Some U.S. states are taking steps to reopen after residents have sought shelter for weeks. Georgia has reopened unnecessary stores, including gyms, tattoo parlors, barbershops, and massage parlors, and is now enabling restaurants to offer seating services again. South Carolina Governor Harry McMaster placed executive orders to reopen stores and several other states say they will reopen soon.
These changes occur as the U.S. approaches 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
US officials have released reopening guidelines, titled “Opening Up America Again,” that encourage states to reopen only after they have had less positive tests for the corona virus for two weeks. None of these states that have reopened meet the criteria.
But as companies start to open their doors to customers, employees who have been fired as a result of the pandemic are invited to go back to work – and some are afraid.
Lowkey was afraid of having to work again when restaurants reopened. You understand that some of us are at high risk of death if we get this.
– Seth Amos (@SethAAmos) April 25, 2020
I live in Georgia and am afraid to work the way I left. Corona virus is not over and I’m panicked. I work in a warehouse full of people @realDonaldTrump
– BlackBabyDoll87 (@ keysure87) April 23, 2020
I am a lifelong resident of Georgia and a small business owner. I will not reopen this or next week. I have a lot of friends who are hairdressers and tattoo artists. Everyone was afraid to go back to work. They don’t want to pay us unemployment.
– Liz Dupree (@DogwalkerOG) April 22, 2020
But workers are also in a difficult situation. While laws vary from state to state, people receiving unemployment benefits are usually not entitled to continue receiving these benefits if they reject the work they are offered, Edgar Ndjatou, executive director of the Workers Fairness workers’ rights organization, told Yahoo Life. Many will be forced to choose how comfortable they are with the risk of contracting the coronavirus and how to cash in an unemployment check. “People will have problems here,” says Ndjatou. “It’s a precarious situation.”
How does unemployment benefit work?
Unemployment insurance is a federal state program that provides the necessary funds to unemployed people who meet certain requirements, according to the US Department of Labor (DOL). These requirements include that you are unemployed through no fault of your own and that you meet the requirements of your state in terms of wages earned or hours worked during a specified period.
Every state has its own unemployment program, but all states follow the same federal guidelines, the DOL says. The Coronavirus Aid, Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES), which came into force at the end of March, extends state unemployment benefits to include workers who are normally not entitled to unemployment benefits, such as self-employed or self-employed contractors. CARES provides an additional $ 600 a week to the unemployed.
Once an unemployed worker is eligible for benefits, he or she typically has to regularly demonstrate that he or she is actively looking for work, says Ndjatou.
Companies are legally required to report when employees refuse to work.
However, it’s usually not out of retribution. “Historically, most employers report declining employment because companies have to pay into unemployment funds [taxes or unemployment insurance]and failure to report could potentially be fraudulent or a violation of government regulations, ”Sara Elizabeth Dill, partner of the human rights law firm Anethum Global, told Yahoo Life. “I don’t think these reports should be seen as retaliation. You are simply a company that adheres to the law. “
This legal obligation is not easy to forget for companies. “A number of countries have recently published guidelines informing employers about the reporting requirement,” says Dill.
What other options are available to workers if they are too nervous or afraid to return to work?
It gets a little confused here. The Occupational Health and Safety Agency (OSHA) has a general duty clause that requires companies to offer workplaces that are “free of recognized hazards that could or could result in death or serious harm to employees”. According to OSHA’s general mandatory clause, an employee could argue that unemployment benefits should not be denied because the workplace is at greater risk of developing COVID-19 and the employer has failed to keep the workplace free of this risk or take measures to protect workers from infection from the virus, Dills says.
However, if employers take the generally accepted steps of the World Health Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and other reopening plans, it can be difficult to raise a case. “Employers should also exercise caution here to avoid litigation or other complaints when employees are infected after they return to work,” says Dill.
“Laws and governance have special rules in emergencies like pandemics. Unfortunately, labor laws don’t have clear guidelines for employers or employees, and we have the complexity of federal law as well as state laws, ”added Dill. (She recommends consulting an employment lawyer in your state if you are able to figure out the nuances of your state’s law in this regard.)
Otherwise, according to Dill, there are “not really many” other options for employees. “Some municipalities have plans to help reduce rents and move vacancies, but for the most part, unemployment is the only option,” she says. “That’s why so many restaurants, shops, and other small businesses have set up employee relief funds to cover what unemployment doesn’t do.”
There is also an ethical problem.
Low-wage workers may also find themselves in a difficult situation where they may make more money from unemployment benefits than what they do at work. “This is a difficult case,” Andrew I. Cohen, PhD, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Jean Beer Blumenfeld Center for Ethics at Georgia State University, told Yahoo Life. “This is a challenge for workers with little savings. They have to find out if they are back to work and are at risk of illness, or if they are staying at home and making more money, but then they may have to risk their jobs.”
People tend to make an ethical decision like this based on incentives, says Cohen. “If the incentives to stay at home are stronger, they will usually do so,” he says. “If it is stronger to get back to work, they will usually do it.”
But some states like Georgia are working to address this dilemma. Georgian Labor Commissioner Mark Butler recently said in a press release that the state has issued an emergency decision that allows workers to earn up to $ 300 a week without reducing the unemployment benefits they receive, which is an additional incentive for workers represents going back to work.
Cohen is not sure whether this type of incentive will help or not. “We don’t know because we need data on what works and what doesn’t,” he says.
The situation is also a challenge for companies, says Cohen. “You either have to ask employees to take a risk of disease to save their business, or they could take the risk of getting out of business by staying closed and keeping their employees safe,” he says. “It is not easy.”
What can workers do if they are afraid to return to work but do not want to lose their unemployment benefits?
If you find yourself in this situation, Ndjatou recommends talking to your employer about your concerns. “Some employers are very short on cash and want to know that they can rely on former employees to return. It is less money for them to have to train new workers, ”he says. “As a result, I would expect some places to use as many incentives as possible to get workers back.”
According to Ndjatou, employees may have “more bargaining power than you think,” especially for those who worked from home. If you have already done teleworking, according to Ndjatou it is at least worth asking if you can continue to do so. However, if your job does not allow teleworking or teleworking is not possible in your area, you have the right to ask your employer how you and your colleagues should be safe, says Ndjatou. Here, too, the employer is legally obliged to offer you a secure job.
“This time requires a lot of creative solutions and a certain amount of patience and understanding between employees and employers,” says Dill. “Transparency and clear guidelines, open and honest communication and the priority of health and safety are important components of the reopening.”
For the latest corona virus news and updates, follow at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. Experts say people over 60 and those with weakened immune systems remain the most at risk. If you have any questions, please contact the CDC and WHO Resource manuals.
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