Washington: If you quit your job because of a general worry about the virus, you won’t be able to access unemployment benefits. “Fear is not a legitimate reason to refuse to return,’’ says Justine Phillips, an employment attorney. With the law firm Sheppard Mullin “and state unemployment agencies can disqualify the individual for benefits if they refuse to accept suitable employment when offered.’’
After grinding to a near halt to slow the spread of the coronavirus, the nation’s economy is sputtering back to life as stay-at-home orders lift, and businesses reopen their doors. But some employees are wary of returning to work as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers. Can they refuse to go back? If they quit, are they eligible to receive unemployment benefits?
Millions more are out of work: 2.1M more Americans file for unemployment, bringing week total to more than 40 million amid coronavirus. Stores closing for good: Coronavirus store closings: Pier 1 Imports to shutter all stores in bankruptcy, liquidation now underway. The short answer is no –you can’t collect jobless benefits if you quit a job because of a general fear of the virus, experts say.
But if your job site is truly unsafe, you might have grounds to refuse to return and to get financial assistance while you are out of work.It will be up to workers to make their case.
“We’ve never had a pandemic since unemployment insurance has been in play, so we have to really be thinking about what the new rules for a pandemic are,” says Michele Evermore, senior researcher and policy analyst with the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “So much of this is on the back of the claimant rather than the employer… We really need to think about how do we get information to workers about how to stay safe.’’
“There’s nothing that says everybody has to be six feet apart and you have to wear a mask, unless you’re in certain states where the governor has put out executive orders,” NLEP worker health and safety programme officer Berkowitz says. “That’s the universe that workers are going back to work in, which is incredibly scary.’’