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Can I apply for unemployment benefits if you refuse to return to the office during a pandemic?

As states begin to cancel orders to stay home, some businesses reopen their doors after a two-month break, recalls CNBC. Workers in retail, restaurants, hospitality, services and meat processing receive calls from their employers that it is time to return to work.

Photo: Shutterstock

But due to the fact that cases of coronavirus in the United States continue to grow, not everyone is ready to return to normal. According to a survey by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland, 67% of Americans say they’re uncomfortable going to the store, and 78% say they’ll be uncomfortable at the restaurant.

More than 33 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, including employees who have been suspended from their jobs but remain on the company’s staff and those whose hours have been shortened, making the employee partially unemployed.

These people are eligible for increased unemployment benefits under the Coronavirus Federal Assistance Bill, which provides for an additional weekly federal allowance of $ 600 up to July 31 and state assistance for up to 39 weeks. According to the New York Times, workers in more than half of the states will receive more in the form of unemployment benefits than they received in the form of their regular salary.

Now that people are told to return to work, should they do it? And how will this decision affect their right to receive unemployment benefits?

What an employer must provide before you get back to work

As enterprises open, employers must follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, designed to protect employees. Employers have the primary responsibility for providing proper handwashing facilities, additional sanitation facilities, as well as personal protection (masks or gloves) and for complying with social distance recommendations.

Some states may also apply more stringent standards, such as reduced load or the requirement for employees to measure temperature. These measures will vary by location, so workers should contact their state's labor department for more details.

Employers who follow federal, state, and local safety precautions and recruit employees to their previous jobs are likely to be considered “suitable” for starting up businesses.

Workers cannot refuse “suitable” jobs and still receive any unemployment benefits, according to Michelle Evermore, a senior political analyst with the National Employment Act. They also cannot remain on benefits simply because these payments are more than earnings after returning to work.

The Employment and Training Unit of the Department of Labor also makes it clear that fear of the virus is not enough to refuse to do work or to leave it.

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If the employer does not provide safe working conditions

If someone believes that their employer is not trying to provide a safe environment, “workers can argue that conditions are no longer safe and try to refuse to perform their tasks,” says Evermore.

The employer must also follow the guidelines of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which determine the employee's right to refuse hazardous work.

If the company does not comply with these principles and this creates dangerous working conditions, employees can leave for a good reason. If it turns out that an employee has left due to unsafe working conditions in accordance with OSHA principles, he can apply for unemployment benefits. Evermore says that in many states this provision is contained in unemployment insurance laws, so the state department of labor’s website should have this information.

To show good reasons for dismissal, workers will have to document specific reasons why their workplace is a hazardous environment and notify the employer of the need to eliminate the danger. If the employer does not take any action, employees can file a formal complaint with OSHA.

If the employer has changed the conditions of your work

You can also refuse to work and continue to receive unemployment benefits if your employer drastically changes the working conditions without your consent. For example, he sharply reduced his wages, constantly changes the appointed shift without your consent, or transfers you to an institution that would require significantly longer trips to work. For example, in Iowa, a 25-30% wage cut could justify an employee receiving unemployment benefits if he decides to leave.

In general, what is considered such a change varies from case to case. Small changes, such as adding an extra hour to your shift or transferring to another part of your institution, will not be taken into account.

It is unclear whether workers who receive a significant portion of gratuity income will be able to claim that their salaries have been reduced. If your employer's salary plus the tip earned is less than the federal minimum wage or minimum wage in your state, the employer must compensate for the difference.

Ultimately, experts say, each state’s labor department will determine if the employee leaves his job for a good reason.

On the subject: 'Worst Ahead': US Treasury Head Expects Further Unemployment Rise

Pandemic unemployment assistance

The new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program (PUA) significantly expands the range of workers who may receive benefits, including those who are unable to work due to certain medical or economic consequences of the pandemic, even if their workplace is open.

For example, you may qualify for a PUA, if:

* cannot work due to diagnosed coronavirus

* Health Administration sends you to quarantine

* you are helping a sick family member

* you must take care of the child at home when the school or child care facilities are closed due to a pandemic

* you have a major illness that prevents you from working and so on.

According to Evermore, workers who are no longer eligible for traditional unemployment benefits and are eligible can apply for a PUA. In such cases, workers may have to submit a new application for unemployment benefits, or the unemployment office in their state may review existing payments.

Individuals eligible for PUA benefits will receive assistance for 39 weeks and an additional $ 600 per week until July 31. Extended unemployment assistance in accordance with the federal bill on assistance in connection with coronavirus is valid until the end of the year.

Read also on ForumDaily:

'It is only gaining momentum': the global economy faces a crisis worse than the Great Depression

Medical insurance during the crisis: what to do to those who have lost their jobs and got sick COVID-19

Despite the pandemic: Trump insists on eliminating Obamacare

Coronavirus crisis: US unemployment rate hits historic high

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