The Business and Workers update is a weekly newsletter providing news and information to help businesses and workers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. The information is compiled by the state Economic Resiliency Team (ERT), part of the Joint Information Center. Imposter Fraud Slowing Unemployment PaymentsAll benefit payments to be held for 1-2 days to validate authenticity.

The Employment Security Department (ESD) has detected a dramatic rise in imposter fraud – claims filed using stolen personal information. External data breaches have exposed many Americans’ personal information to fraudsters, who are using that information to file false unemployment claims across the country.

ESD is responding by placing a brief, 1-2 day hold on all benefit payments to validate their authenticity. Additionally, the department is expanding its fraud investigation team and is requiring authentication from customers filing claims.

Read ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine’s May 18 update.

State Agencies Address Common Return-To-Work Questions
ESD, L&I published guidance for common workplace safety concerns and employment scenarios. The Employment Security Department has published Employer FAQ and Worker FAQ to address common questions as businesses resume operations. The Department of Labor and Industries has published a Paid Sick Leave FAQ. The two agencies worked together to establish a Paid Family and Medical Leave FAQ. Combined, these FAQ address a range of possible scenarios that may unfold as workplaces resume operations.

Questions involving work refusal and unemployment eligibility have been especially frequent.

Workers collecting unemployment must have a good cause reason to refuse work and continue to receive regular unemployment benefits. Good cause reasons include: membership in a CDC-specified high-risk category, sharing a household or providing direct care for a high-risk category member, or returning to a worksite that does not follow government safety guidelines.

Workers that refuse work in order to care for a child that is unable to attend school or daycare due to pandemic-related closure are eligible for expanded unemployment benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) or the federal CARES Act.

“Safe Start” County Variances Criteria Expanded
Counties granted variances advance to Phase 2 of the “Safe Start” reopening plan. New, expanded criteria may allow 10 more counties to reopen on an accelerated schedule. Adams, Spokane, Mason, Thurston, Lewis, Clark, Clallam, Kitsap, Island, and San Juan counties are eligible to apply for county variances under the expanded criteria.

Asotin, Columbia, Garfield, Lincoln, Ferry, Pend Oreille, Skamania, Stevens, Wahkiakum, and Whitman counties have already advanced to Phase 2 through county variances. The earliest the governor would determine a statewide move to Phase 2 would be June 1, pending clearance from public health officials.

See the County Variance page on the state’s coronavirus website for more information.

500 Washington Small Businesses Awarded Relief Grants
Working Washington grants awarded to small businesses in 20 counties. 501 small businesses with 10 or fewer employees were awarded relief on Tuesday in the first round of Working Washington grants issued by the Department of Commerce. The grants ranged from $566 to $10,000 and may be applied to rent, utilities, supplies, and other operating expenses.

Recipients comprised restaurants, childcare centers, health care centers, manufacturers, salons, fitness centers, and other sectors affected by the pandemic.

“These grants support very small businesses, many of which have not been able to access federal business assistance,” said Commerce Director Lisa Brown. “We know this is not enough to meet the need. We continue to seek more resources to help small businesses survive as we all prepare for the aftermath of the coronavirus.”

Read the full press release on the Department of Commerce website.

Additional Sector Guidance Published
New guidelines released for outdoor recreation, golf, photography, pet grooming, fitness, real estate, and construction.

See the Governor’s complete list of Safe Start business activity guidance.

Farmworker Housing Rules Published
New emergency rules for temporary farmworker housing to increase worker safety and reduce the spread of coronavirus.

See the Department of Labor & Industries full announcement.

Small Business Webinar Series Announced
Series to feature resources for small businesses and an interagency panel for Q&A.

A new weekly webinar series will begin on May 21, offering resources and information specific to small businesses. A panel of representatives from various State agencies will respond to live Q&A.

See the Eventbrite page for more information.

Drive-In Wifi Hotspots Expanded
Hundreds of statewide hotspots improve access to online education, telework, telehealth, and other essential information.

See the Department of Commerce’s hotspot locator to find the nearest location.

Customer Information Collection for Contact Tracing Deemed Voluntary
Governor updates requirements for businesses; information for contact tracing purposes now collected voluntarily.

See the Governor’s May 15, 2020 letter for more information.

Informative Programming
Association of Washington Business COVID-19 Webinars:
In the most recent (May 15th) episode Suzi LeVine, Commissioner for the Employment Security Department, presented an update on unemployment fraud. A panel with representatives from the Department of Commerce, Department of Labor and Industries, and the Employment Security Department responded to questions from the business community. (Link to series)

TVW’s The Impact: Road to Recovery series:
This week’s “The Impact: Road to Recovery” segments featured David Frockt, Chair of the Washington State Senate’s Economic Recovery Committee and Randi Becker, Vice-Chair of the Washington State Senate’s Economic Recovery Committee.

Do you have questions regarding your business?
The Business Response Center is standing by to answer your general questions about reopening, health and safety, and relief programs. Visit  “We’re going to have to find ways to live with COVID-19 in a safe way, and that means that everyone has to participate.” – Retired Vice-Admiral Raquel Bono