodwin, Staff Attorney
Nicholas Frontin, Staff Attorney
Peggy Rodriguez, SU Fellow
Andy Paroff, UW Fellow
Ahmed Abdi, Outreach Coordinator
Jason Arends, Office Manager/Paralegal
Erica Nunez, Legal Assistant
Siem Hok, Legal Assistant
Shi Ya Ni, Legal Assistant
Nick Taylor, Legal Assistant

ULP BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Joseph Shaeffer, President
Jennifer Murray, Vice President
Jeneé Jahn, Treasurer
Eric Gonzalez, Secretary
Amanda Ballantyne
Lillian Kaide
Andres Munoz
Erin Pettigrew
Jennifer Yogi

ULP VOLUNTEERS
Aaron Bulger
Alex Gonzalez
Alexa Villatoro
Anna Marie Shearlock
Brandon McNeel
Bruno Ponce
Calvin Makfinsky
Cameron DeWeirdt
Cecilia Walker
Dustin Vail
Eduardo Perez
Elizabeth Clampitt
Emily Ganz
Emily Walker
Glory Crocco
Hannah Aho
Harley Christensen
Ian Hahm
Iris Yan
Isabel Greely
Isabella Unger
Jacob Roes
Jakob Salazar
Jane Zhao
Jasmine Fernandez
Jessica Hiatt
Jessica Lundberg
Joline Yueh
Jordan O’Connor
Kate Armstrong
Lauren Jaech
Lilian Nichols
Madeline Crowley
Marisa Forthun
Maya Itah
Megan Goodwin
Meghan Cornaby
Morgan Trenary
Nasrin Chaudhry
Nathaniel Putnam
Nicole Rash
Olivia Johnson
Peter Haller
Priscilla Ortega
Rachel Platin
Rose Harley
Sabiha Malikani Ahmad
Sara Suryan
Sarah Bodisco
Shawn Cothren
Siham Ayoub
Spencer Satin
Victoria Kroeger
Wesley Groot

Support H.B. 5507, federal reform of unemployment laws to protect part-time workers and increase equity

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Nov 1, 2021

Members of Congress concerned about serious gaps in the unemployment insurance system took a decisive step forward October 8 by introducing H.B. 5507 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This bill, sponsored by Donald Beyer, Jr. (D,VA), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D,NY) and other representatives, would help claimants in all states, including Washington, by providing benefits for many workers who are currently excluded from our system. It would also advance another important cause: greater uniformity and increased equity of unemployment benefits from state to state.

HB 5507 would:

  • Provide benefits to people who earned at least $1,500 in the prior year if they earned $1,000 in at least one quarter of that year. Washington denies benefits to a much larger group of part-time workers than any other state: anyone who has worked less than 680 hours, which excludes workers who earned less than $9,309 in their prior year based on our state’s minimum wage.
  • Ensure that more people who lose a part-time job can count on support by reducing the number of past work hours required in order to qualify for unemployment benefits. Washington sets extremely strict limits on which part-time workers may receive benefits.
  • Provide that all workers may seek a part-time job and still receive benefits based on their past work. They may choose to seek up to a 20-hour per week part-time job if the job is at least 1/2 of their work hours in a typical work week. Washington law requires claimants to seek full-time work except for a small number of part-time workers.
  • Allowing workers to receive up to one third of their normal wage and salary through part-time work without cuts in their unemployment benefits. Washington currently cuts benefits by about 75% of every extra dollar claimants earn while collecting unemployment.
  • Make other reforms in worker eligibility and benefit amounts by requiring states to provide a minimum of 26 weeks of benefits; ensuring that online claims handling can be readily understood by people with disabilities, literacy challenges, or limited English; and information is available in languages spoken by at least 1% of the state’s population.

Washington’s unemployment benefits system has many strengths but some very harsh limits as well. H.B. 5507 would significantly improve the accessibility and equity of benefits in our state.

