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Unemployment Compensation Keeps People from Coming to Work. What Can I Do About It?

Work Piling UpUnemployment compensation offers workers a safety net should they lose their jobs due to no fault of their own. A CARES Act provision offers eligible unemployed workers a weekly federal benefit of $600 on top of the state unemployment benefits.

The expanded unemployment compensation is a lifeline for many workers in the unemployment lines. However, there is a major unintended effect of unemployment compensation and the CARES Act. As the economy slowly reopens in different states, some recalled workers don’t go back to work.

Why Some Employees Refuse to Return to Work

While some workers site safety concerns over COVID-19, others don’t want to return since they’re making more money from unemployment benefits. In some cases, they make significantly more money than they earned while working. As such, there is no incentive to return to work.

A percentage of these workers are inclined to stay on unemployment as they earn more money by so doing. Unemployment compensation lasts for 26 weeks, with the CARES Act adding another 13 weeks. Workers tend to exit the unemployment benefits around the expiry time.

What Can I Do?

Preliminarily, it would be best if you first determined the reasons for the employees’ refusal to return to work. Document your request for them to return including the terms of the request. If your request is rejected, document the rejection of the offer and the reasons provided for rejecting the offer.

This information will be crucial in case you need to dispute an unemployment claim. It will also be useful if an employee later claims that they were wrongfully terminated. Note that some reasons for refusal are, or may be, protected legally. Other reasons aren’t.

Workers who refuse to return to work just because they want to stay on unemployment benefits aren’t legally protected. In such cases, you can require these employees to return to work or risk losing their jobs. These employees risk forfeiting eligibility for supplemental unemployment benefits if they still refuse to return to work.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued guidance on how state unemployment agencies should handle these cases. There are cases where refusal to return to work is protected under the CARES Act. The reasons include those directly related to COVID-19. General fear of the virus and desire to continue receiving benefits don’t constitute qualifying reasons.

If your employees give reasons that are not justified in the CARES Act, you can consider reporting the matter to the state workforce agency. You should make it clear that the worker was offered the opportunity to return to work and refused. You are required, by some state workforce agencies, to report occurrences of refusal.

However, it’s important to handle workers that express fear of the virus delicately. While general fear of the virus isn’t protected, some workers may have specific reasonable reasons.  Perhaps the employee has an underlying health condition that increases their susceptibility to complications from the virus, like a compromised immune system.

You can handle these scenarios as you would other accommodation requests under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law. Reasonable accommodation can include leave of absence or teleworking.

You should also ensure that your organization is taking all the necessary steps to provide a safe work environment and incentive to return. Workers are legally protected under the Occupational Safety and Health Act if they assert that the employer isn’t doing so. Failure to handle such cases appropriately may lead to complaints, among other things.

There aren’t any easy answers here. It’s clear that the unemployment issue will get worse before improving. Also, every worker will have a different incentive to go back to work. All in all, when workers refuse to come back to work, you should first inquire as to the reasons why. Ensure that you carefully document the issues and respond in a reasonable yet appropriate manner.

If your employees are dodging work because they don’t feel safe, consider using to show employees and customers what you are doing to keep people safe.

It’s also important to make sure employees know all the benefits they are getting with your company. Total compensation statements, like those offered by, can help an employee see how generous the company has been in terms of the value of the many benefits (obvious, and not-so-obvious) you provide. Perhaps that will tip the scales in their decision to return to work.

The ideas expressed in this article are meant to stimulate thinking. Nothing in this article should be taken as professional legal advice.

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Category: Unemployment Compensation