As states are reopening across the country, employees everywhere are concerned about returning to work under questionable safety conditions. Additionally, employees could lose unemployment insurance benefits if they refuse to return to work when their job is reinstated.
What do workers need to know?
If a worker is receiving unemployment benefits and is offered her job back, but refuses to return to work, will she remain eligible to receive benefits? NO. The Department of Employment and Workforce has issued a statement encouraging employers to report employees who refuse to return to work.
From a legal standpoint, in order to refuse to return to your job, you must have a compelling reason. The Department of Employment and Workforce is required to investigate prior to terminating benefits. The following reasons may provide a compelling argument for the Department:
- An employee is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
- An employee is in a high-risk category for complications due to COVID-19 and has been advised to self-quarantine;
- An employee does not have childcare due to COVID-19.
This list is not exhaustive. Unemployment benefit recipients should also be prepared to submit evidence supporting their reason for refusing to return to work such as a doctor’s note, medical diagnosis, or confirmation of a closed childcare facility.
Health and Safety Concerns
Employees should be familiar with local rules and regulations regarding the reopening of non-essential businesses. For example, in South Carolina, there are specific guidelines that restaurants must follow in order to resume dine-in services. Tables must be spaced 6 to 8 feet apart and the restaurant’s capacity must be capped at 50% of the posted occupancy as established by fire marshals. For example, if the establishment can normally hold 100 people, the restaurant can only allow 50 people in the building at a time. Employees should know the safety precautions that businesses should adhere to in their workplace. They should also know to report any health or safety problems that exist in their workplace. Legal protections exist for workers who report reasonable concerns about an unsafe work environment.
Employees should begin by having a conversation with their supervisor or manager about their issues or concerns if they feel comfortable doing so. South Carolina Legal Services is always available to provide information concerning employee rights and responsibilities. Individuals seeking assistance can apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake or complete an application over the phone at 1-888-346-5592.