America is active again – in some states anyway. As cities begin to lift restrictions, employers are recalling workers to restaurants, shops, factories, and office buildings.
But what does that mean for you, the leaving employee? You have heard the experts say that you are ‘safer at home’ and you agree. If you’ve worked remotely, you’ve probably figured out what a Stanford study found: workers are significantly more productive at home.
Unfortunately, if your employer called you back, you may not have a choice. Refusing to return due to COVID-19 safety issues can be considered redundant, which usually means you are not eligible for unemployment.
But there may be a solution if your employer has not taken the necessary precautions.
Employees are confronted with pandemic uncertainty
When those at home started, many Americans were concerned about their jobs and the economy. However, as the virus progressed and unemployment benefits started, the country established itself as a “temporary standard” aimed at protecting people.
The gradual reopening has placed employers and their employees in a precarious position. Some jobs just can’t be done at home, and many employers prefer to have workers on-site, even if they can work remotely.
The end of April found a poll that two out of three people were uncomfortable returning to work. Even if some have come up with the idea in recent weeks, there are still many people who are hesitant to share space with others.
So, what are your options?
If your employer called you back to the building, you have the option to say, “No.” Some bosses may see this as a signal to make alternative arrangements if possible. Perhaps you can work from home or request to work in an area of the building where you will be far from everyone else.
By rejecting the refund request, you must consider possible consequences. If your boss uses it as a layoff, you can’t collect unemployment benefits. That is under normal circumstances.
Right now, refusing to return for fear of contracting COVID-19 will hurt your chances even more.
COVID-19 and unemployment
The federal government has expanded unemployment benefits below the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. This means that if you are unable to work because of the pandemic, you are likely to be eligible for unemployment benefits. However, the high number of workers on unemployment benefits has increased the burden on governments.
As a result, the federal government’s recent guidance provided to the states, saying that a large number of workers are likely to be recalled in the coming weeks. The memo reminds them that they are responsible for confirming suitability on a weekly basis. To continue to receive unemployment benefits, recipients must:
- Able to work.
- Available to work.
As soon as your employer has asked you to return to work, your position at the unemployment office will change. Collecting unemployment means going through a weekly certification process, where you have to answer questions every week about whether you have been looking for work and whether you have been offered work. Refusing to work jeopardizes your benefits.
Why is the government concerned?
There is a reason the government is concerned. Of course, many workers are rightfully concerned about going back to work during a pandemic. But there is also fear of fraud, which requires regulators to burden those who are concerned about separating their health from those who simply want to ride the unemployment train for as long as possible.
Reasons for refusing work
There are instances when under unemployment you can refuse to be offered without jeopardizing your benefits. This is left to the discretion of the department administering benefits, at the state level, but often relates to whether the job is ‘suitable work’.
This is to protect workers who refuse jobs that are far beyond their skills or who pay too low wages.
How did COVID-19 change this?
COVID-19 has expanded that definition a little. If you have genuine health reasons for not returning to work because of COVID-19, you can decline the request to return and still be eligible. Otherwise, you may be out of luck. The United States Department of Labor states on her website Which,
“If you voluntarily decide to quit your job because of general concerns about exposure to COVID-19, you are not eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).”
What to do if you are called back
Don’t panic if you’ve been called back to work and are concerned. Your first step should be to carefully review your own state’s policies.
North Carolina, for example has a long list of cases where you may still be eligible for unemployment after refusing to return. One is that “you reasonably believe that there is a valid risk to your health and safety due to a significant risk of exposure to or infection with COVID-19 at your employer’s workplace.”
How can you make sure it is safe to return to your workplace?
Familiarize yourself with the. Before you respond to your employer’s offer CDC’s guidance about safely reopening businesses. Ask your boss or HR department to describe the measures that will be taken to protect employees.
Your employer may be willing to make those changes to address workers’ concerns. Hopefully, your employer will prioritize their employees’ mental and physical concerns to help increase productivity and morale.
What if your employer does not follow the guidelines?
If your employer has not taken the basic measures outlined by the CDC, you may still be eligible for unemployment because your employer does not provide “suitable employment”.
If your employer has ticked all of these boxes and you’re still uncomfortable, see if you can negotiate a compromise, whether it is working from home or working on-site with accommodations, before flatly refusing.
As restrictions continue to increase across the country, many people will find themselves being asked to put their concerns aside and get back to work. It is important that if you are concerned, you are forthright about your concerns and follow expert advice to stay safe.
For employees, keep in mind that unemployment decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, so the more information you can gather and provide to the local office, the more likely you are to continue receiving benefits.