Furloughed Workers May Face Fraud Charges For Collecting Unemployment After Receiving Offer to Work
As businesses will soon begin to gradually reopen, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Office of Unemployment Compensation’s website (www.pa.us.gov) tells Employers to notify the department if an employee refuses an offer of suitable work and won’t come back.
Section 402 (a) of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Law provides, in part, that an employee shall be ineligible for compensation for any work in which their unemployment is due to failure, without good cause, to accept suitable work; provided that the employer who offers the work notifies the department of the refusal within 7 days from when the offer is made.
The Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Department has created a new form (UC-1921W) for Employers to report to the department that suitable work was refused. The form can be filled out and submitted directly to the department online, or printed and submitted via facsimile with any additional documentation to UIAS at (717) 772-0378.
Employees refusing to return to work simply based on the fear of contracting the coronavirus will be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. An Employee who continues to claim benefits may even be committing fraud. Under the Occupational Safety Health Act (OSHA), Employees may refuse work if they “reasonably believe they are in imminent danger.” That fear typically includes the threat of death or serious physical harm. Generalized fear about the virus, that is not based on fact, would likely not be sufficient to refuse work.
The U.S. Department of Labor guidance does not make it clear that the basic fear of exposure to the virus is enough to refuse suitable work. If a business is not operating safely an employee could make a case for continued benefits. Each unemployment benefit case is evaluated on an individual case basis.
An employee who chooses to stay home because they are receiving more money through the expanded State/Federal unemployment insurance than their pre-virus base pay, is considered to be refusing an offer of suitable work and is to be timely reported.
With more than 30 million U.S. workers having filed initial claims for unemployment benefits since mid-March, it is essential that all employers preparing to re-open for business make certain that the workplace is safe, clean, and in compliance of the CDC Recommendations. Such practices should include:
- Updating cleaning and disinfection guidance.
- Updated best practices for conducting social distancing.
- Educate employees to maintain proper hygiene protocol.
- Reduce transmission among employees.
- Maintain healthy business operations.
- Maintain a healthy work environment.
- Identify alternative supply chains for critical goods and services.
- Plan to monitor and respond to absenteeism at the workplace.
- Prepare to institute flexible work and leave policies.
- Cross-train employees to perform essential functions so the workplace can operate if key employees are absent.