ULP urges your support for H.B. 5507. The pandemic has resoundingly demonstrated that reform of our unemployment benefit laws is desperately needed and these reforms will help many, many workers. Help increase momentum for this bill by contacting your Congressional representatives in the House and Senate and asking for their support in seeing these reforms are passed into law. You can reach any member of Congress by calling 202-224-3121, the Congressional switchboard, and asking to be connected to your representative or senator.

Private bar in Washington steps up during the pandemic

October 13, 2021

OCLA-sponsored attorney team generously answers the call to help claimants with unemployment benefit appeals

Throughout the pandemic, stories about the struggle that many jobless workers in Washington have had in securing unemployment benefits they temporarily needed for basic costs of living have been front-page news and exploded on social media.

Less well known is the fact that it often takes legal counsel to navigate the benefits bureaucracy and challenge benefit denials. And that can pose a major obstacle for people who find themselves without a steady income.

Fortunately, the private bar in Washington state has come forward decisively to help address these workers’ needs by signing on with a program, sponsored by the Office of Civil Legal Aid (OCLA), that funds them to offer their advocacy services to unemployed workers at significantly reduced rates.

In a normal year, judges with the Office of Administrative Hearings might hear some 25,000 appeals of unemployment benefit denials filed by Washington claimants. But 2020, of course, was anything but normal. Due to tripled numbers of benefit applications and denials, an enormous backlog of appeals built up in our state, with appellants forced to wait months for resolution.

The unmet need for representation of claimants without a steady income went skyward. At one point this spring, OAH was faced with finding judges to hear 70,000-plus appeals and needed to turn to the legislature for special funding to keep pace.

The state funded extra administrative law judges and OCLA had its own response at the ready: a panel of attorneys available to provide counsel to claimants at significantly reduced cost. With direction and funding by OCLA, the Unemployment Law Project helped recruit and train an “OCLA panel,” a contingent of more than 40 attorneys in Eastern and Western Washington who would be on call to represent claimants in their appeals.

Already in 2021, this dedicated group has taken several hundred appeals and is on track to have helped 1,000 claimants by the end of this year. Their clients may have been denied benefits because of quitting a job, or because they couldn’t work while their children’s school was closed. Or the state may have alleged that they wrongly received benefits and must pay them back—sometimes to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars—or for dozens of other reasons.

These claimants can include single mothers, 20-year-olds who have lost their first job, people working in offices, in warehouses, in hospitals, at construction sites. It’s likely that most of them had never been unemployed before the pandemic.

Claimants routinely say that having the support of an OCLA panel attorney has been invaluable, whether or not they win their appeals. “My attorney was not only professional and knowledgeable, but also personable and caring, one claimant said. “It’s difficult to express how much relief it gave me to have my attorney by my side during this process.”

Said another: “I am deeply appreciative of the services and advice you have offered to workers who are navigating challenging, stressful, and often intimidating circumstances. You are doing work that is very important; you have my thanks and respect.”

OCLA and ULP join claimants in thanking this exceptional group of Washington attorneys who have answered the call for help and eased the blow of unemployment during the pandemic for so many people in our state.

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The Unemployment Law Project is a non-profit law firm based in Seattle and Spokane that assists unemployment claimants with appeals of benefit denials.

The Office of Civil Legal Aid‘s mission is to secure, invest, and oversee public funding for civil legal aid to low-income people in Washington State.

For further information, contact Anne Paxton, Staff Attorney & Policy Director, Unemployment Law Project, apaxton@ulproject.org, 206-441-9178 ext. 114.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021

In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11th, the Unemployment Law Project wishes to acknowledge and commemorate the many indigenous peoples native to the land now known as Washington State and all over the world. We celebrate the histories of communities that lived here from time immemorial and honor the fact that we operate on native land. We celebrate members of the Chehalis, Chinook, Colville, Cowlitz, Duwamish, Hoh, Jamestown S’Klallam, Kalispel, Kikiallus, Lower Elwha Klallam, Lummi, Makah, Marietta Band of Nooksack, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Nooksack, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Puyallup, Quileute, Samish, Sauk-Suiattle, Shoalwater Bay, Skokomish, Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmoo, Spokane, Squaxin, Steilacoom, Stillaguamish, Suquamish, Swinomish, Tulalip, Upper Skagit, and Yakama Tribes, Communities, and Nations, in addition to the countless other peoples who lived on this land before us. The Unemployment Law Project strives to continuously improve our ability to serve these communities with zealous and compassionate representation.

