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Workers’ Rights, Unemployment Compensation, and the Reopening of PA

June 1, 2020

As the state reopens, many workers have concerns about returning to work.

Generally, if workers refuse offered work, they become ineligible for unemployment unless they are refusing work for a good cause, such as:

  • Being at high risk for severe COVID-19 related illness as defined by the CDC;
  • Living in a household with a person at high risk;
  • Providing direct care for a high-risk person;
  • Working somewhere that doesn’t follow guidelines as published by the CDC;
  • Lacking childcare options.

Negotiating the Return to Work

Individuals should always talk to their employers about their concerns for returning to work and document the conversation for evidence. Those who are concerned about returning to work should provide evidence if possible and ask for reasonable accommodations from their employer. Also, they should make sure they give their employer a chance to respond before refusing to return to work. If possible, address your concerns as a group with coworkers – a group will have greater protections against retaliation under federal law.

Individuals who are already receiving unemployment benefits will have to note that they’ve refused work in their weekly or biweekly filings. Here are things to keep in mind when doing this:

  • There currently isn’t a way to explain WHY work has been refused, but you must answer yes if it is true.
  • This will trigger a type of investigation by the state, and you will be able to explain your “good cause” reasoning then.
  • The state should not be cutting off benefits until a determination is made.
  • It’s important to note, though, that there is always a risk that the state could determine that an individual’s reason for refusing work does not fall under “good cause.”

Unemployment Compensation

Some workers may not want to return to a job where they are receiving less money than they are with unemployment. However, this may not be considered good cause under state law, and refusing work may force them to be cut off unemployment. If individuals return to work at reduced hours, they may still be eligible for partial unemployment benefits and therefore still eligible for the extra $600 through the end of July.

More information can be found on this issue from our partner Community Legal Services of Philadelphia here, here and here.