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Americans Concerned About Returning to Work

As businesses reopen, and no mandatory safety rules coming from the federal government, many of those being called back to work do not feel safe doing so — especially those who work in restaurants, hair salons or other high-contact jobs. Despite purported internal rules for increased hand-washing and disinfecting, and spacing tables 6 feet apart, many workers are skeptical that these rules will be followed and there is no reliable way to safely perform their work. They further worry that raising concerns about safety and reopening too soon will cost them their much-needed jobs. What’s more, if an employer reopens and offers employees their jobs back and the employees refuse, generally speaking they can’t keep collecting unemployment benefits.

Here are some ways workers can manage this challenging situation:

  • Talk to your employer.

Start with a conversation about your concerns in a reasonable, not demanding, manner. Try to find some common ground, acknowledging the employer’s economic and emotional need to reopen and your own desire and need to work, while also expressing your legitimate (and likely shared) safety worries. Obtain information about what precautions will be in place and how the employer is going to enforce them. Ask if your employer would be amenable to alternative schedules or rolling start dates. If your workplace is not taking basic safety precautions that similar businesses in the area are and you can document that, you might qualify to refuse to go back to that job and stay on unemployment. However, fear alone will not suffice to stay on unemployment.

  • Special rules for those with underlying health conditions

For employees with underlying medical conditions based on which a doctor would advise against going to work at this time, unemployment benefits may still be available. Employees with diabetes, heart disease, an immune deficiency, or another underlying condition should obtain documentation from a doctor, and then explain the situation to both the employer and the state unemployment office.

  • Child care challenges

Parents who cannot work remotely and cannot find child care with the closing of schools, day cares and summer camps, may also be able to receive unemployment. Depending on the employer size, some parents may be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave as well.