Learn more about Indigenous Peoples’ Day here.

Unemployment Law Project wins fight to reform hours of availability rules

August 10, 2021

A new hours-of-availability rule that will help many Washington state unemployment benefits claimants became final July 26, 2021. The Unemployment Law Project has been working on this reform with the Employment Security Department (ESD) since 2017. ESD proposed this rule in response to concerns ULP and other worker advocate groups have raised for several years about the impact of hours-of-availability rules on caregivers.

When the new rule (WSR 21-11-004) takes effect January 2, 2022, it will make some major changes:

  • For the estimated 40% of claimants who work in fields with customary hours of 24/7, there will be no more requirement of 24/7 availability to work. Only a minimum of 40 hours of availability, chosen by the claimant, are required. (E.g., if you are offered a job that requires overtime, you are not required to accept it in order to be considered available to work.)
  • A claimant’s prior shifts of employment will be considered a working condition determining suitable work. (E.g., if you are in a job with customary hours of 24/7 but you generally worked 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, you will no longer have to accept a job offer that involves variable hours or a weekend shift or a graveyard shift.)
  • Claimants can choose the 40 hours they’re available, as long as the restriction on the number of hours they can work, the essential functions they can perform, and the occupations they are seeking do not substantially limit their employment prospects within their general area. (E.g., if you can only work evenings but there are very few jobs in your local area or your field of employment with those hours, you may have to expand your job search in order to be considered available to work.) 
  • The rule applies to all claimants with hours restrictions, not only those who are caregivers or who rely upon caregivers.

ULP thanks the experts and advocates who helped develop this important rule change and see it to the finish line: Pamela Crone, Rep. Mia Gregerson, Anne Paxton, Carolyn McConnell, Maggie Humphreys, Moms Rising!, Suzi LeVine, the ESD policy and rulemaking teams, Legal Foundation of Washington, Washington State Labor Council, Andra Kranzler, Lillian Kaide, Monica Holland, Kelly Sennott, Jana Wolff, Rebecca Smith, Sean Phelan, Joseph Kendo, Marilyn Watkins, and Deborah Maranville.

The Unemployment Law Project also thanks donors to our organization, who provide one third of our funding. Our donors were essential in bringing about this rule change. To help our ongoing efforts to reform laws and policy on unemployment benefits, please consider a tax-deductible donation of any size to ULP. You can make a donation at https://unemploymentlawproject.org/donate/ or by contacting us at 206-441-9178.

Important unemployment reform bill SB 5193 signed into law

“Olympia – Washington State Capital-9” by MathTeacherGuy is licensed with CC BY-NC 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

May 12, 2021

Washington state workers will have better assurance of equitable and effective processing of unemployment claims and transparent metrics of the performance of the Employment Security Department following the enactment of SB 5193, signed today by Governor Jay Inslee.

The bill, actively backed by ULP throughout the 2021 legislative session, won passage through the leadership of its prime sponsor, Senator Mike Conway, and lead sponsor in the House, Rep. Dan Bronoske. ULP assisted with development of bill language and testimony on its behalf.

Effective July 25, 2021, SB 5193 requires ESD to:

  • Launch a training program to create a pool of adjudicators to have in reserve when unemployment claims levels surge. 
  • Use plain language, tested on claimants for comprehensibility, in all letters, alerts, and notices.
  • Clearly explain the law behind all determinations and redeterminations, the relevant facts, the reasoning, the decision, and the result.
  • Explore possible thresholds that trigger automatic adjustments in staffing, a pilot to provide a caseworker approach to benefit claims, and increased language access.
  • Dedicate a toll-free number for claimants with limited computer access or computer skills, disabilities, or limited English proficiency.
  • Maintain an online data dashboard and provide quarterly reports with performance metrics that include call volumes, hold times, repeat calls, and all-circuits-busy messages for employers and claimants, updates of unemployment rates, claims data, claims center phone statistics, staffing ratios, overpayment data, pending claims, pending appeals, recipiency rates, and other information. 
  • Report quarterly to the legislature on progress in implementing SB 5193, including any software or technology issues causing delays, and other claims processing issues.

