Qualification, documentation and patience: 3 things you need when applying for unemployment

With the slumping economy and frequent news about layoffs, employees at the state Employment Security Department are working hard to keep up with new claims for benefits.

Here are a few tips to help make the process go smoother.

1. How long will the application process take? For faster service, try filing over the Internet at www.esd.wa.gov. Applying online is fast and easy and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. By comparison, telephone calls have spiked dramatically. Wait times are averaging about 30 minutes, and up to 60 minutes during peak periods. If you have to call by phone, the best times to call are Wednesdays and Thursdays. Phones are answered between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays, except for state holidays.

2. Do I qualify? Eligibility for unemployment benefits is generally based on three things: your employment history, the reason you became unemployed and your ability to work. However, every unemployment claim is different, and we decide eligibility on a case-by-case basis. Every claim must be reviewed before a determination is made.

In general:

• Your job must have unemployment insurance coverage. Workers whose employers do not pay unemployment taxes (such as real estate sales, some non-profit organizations and churches) typically are not eligible for benefits.

• Unemployment benefits are intended for workers who become unemployed through no fault of their own. You probably are eligible if your employer laid you off for lack of work. However, if you voluntarily quit your job, were fired or were suspended by your employer, or if you are on a leave of absence, your claim must be reviewed before a determination can be made.

• You must be physically able to work, available for work and actively seeking suitable work.

3. What documentation do I need? Whether you apply for unemployment benefits online or by phone, you will need:

• Your Social Security number.

• The name and address of all your employers during the last two years, regardless of how long you worked there or what type of work you did.

• The dates you worked for all your employers during the last two years. Use your best estimate if you do not remember the exact dates. You must report this information because your employer reports only your wages and hours, not your start and end dates.

• The reason you became unemployed.

• Additional documentation may be required for union members, former military personnel, federal employees and legal aliens.

The Internet address is www.esd.wa.gov. The toll-free telephone number is 800-318-6022. The Employment Security Web site is www.esd.wa.gov