States Ask Employers to Report Employees Who Decline Return-to-Work Offers
Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor
May 22, 2020
With states easing public health restrictions to varying degrees, many businesses are taking steps to reopen and extending return-to-work offers to employees. But what happens if an employee declines to return to work?
Several states have set up websites for employers with guidance and ways to report employees who turn down offers to come back to work, including:
Unemployment insurance provides temporary benefits to workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and meet certain requirements. Each state administers its unemployment insurance program in compliance with federal law and establishes its own rules with respect to amounts, duration and eligibility for unemployment insurance.
Generally, employees must be available to work to maintain their eligibility. Not returning to work when there is available employment may be considered a "refusal of work" and could disqualify claimants from receiving further benefits except under limited circumstances.
The US Department of Labor has stated that fear of exposure to COVID-19 is not a sufficient reason to refuse work. And the California Employment Development Department explains that an employee is disqualified for UI benefits if they refuse "suitable" employment in light of factors such as the degree of risk involved to the individual's health and safety. If the employer has met the state's requirements for reopening and complied with government safety regulations, an employee may be found not to have good cause to refuse to return to work.
Ohio, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio each encourage employers to report employees who will not return to work during the COVID-19 public health crisis as soon as possible, to ensure they stop receiving benefits. Along similar lines, the Alabama Department of Labor says refusing to return to work in order to continue obtaining unemployment benefits may constitute fraud.
But other states are taking a different approach. The Texas Workforce Commission has stated that an employee may refuse work and still qualify for UI benefits if they or a household member:
- Are age 65 or older;
- Have been diagnosed with COVID-19;
- Are quarantined due to close contact with a person who had COVID-19; or
- Lack child care because their child's school or daycare center is closed.
And in remarks to the public, Josh Benton, deputy secretary of Kentucky's Education and Workforce Development Department, stressed the importance of flexibility with regards to eligibility for employees who lack child care during school closures and those at higher risk from exposure because of their age or health.