Other legislation to benefit unemployment benefits claimants passed this year as well. In February, Governor Inslee signed SB 5061, also supported by ULP, which protects employees’ rights to quit or refuse a job that puts them at high risk during a public health emergency and makes a waiver of waiting weeks for benefits automatic when the cost is covered by federal funds. 

ALERT: Legislature to Vote Soon on Unemployment Claims Processing Reform!

[Sent via email on 3/27/21]

Dear friend of ULP:

The final hurdles have been crossed and SB 5193, an important bill, backed by ULP, which will improve many aspects of unemployment claims processing at the Employment Security Department (ESD), will be voted on at any time.

Key committees in the House of Representatives have okayed the measure and any day now, it will go to the floor for a vote before the full chamber.

The Senate already voted Yes on an earlier version of the bill. Some differences between the bills remain to be ironed out and then, with a Yes vote in the House, Washington will have several new provisions to protect claimants from the snarls, dead ends, and delays many encountered over the last 12 months when they were desperately in need of the unemployment benefits they had earned through their work.

SB 5193 requires ESD to:

  • Launch a training program to create a pool of adjudicators to have in reserve when unemployment claims levels surge.
  • Use plain language, tested on claimants for comprehensibility, in all letters, alerts, and notices;
  • Clearly explain the law behind determinations and redeterminations, the relevant facts, the reasoning, the decision and the result;
  • Explore: thresholds that trigger automatic adjustments in staffing, a pilot to provide a caseworker approach to benefit claims, and increased language access;
  • Dedicate a toll-free number for claimants with limited computer access or computer skills;
  • Maintain an online data dashboard, and provide quarterly reports with performance metrics that include updates of unemployment rates, claims data, claims center phone statistics, staffing ratios, overpayment data, and other information.
  • Report quarterly to the legislature on various other claims processing issues.

Please help SB 5193 cross the finish line!

Contact your legislators today and request their support for this measure urgently needed to protect Washington’s more than 3 million workers.

To find your state representatives and senator, use this link: https://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/.

Thank you for your help in ensuring that our unemployment benefits system provides support that Washington workers and their families can count on.

Sincerely,
Anne Paxton
Attorney & Policy Director
Unemployment Law Project

Concerned about identity theft after the SAO claimant data breach?

For more information from the Office of the Washington State Auditor (SAO), click here. For a list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding the data breach from the SAO, please click here.

On February 1, the Washington state auditor announced that hackers had obtained more than a million unemployment benefit claimant application records, leaving many 2020 benefit applicants’ identities at risk. (See State Auditor’s Office press release.)

These are steps that the Washington Department of Financial Institutions advises to prevent ID theft by an impostor or other criminal when such a data breach occurs.

Steps To Take After a Data Breach to Protect Your Financial Accounts from Fraud

CHANGE YOUR PASSWORDS

Use the security breach as an opportunity to change and strengthen your passwords, especially those related to online financial institution accounts.

TWO FACTOR AUTHENTICATION

Enable two-factor authentication to log on to your bank account to prevent unauthorized access.

ACTIVATE BANK AND CREDIT CARD ACCOUNT ALERTS

Most financial institutions offer a variety of text and e-mail alerts through online banking. You may also wish to ask your specific institution what they recommend to keep your accounts safe.

You can set up alerts for:

  • When your profile or password is updated
  • When an ATM withdrawal exceeds a certain amount
  • When your account drops below a specific amount
  • When purchases happen

MONITOR YOUR ACCOUNTS FOR UNUSUAL ACTIVITY

Monitor your financial accounts for unusual activity and withdrawals. If you notice unauthorized activity, report it to your financial institution immediately.

