SPOKANE, Wash. — The U.S. Department of Labor is making it easier for states to provide unemployment insurance to workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

It announced new guidelines for the program last week.

If you have worked at least part-time over the last year, you likely qualify for Washington state unemployment benefits.

One of the new federal requirements is that you must meet the minimum of 680 hours worked in the last 18 months to have an unemployment claim.

To be clear, federal law does not require an employee to quit in order to receive these benefits.

In response to these new laws, Washington's Employment Security Department (ESD) adopted a series of emergency rules to relieve the impacts of COVID-19.

Its provided a list of most common scenarios where benefits could apply

For example, a worker who is mildly ill due to coronavirus, they qualify for paid sick leave and unemployment under the emergency rule.

But a worker only qualifies for "paid sick leave" from their employer or the state's "family and medical leave program" if they are caring for a sick family member.

Under Washington emergency rules, workers can qualify for unemployment if an employer shuts down due to quarantine by a public official, due to business slowdown or lack of demand, or if an employer reduces available hours.

It's important to note that Unemployment Benefits and Paid Family and Medical Leave are two separate programs with different eligibility requirements.

The ESD is encouraging workers to apply to determine their eligibility, even if you are unsure.

According to the ESD, the fastest way to apply for benefits is online. You can file by phone, but expect extended wait times.

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