How Turning Down a Job Offer Can Affect Unemployment Compensation

Video: Changes to unemployment benefits and eligibility as more Vermonters get offers to return to work. Watch the video on Facebook. On Thursday, August 13, Vermont Legal Aid attorney Kelli Kazmarski talked about changes such as: the ending of the $600/week in federal unemployment benefits; what happens to unemployment benefits when you are not able to return to work for reasons like dependent care or health/safety concerns; and issues with overpayments of benefits.

 

Updated 9/23/2020 at 2:30 p.m.

Some people who get unemployment compensation are being offered their old job back. Some are getting offered other work. Generally, if you turn down "suitable work,” you may lose your unemployment compensation and be disqualified from future benefits. What counts as “suitable work” depends on your particular job offer. It is based on your prior training or experience, prior earnings, how long you have been unemployed, location of the job, risk to your health or safety, and other factors.

Usually when you are offered your old job back, you have to take it or you risk losing your unemployment compensation. However, due to COVID-19, people in some situations can turn down a job offered to them and still get unemployment compensation benefits.

You must still report all offers of work to the Vermont Department of Labor (DOL) in your weekly claim. Do this even if you do not think it is suitable work or think that you fall into one of the exceptions.

Will I still be eligible for unemployment compensation if...

1. I can't accept an offer of work because my childcare/child’s school is still closed or does not have a slot for my child?

Yes, you can still get Unemployment benefits. The federal CARES Act says that unavailable school or childcare due to COVID-19 is a valid reason to refuse an offer of work.

2. I turn down an offer of work because I am at a high risk due to health conditions and that job exposes me to too many people?

You may or may not be eligible for Unemployment compensation. This depends on your health, the job, and what safety measures the employer has in place. You could be eligible for unemployment if:

  • your health care provider or the Vermont Department of Health recommends that you isolate/quarantine and not work, and
  • this recommendation is because you belong to a specific group of people who are at high-risk if exposed to or infected with COVID-19.

But be careful: In order to collect weekly unemployment benefits you must be “able and available to work.” So, while it may not be safe for you to take a job because you need to isolate, you must be available to take work that is suitable for your health condition. Even if you couldn’t do a job that puts you in contact with customers, you could do a job that does not expose you to lots of people.

Asking for disability accommodations at work

Employees with health impairments can ask for changes to a workplace or how work is done. These are called accommodations. Some people with health conditions may ask for accommodations to make working more safe or accessible during COVID-19. Your employer should discuss with you what accommodations are “reasonable.” Learn more about reasonable accommodations.

3. I turn down an offer of work because I am over 60 and the job exposes me to too many people?

You may or may not be eligible for unemployment compensation. This depends on the particular job and what safety measures the employer has in place. You could be eligible for unemployment if:

  • your health care provider or the Vermont Department of Health recommends that you isolate/quarantine and not work, and
  • this recommendation is because you belong to a specific group of people who are at high-risk if exposed to or infected with COVID-19.

But be careful: In order to collect weekly unemployment benefits you must be “able and available to work.” So while it may not be safe for you to take a particular job because you need to isolate, you have to be available to take work that would pose less of a risk due to your age.

4. I turn down an offer of work because I have been exposed to COVID-19?

You probably are still eligible for Unemployment compensation, depending on whether the Department of Health still says people should isolate after exposure. You could be eligible for unemployment if both (a) and (b) are true:

(a) Your health care provider or the Vermont Department of Health recommends that you isolate/quarantine and not work, and

(b) This recommendation is because:

  • You have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19
  • You are experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19, or
  • You have been recently exposed to COVID-19.

We suggest that you get proof of your diagnosis or exposure (for example, a doctor’s note or test result) to show your reason for not working.

5. I turn down an offer of work because my employer is not serious about the distancing or business opening guidelines (for example, does not make employees wear masks while in the office/truck/store/job site)?

You may or may not be eligible for Unemployment compensation. You can turn down a job if there is an “unreasonable risk of exposure” at your workplace. While it is unclear what an "unreasonable risk of exposure" is, if you can show that your employer is not following the workplace safety guidance from OSHA, CDC or the Vermont Department of Health, you can probably turn down an offer of work and still keep getting benefits. Proving that your employer is not serious about workplace safety may be difficult. An occasional mistake by the employer would probably not be enough to prove an unsafe workplace.

You can find health guidance for workplaces on the State of Vermont website. If you have questions about your situation, contact us for help.

6. I turn down an offer of work because I don’t think it is safe yet for people to return to workplaces?

Proving that your employer is not serious about workplace safety may be difficult.  It likely would be fact-specific, depending on the way in which your employer is allowing an unsafe workplace, and how often it happens. A minor or occasional mistake by the employer, such as not monitoring mask wearing by employees frequently enough, may not be enough to prove an unsafe workplace. If you have questions about what your employer is doing or not doing and whether you should accept or refuse an offer of work, contact us for help.

7. I turn down an offer to work fewer hours than my previous job?

No. In this case your unemployment compensation would probably stop. You would be disqualified from unemployment compensation benefits.

If you are offered suitable work at your regular rate of pay, you must accept and report earnings when you file your weekly claim. In this situation, you may be eligible for partial unemployment benefits in addition to your earnings.

Learn more about turning down work on the DOL website. Be sure to scroll down on that DOL web page to see "Exemptions to the Return to Work Request."

8. I turn down an offer of work or Paycheck Protection Program money because I am getting paid more from unemployment?

No. In this case your unemployment compensation would stop. You would be disqualified from Unemployment compensation benefits.

Relevant links

 

Updated: Sep 23, 2020