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SharedWork keeps Washington workers, businesses connected


(Aug. 20, 2020) — As the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, these are daunting times for workers and businesses in communities across Washington state.

Thousands of people who held secure jobs in thriving businesses back in January are now out of work. Others are working reduced shifts, struggling to pay the bills and wrestling with whether they can afford to stay in the job or career for which they were trained. Many businesses, meanwhile, are fighting for their economic lives and losing valuable workers they recruited, trained and developed.

In the face of these challenges, a little-known state program is working harder than ever to help employees and businesses stay connected and ride out the pandemic.

The state’s SharedWork program, available through the Employment Security Department, helps workers and businesses simultaneously by providing stability in times of reduced employment. SharedWork won’t work for everyone — it depends on each business’s makeup and workforce — but for those it can help, it can greatly reduce short- and long-term disruption to households and businesses across our state.

“We are grateful and truly believe our 80-year-old business would have had to close its doors had we not participated in the SharedWork program,” a Spokane business, Falco’s heating and cooling, told the Employment Security Department. “We have been able to keep quality, well-trained, long-time employees on staff. You have created a model program that is well organized and simple to implement and maintain. … Our business is secure, and we hope others can benefit from this program as we did.”

The key is to avoid layoffs by reducing workhours. Through SharedWork, a business can reduce an employee’s hours and the employee can qualify for partial wage replacement through the state for those reduced hours. This enables the employer to retain its trained workforce and enables employees to keep their jobs (and employer provided health care) with minimal loss of income until the economy recovers enough to resume full work shifts. SharedWork can also help workers who need to reduce their work hours to care for children who must stay home for virtual schooling or because of the shutdown of childcare facilities, and can provide stability to small childcare businesses that face staffing challenges due to the pandemic.

Employers who participate in SharedWork can choose each week how many employees and how many hours will be reduced, by anywhere from 10% to 50%. And for at least through December, the partial wages for the reduced hours are 100% funded by the federal government — not the employer or Washington state.

The SharedWork application must be made by the employer and takes about 10 minutes to complete, depending on the number of employees on a business’s plan. The application can be submitted online, by electronic upload or by fax, with instructions available here. The site also offers general information on how the program applies to employers and employees.

SharedWork may be used by both private and public sector employers. The City of Renton, for example, hopes to recover a portion of the estimated $22.5 million in revenue that it’s losing because of the COVID-19 pandemic by using a series of partial furloughs under the SharedWork program.

SharedWork could mean the difference between a worker losing a vital job or a business losing a valuable, trained employee. And it only takes a few minutes to find out if SharedWork can work for you.

Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines) chairs the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. Sen. Claire Wilson (D-Auburn) is vice chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

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