Q: “I had to furlough employees as a result of the pandemic. I am considering opening back up for business, but cannot offer employees the same number of hours that they had before. Employees are refusing to come back because they earn more on unemployment – particularly with the additional $600 from the federal government. What can the employer do? Do the employees have the right to refuse to come back and keep collecting this unemployment?”
May 14, 2020
Answer: This is a common issue for many employers. Employees do not have the right to choose to refuse to work to continue to receive unemployment benefits. Both state unemployment benefits and the additional $600-per-week unemployment benefit provided under the federal CARES Act require that the employee be unemployed and available for work to receive benefits (unless they are unable to work for specific designated reasons related to COVID-19). In fact, the Department of Labor encourages states to ask employers to provide information when workers refuse to return to their jobs for reasons that do not support their continued eligibility for benefits.
Additionally, employees may still be eligible for unemployment benefits if they have reduced hours, depending on state law. In Illinois, a weekly benefit amount (WBA) for that individual is determined using the amount of wages in the claimant’s work history when a claimant files a claim for unemployment benefits. If an employee’s earnings are less than their WBA, the employee may be eligible for all or partial unemployment benefits. Anyone who receives at least $1 of state or federal unemployment benefits for a week, between March 29, 2020, and July 25, 2020, is eligible for the additional $600 per week under the CARES Act.
Ultimately, whether to require employees to return to work is a business decision. Still, employers should keep in mind whatever they decide, to accurately report this information to their local unemployment agency as requested.