Self-employed or independent contractor?

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Benefits available for self-employed workers

Unemployment benefits are now available Washingtonians who have lost work because of the COVID-19 crisis—including freelancers, independent contractors and other self-employed workers. The new federal CARES Act makes this possible.

If you’re a self-employed worker who’s lost income in this crisis, you may now qualify for unemployment benefits. The amount of financial help varies. 

How to apply

  1. Download this checklist for information you need to apply for regular unemployment benefits.
  2. Download the Expanded Pandemic Benefits Unemployment Guide then apply for regular unemployment benefits, even though you likely don’t qualify for them. This step is required before you can apply for the benefits for self-employed workers.
  3. Download this checklist and apply for expanded unemployment benefits (called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance).
  4. Submit weekly claims to get paid.

Step 1: Apply for regular unemployment

You must apply for regular unemployment benefits before you can apply for the expanded benefits for people impacted by COVID-19. Please fill out the online application the best you can. Download this guide and use it when you apply - it can help you navigate the application and avoid issues that will delay your benefit.

Key information:

  • Create an accountWatch the tutorial on this page to avoid common issues that could delay your benefits.
  • If you only worked as a self-employed person in the last 18 months, list no employers when asked. But if you also worked as an employee for a business, give that information.
  • The job search requirement is optional during this crisis, so you can answer “no.” It won't affect your benefits. We also ask if you’re able and available for work.
  • Move to Step 2 when you’re denied regular benefits. For some this will be immediate. For others it may take a few weeks. ESD staff may call you to ask for more information during this time. Please answer your phone! The call will be from an unlisted number.

A decision may take time

You can move on to step 2 as soon as you are denied regular unemployment. For some this will be immediate and for others it may take a few weeks. We are required by law to verify you are not eligible for regular unemployment and sometimes this requires we reach out to you for additional information.

Remember to submit your weekly claim while you are waiting for approval.

Step 2: Apply for expanded unemployment benefits

(Pandemic Unemployment Assistance)

When your application for regular benefits has been denied, an alert will show up in your eServices account and email inbox. You then can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.


Key information:

  • You will need to upload documents such as your federal tax return or 1099 form as proof of income.
  • If your application for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is approved, you will get an amount based on your normal income, and if that amount is at least $1 per week, you will also automatically receive an additional $600 weekly from April 4 to July 25.

Step 3: Submit your weekly claim

After applying, start submitting weekly claims right away—even before you’re approved—to get paid faster.

Key information:

  • More information about filing weekly claims is in this guide. We recommend submitting your weekly claims online, using eServices.
  • These are the questions we ask you when you file your weekly claim. 
  • After your application is approved, we will process all the weekly claims you filed before being approved and provide you a lump sum for any payment you are still owed.
  • You will receive payment via the method you choose: direct deposit or debit card.
  • If you find work and no longer need to collect unemployment benefits, simply stop filing weekly claims. Your payments will stop. You do not need to notify us of your new job.
  • If you find work, but are not working full time, continue filing your weekly claims. We will let you know if you have “excess earnings” and do not qualify for benefits that week of your claim. 


How much will I receive?

We must verify wage information to determine your correct benefits. This typically takes up to three weeks if there are no issues with your application.

However, to get you money as soon as possible, we will pay you the minimum amount you are eligible for after you're approved and you submit your first weekly claim.

We will review the information you submit as quickly as possible and calculate the total benefits you’re owed. Any money you missed will be paid.

Ready to apply?

When you’re ready, click the button and complete Step 1.

Apply for regular unemployment