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Over the past week, dozens of states have begun to reopen, allowing businesses to partially resume operations. Restaurants, retailers, gyms, and other service-oriented industries are calling on employees to return. With this, workers who have sought unemployment benefits are questioning what returning to work looks like, and some are wondering if they actually have to go back. Recent guidance from the Department of Labor clears up this question.
In an effort to combat the economic hardships facing out of work individuals, the CARES Act
established three new Unemployment Insurance (UI) programs: Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC), Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), and Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) which provides an additional $600 per week. These programs, as well as traditional UI benefits, are available to individuals who are unable to work for reasons directly related to COVID-19. For example, individuals who cannot work because they must care for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed, individuals who have coronavirus or are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus and are actively seeking a diagnosis, and individuals who are unable to reach their place of employment for reasons directly related to COVID-19 would all eligible for benefits.
UI and the $600 FPUC benefit combined can total more than what many workers would regularly earn at their jobs. This has prompted some to ask if they can stay home and collect unemployment rather than return to work. The Department of Labor (DOL) has made clear through this FAQ that the answer is no. Refusing suitable work in order to collect UI is fraud, which can result in the loss of UI benefits and penalties.
One exception to this general rule does exist. If an individual has been advised by a medical professional to self-quarantine because an existing medical condition or health factor raises particular concerns around exposure to the coronavirus, that individual can continue to collect PUA.
As economies begin to reopen, public officials and businesses are working together to implement practices that will help keep employees and customers safe. Keep up with your state’s reopening plan here. And for state specific information regarding unemployment insurance information, visit Career One Stop.