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Returning to Work During COVID-19 Pandemic


With the current COVID-19 pandemic, over 36 million Americans are collecting unemployment. However, with some states lifting restrictions, many employees are concerned about their benefits. What if you make more money from unemployment benefits? What if you are concerned about safety? Do you have to go back to work? This article explores the necessary law in answering common questions about returning to work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.


If you turn down returning to work, then it is determined a voluntary quit. An employee who voluntarily quits work has the burden of proof in establishing good cause for quitting; and, that such cause was real and substantial, leaving the claimant no other alternative. The burden is on the claimant to show that, prior to quitting continuing employment, he/she made every reasonable effort to maintain the employer-employee relationship, such as by discussing or notifying the employer of an issue. Absent a showing of a necessitous and compelling reason for quitting the position, you will likely be ineligible for unemployment benefits. The Department of Labor & Industry reviews each application on a case-by-case basis. Legitimate reasons for not returning to work may include legitimate health concerns, or concerns about the health of someone in your household. For example, if you are an elderly individual with an underlying health condition, you would likely have a legitimate health concern about returning to work. Also, if the employer does not provide necessary protective equipment or implement social distancing, this may be another legitimate reason for voluntarily quitting. If an employer does not follow Occupational Safety and Health Administration Standards (OSHA), that may be a legitimate reason for not returning to work or voluntarily quitting in the midst of a pandemic. However, the employee must first try to resolve the issue with the employer before quitting. Simply not being able to find childcare or not wanting to ride a public bus are likely not necessitous and compelling reasons for not returning to work.


Unemployment representatives verify each bi-weekly claim to ensure there have been no job offers the employee refused. If an individual refuses to return to work, but still collects unemployment benefits, they will more than likely lose their benefits. Furthermore, the state may recover any illegitimate payments received during that time.


If returning to work at reduced hours which results in reduced weekly income compared to the income prior to filing for unemployment benefits, the employee may still be eligible for partial unemployment compensation benefits. Further, if an employer violates the Governor’s and Secretary of Health’s business closure orders, the employee may refuse work and maintain unemployment compensation benefits.


Each application is determined by a sliding scale on a case-by-case basis. If you or someone you know needs assistance navigating unemployment law in these uncertain times, contact an RMN attorney today at lawyer@RMN-law.com or 412-626-5626.

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