SEATTLE — There is growing friction between some small business owners and their workers as employees choose not to come back to work over concerns about coronavirus.
Many small business owners have had to furlough or lay off their employees, but they're finding it's hard to get them to come back to work, as many workers say they're better off on unemployment. Under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, filers get an additional $600 a week on top of their weekly state unemployment benefits.
This also puts small business owners in jeopardy of getting their COVID-19 aid forgiven, as a major requirement for the Paycheck Protection Program loans under the Small Business Administration makes borrowers spend 75% of the money on keeping workers on the payroll.
On the other hand, a growing number of workers say they say feel some employers are pushing to re-open the economy without adequate protections. And many are still waiting for unemployment benefit payments to get them through this crisis.
"If we actually care about public health and workers' lives, we need to be boosting workers' right to refuse to go back to work in unsafe conditions," said Sage Wilson of Working Washington, a workers organization geared to improving working conditions and improving wages. "And [we want to] protect their incomes if they do so."
However, the Washington Employment Security Department's commissioner says refusing to work may mean losing unemployment benefits.
"We wanted to make that very, very clear to both workers as well as employers, so that there isn't this conflict with regards to, 'Gosh, my people don't want to come back. What do I do?'" said Suzi LeVine, ESD commissioner. "There's very clear guidance around that."
If you refuse to work and do not have a good reason, you're likely to get denied for regular unemployment benefits. Good reasons include: being at risk for severe COVID-19 as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, living or caring for a high-risk person, or being asked to work at a job that does not allow for remote working and has not followed the guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries and the Washington Department of Health.
However, even if you are denied regular benefits, there is a chance you could qualify for federal benefits under Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. For example, you may be eligible for PUA if you have to care for a child who cannot go to daycare or school because it has been closed during the pandemic.
The state has a list of frequently asked questions and answers to help navigate the process for both employers and workers.
Filers will have to answer these questions each week when they fill out their weekly claim survey. The state says people have answer truthfully.
Do you have a question or concern about money during the coronavirus pandemic? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.