As our economy reopens, many people who have been furloughed or temporarily let go will be asked to return to work. For anyone who has been collecting unemployment benefits, that can present challenges. The Employment Security Department (ESD) has just published information to help people navigate the return to work. Please share this with anyone you know who might be able to make use of it.
Under normal circumstances, anyone collecting unemployment benefits is required to look for work. This requirement has been suspended at least through August 1 by the governor and legislative leaders due to the coronavirus pandemic. ESD is revising the job search requirements so that when they are eventually reinstated, they will take into account our new normal of social distancing.
If you are collecting unemployment benefits and are offered work, under most circumstances, you cannot refuse that offer and continue to collect benefits. However, there are some exceptions if you have a “good cause” reason. These are determined by ESD on a case-by-case basis.
For example, some employers are offering workers their old jobs back but with reduced wages or hours. That kind of situation would be reviewed, and the wages being offered would be compared for prevailing wage rates in the area to determine if benefits could be continued.
If the job you are offered does not lend itself to telework, some examples of good cause reasons not to accept the offer of work include:
- If you are at higher risk for a severe COVID-19 related illness as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- If you are living in a household with someone at high risk or providing direct care for a high-risk person.
- Being asked to work at a worksite that does not follow guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, or the Washington Department of Health without telework as an option.
Even if you are denied regular unemployment benefits because you refused an offer of work, you may be eligible for federally funded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance so long as the reason is that you are directly impacted by coronavirus. For example:
- You must care for a child in your household who is unable to attend a school or daycare that has been closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are awaiting a medical diagnosis.
- A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- You can’t get to work because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public-health emergency.
You can find more information on the ESD website:
- The Refusal of Work page provides information about when someone can or cannot refuse an offer of work and retain unemployment benefits.
- The Return to Work page provides information and links to resources for both employers and workers.
I also want you to know that the Employment Security Department is making significant progress on resolving claims for people who have been waiting several weeks for the benefits and in recovering the majority of the funds stolen by a criminal network of fraudsters.
I hope you and your family are managing during these difficult pandemic days. I think about how my mom managed during World War II when my father was in the Army for more than four years in every theater of war in North Africa, Italy and France.
The motto then still stands now: “We Can Do This!” Please stay safe, keep your distance, wear your mask and wash your hands.
If you’d like to follow what I’m working on, you can like my official legislative Facebook page here.
Please don’t hesitate to stay in touch. Stay safe and take care.
Senator Karen Keiser
Chair, Senate Labor & Commerce Committee
Senate President Pro Tempore