Workers who decline work due to virus could lose unemployment benefits

Coronavirus

INDIANAPOLIS– It’s been nonstop for Indiana’s Department of Workforce Development. Last week they had another 57,000 claims, and have paid out more than $730 million in benefits. But as businesses start to reopen, employees temporarily laid off would have to return to work or else those benefits go away.

“Not returning to work when there is available work could be considered a refusal to work, and potentially disqualify claimants from receiving unemployment benefits,” said Fred Payne, Commissioner for the Department of Workforce Development.

As cases continue to climb, some workers might not feel safe returning to work. However in many situations, they won’t have a choice.

“Generalized fear of the virus itself will likely result in benefits being denied as a work refusal,” Payne said.

The Department evaluates each claim on a case-by-case basis, and employment attorney Mark Waterfill says there are exceptions.

“If they are susceptible to becoming sick or if the coronavirus for some reason would make them more ill than others, they may have just cause for declining the opportunity to go back to work,” Waterfill said.

Waterifll said you should document your reason, whether it’s an underlying health condition for you or a family member. It may even be the condition of the workplace.

“There may be some other reasons, maybe the workplace has had several infections. We’ve seen that with several of the manufacturing plants, especially meat,” Waterfill said. “They should be providing a safe environment and Indiana OSHA controls that situation.”

If you appeal an unemployment decision, make sure you meet the deadlines. In his experience, Waterfill says employees are usually successful when there’s a legitimate reason.

“There’s a lot of federal dollars going into that fund, and for the most part employees are successful,” Waterfill said.

“Although the Department of Workforce Development does not regulate health and safety, we do consider those things when we’re looking and determining a refusal to work claim,” Payne said.

Employees who return to work with reduced hours may still be able to receive partial benefits.

The Department of Workforce Development will be holding another Facebook Live to answer questions on May 13.

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