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  • Jason Harvey

Unemployment


There were lots of interesting conversations this week and last, but the two most common themes seemed to be around unemployment benefits (be it for client or family members) and what’s going on in the housing market.


Unemployment

With job losses now at historic highs, the shutdown was the latest event to highlight the differences between hourly hands-on workers and salary type desk workers.





Hourly folks not deemed essential were among the first to be laid off and are now being called back while many knowledge workers were sent home to continue working and with the shutdown duration longer than anticipated are now being laid off.


Hourly folks being called back and don’t feel comfortable doing so are asking about their options. Specifically, if they don’t go back can they continue to receive unemployment benefits?


The answer as with most it “it depends.”


The general rule for unemployment benefit eligibility applies. If your employer decides to open and you are called back to work, if you don’t go, you have effectively turned down an employment opportunity and you have no longer been displaced from employment through “no fault of your own” thus ending your period of benefit eligibility. If your employer terminates your employment as a result of your failure to return, it would look something like this:



In a typical situation most states have “good cause” exceptions which protect benefits for those who quit for things like health and safety. These are addressed on a case by case basis. It’s probably a long shot for folks who have a generalized fear of a return to qualify here. The Department of Labor’s website says the following


“Voluntarily deciding to quit your job out of a general concern about exposure to COVID-19 does not make you eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).”


“There are, however, circumstances under the CARES Act in which specific, credible health concerns could require an individual to quit his or her job and thereby make the individual eligible for PUA. For example, an individual may be eligible for PUA if he or she was diagnosed with COVID-19 by a qualified medical professional, and although the individual no longer has COVID-19, the illness caused health complications that render the individual objectively unable to perform his or her essential job functions, with or without a reasonable accommodation. If you believe your employer’s response to the possible spread of COVID-19 creates a serious safety hazard or if you think your employer is not following OSHA standards, you can file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”


“As a general matter, you are likely to be eligible for PUA due to concerns about exposure to the coronavirus only if you have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine as a result of such concerns. For instance, an individual whose immune system is compromised by virtue of a serious health condition, and who is therefore advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine in order to avoid the greater-than-average health risks that the individual might face if he or she were to become infected by the coronavirus will be eligible for PUA if all other eligibility requirements are met.”

I expect this will become a very interesting area of argument as employers continue open and call employees back and they don’t feel comfortable doing so.


What About Severance Packages

From the white-collar perspective, the popular question is around severance. When a salaried worker is let go without cause, a severance package is customary. How does this impact unemployment benefits?

Again, it depends.


Different states have different policies regarding severance, and whether severance will impact unemployment benefits. It’s probably most helpful to examine the extremes here. In California, severance has no impact on your eligibility for unemployment benefits while in Texas “severance may delay or stop receipt of unemployment benefits, and payments will be delayed until the payment's period of coverage has expired.”


In general, if you receive severance pay in a lump sum manner rather than in ongoing payments, there is a better likelihood of being eligible for benefit, but it comes down to working directly with your state’s unemployment office. Particularly at times like these where benefit offices are overwhelmed, applying sooner is better.


Here are some sources on the subject if you are interested in learning more:

https://www.fastcompany.com/90499938/do-you-have-to-go-back-to-work-if-it-reopens-but-you-still-dont-feel-safe


https://www.inquirer.com/economy/called-back-work-unemployment-pays-more-coronavirus-20200505.html


https://www.npr.org/2020/04/29/847701797/as-governors-urge-businesses-to-reopen-workers-are-getting-pushed-off-unemployme


https://www.dol.gov/coronavirus/unemployment-insurance


https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/severancepay.asp


https://www.thebalancecareers.com/how-does-severance-and-vacation-pay-affect-unemployment-2064190