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‘Reasonable' COVID-19 Concerns Can Allow Employees to Refuse Work and Receive Unemployment Benefits

    Client Alerts
  • July 31, 2020

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued another a series of answers to questions from state unemployment agencies regarding administration of the $600 weekly supplemental federal unemployment insurance benefit provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Among the questions addressed is a situation where a worker declines to return to work or to accept new employment based on concerns over COVID-19 exposure in the workplace.

According to DOL, employees who decline such work based on reasonable concerns over safe working conditions may continue to collect the $600 weekly benefit. The meaning of safe working conditions depends on the individual state’s definition and guidance to employers. Presumably, the worker would need to show that the company was not following such guidance, thereby exposing him or her to an unreasonable risk of infection. Generalized concerns over infection or underlying medical conditions would not meet this test.

The $600 weekly supplemental federal unemployment benefit is set to expire today. Congress is currently considering a number of proposals to extend this benefit for varying lengths of time and at varying payment amounts.