Shared-Work program sets new record for saving jobs

The Bellingham Business Journal

More than 32,000 Washington workers who were faced with reduced hours or even being laid off kept earning a paycheck in 2010, thanks to the Employment Security Department’s Shared-Work program. That’s up from the record 22,000 saved jobs in 2009.

“Shared-Work has been a difference-maker for thousands of struggling businesses and workers in Washington,” Employment Security Commissioner Paul Trause said in a press release. “More employers should take advantage of it to reduce costs and hang on to their skilled workers.”

The Shared-Work program allows employers to cut their payroll costs by reducing the hours of their full-time employees, while the workers collect partial unemployment benefits to make up for some of the lost wages. The estimate of jobs saved last year through Shared-Work comes from information on the employers’ original applications combined with their actual use of the program.

A record 3,700 businesses and some 51,000 employees were approved to participate in the program in 2010, up from a previous high of 2,700 businesses in 2009.

Employment Security paid out $35 million in shared-work benefits to participants in 2010. The department would have paid an estimated $69 million more in unemployment benefits if the workers had been fully laid off and collected the state average of 20 weeks for regular unemployment benefits.

In any given week, anywhere from a third to two-thirds of employees approved to participate in the program are actually drawing Shared-Work benefits. The program is designed to be flexible, so employees receive steady paychecks while employers can add or reduce work hours based on their workload needs.

In a 2010 survey of participating employers, 62 percent said the program had helped their business survive the recession and another 20 percent felt it probably had. Also, 98 percent of participating employers would recommend the program to other businesses.

Both public- and private-sector employers are eligible to participate in the program, and employers of all sizes are accepted. Benefits may be paid for up to 52 weeks, and as few as one employee can participate. Only full-time, hourly workers who meet eligibility criteria can participate in the program.

Information about the program is available at www.esd.wa.gov or by phone at 800-752-2500.

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