The biggest question on everyone’s mind is “when will things get back to normal?” The timeline is still unknown, but what is certain is that you will need to be ready to move quickly when you need employees to return to work.

Many of our clients have made difficult decisions to furlough and lay off employees. Now is the time to prepare for when you will need those employees back. These employees are most likely currently collecting unemployment insurance, so a question we’re frequently asked is “can employees refuse to return to work?”

In short, no. Not if they want to continue to stay eligible for unemployment insurance. But, of course, there are exceptions.

An employee can refuse to return to work for one of the following reasons:

  • A stay-at-home order is in place where the individual resides
  • Individual must care for a child whose school or childcare is closed
  • An employee is caring for someone diagnosed with COVID-19
  • He or she could have a reason to feel unsafe at the workplace, which might be deemed allowable

When an employer requests that an employee return to work, it must notify the unemployment agency that the employee once again has work. This notification will cause unemployment benefits to end. Unemployment insurance is contingent on the employee being “able” and “available to work.”

It’s worthwhile to remind the employee of this fact.

If an employee is still refusing to return, remind the individual that unemployment fraud is illegal and could include not only reimbursement of benefits but criminal penalties.

There will be personnel challenges in getting your operation scaled back up. While some will be eager to return, many employees who were laid off or furloughed will likely have become accustomed to life under quarantine.

If you need HR advisory services during this time, please reach out to us.