CONSIDER PLACING A FRAUD ALERT OR FREEZE ON YOUR CREDIT REPORT

A fraud alert informs creditors of possible identity theft or fraudulent activity within your credit file and requests that the credit grantor contact you prior to establishing any accounts in your name. A fraud alert lasts for one year, seven if requested and you meet specific requirements. A freeze locks your credit so that credit applications are denied until/unless you unfreeze your credit.

To place a fraud alert or freeze, contact any of the three credit reporting agencies:

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR UNUSUAL EMAILS, TEXT MESSAGES OR PHONE CALLS

Keep an eye out for any unusual emails, text messages or phone calls, especially if they appear to come from the State of Washington or your financial institution. These could be social engineering attempts from hackers. Verify that the communication is legitimate by calling the organization back through an official phone number – one from the back of your credit or debit card or the agency’s website directory.

CHECK YOUR CREDIT REPORT

Obtain your free annual credit report at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0155-free-credit-reports

Check your credit report for errors or fraudulent activity. Report anything suspicious to the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the bureau. You can now check your report every week (through April 2021).

CONSIDER FILING YOUR TAXES EARLY

Get a jump on your taxes to prevent a scammer from using your Social Security number to file a fraudulent return. If you’ve already filed, the IRS will flag the second return as suspicious. If you wait, yours could be the one that gets flagged.

Frequently asked questions regarding a data breach at the Office of the Washington State Auditor’s third-party service provider

For more information from the Office of the Washington State Auditor (SAO), click here. To learn more about our recommended steps to protect yourself from fraud, click here.

*Note: This FAQ comes from the Office of the Washington State Auditor*

Frequently asked questions regarding a data breach at SAO’s third-party service provider:

Q: When will I know whether my personal information was involved in this data breach? How will I find out, and what will happen after that?

A: Personal notifications directly to people whose data was involved will begin soon. SAO is continuing to work with its insurance company and legal counsel on these direct notifications. Although we do not have a firm date right now, SAO is doing everything in its power to have this process begin quickly.

In the meantime, SAO has set up a webpage dedicated to providing the latest information on this incident. Please go to sao.wa.gov/breach2021.

Q: Will this incident, which involved people’s unemployment information, affect the status or processing of their unemployment claims?

A: The Employment Security Department (ESD) does not yet know if the data breach will affect benefit payments. The agency is advising people to continue to submit weekly claims as usual. ESD’s claim system was not involved in this incident. Additionally, if there is something affecting your benefit payment, please check your eServices account for alerts. ESD will notify you of any new issues affecting your benefit claims.

Q: Remind me again: What files were affected?

A: The investigation is ongoing. Here is some of the data we believe was affected:

Personal information of people who filed for unemployment claims from Jan. 1 to Dec. 10, 2020. In addition to members of the general public, this group includes many state employees, as well as people whose identity was used to file for claims fraudulently in early 2020. The data involves about 1.6 million claims and included the person’s name, social security number and/or driver’s license or state identification number, bank information, date of birth and place of employment. Personal information of a smaller number of people, including data held by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Non-personal financial information and other data from local governments and state agencies.

Q: Why can’t you tell us more about what information was involved?

A: The identities and information of individual people are contained in voluminous data files. We are working diligently to extract the identification and information about each person who was affected. We will provide the right information to the right people at the right time. We are doing our best to balance the need for transparency and the need for security. We are committed to sharing all that we can when it is appropriate.

Q: Why was SAO in possession of the ESD data?

A: SAO was reviewing all claims data as part of an audit of a fraud incident that occurred at ESD in early 2020. Auditing in all its forms requires us to handle sensitive information – some financial, some personal. We strongly believe our work, and our access to that data, has helped improve government for Washingtonians.

Q: Have the police or other authorities been notified?

A: Yes. Appropriate law enforcement agencies have been notified. Our primary concern is making sure this incident is fully investigated, and we don’t want to do anything to jeopardize that.