May 01, 2020
The U.S. Department of Labor and some reopening states have posted new guidance on unemployment insurance benefits warning furloughed and laid-off employees that they may lose their benefits if they refuse to return to work when their employers call them back.
According to the new DOL guidance, workers who quit because they are afraid of getting coronavirus at work or prefer to receive UI benefits would not be eligible for regular unemployment compensation benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.
However, there are certain credible circumstances and health concerns that could require an individual to quit their job and still be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits—but only if they are also ineligible for regular unemployment compensation benefits.
Some states are also notifying employers that they must tell the state UI program office when an “employee refuses to return to work.”
Both the DOL and the states are also telling employees they can file OSHA complaints if they believe their employer’s response to the possible spread of COVID-19 creates a serious safety hazard or if they think their employer is not following OSHA standards.
Takeaway: While the UI guidance is helpful, employers should be prepared for an increase in OSHA complaints even if they follow all of the CDC and OSHA workplace and safety guidance.