Washington employers are now eligible for a special incentive to participate in a layoff-avoidance program run by the state Employment Security Department. The incentive allows them to participate in the program through June 2015 with virtually no effect on their unemployment taxes. "Shared Work was already a good deal, but the incentive really sweetens the pot," said Employment Security Commissioner Dale Peinecke. "Any employer that is struggling to meet its payroll without losing valuable workers should give it a try." Since 1983, Washington's Shared Work program has allowed employers to temporarily reduce the hours of their workers, and the employees can claim partial unemployment benefits to help bridge the difference. The U.S. Congress was so impressed at how well Washington's program saved jobs during the Great Recession that it passed legislation in 2012 encouraging all states to create similar programs or to make existing programs more accessible. As an incentive, Congress offered to have the federal government cover most of the cost of shared work benefits for three years, from July 2012 through June 2015. This year, Washington's legislature adopted minor changes in state law to make employers in this state eligible for the incentive. As a result, the federal government will reimburse the state 100 percent for Shared Work benefits paid from July through September 2012. However, because of the federal sequester, the reimbursement is 94.9 percent for benefits paid since October 2012. The legislature adopted two key changes to qualify the state for the reimbursement: * Participating employers must have two or more employees. Previously, employers with one or more employees were eligible. * Employers can enroll part-time employees. Previously, only full-time employees were allowed. Other criteria that haven't changed: * Both private-sector and public-sector employers can participate. * An employee's hours must be cut by at least 10 percent but no more than 50 percent to be eligible for Shared Work benefits. An employer can enroll as many or as few employees as it wants. Employers can find more information at www.esd.wa.gov or by calling 800-752-2500.