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U.S. DOL Clarifies that Refusing an Offer of Employment Does Not Necessarily Rule Out Unemployment Benefits

July 27, 2020

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently issued an update to its Unemployment Insurance Program Letter (UIPL) 16-20 including a Q&A responding to questions submitted by states. The update provides additional guidance regarding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a program under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (the CARES Act).

The CARES Act expands weekly unemployment benefits by as much as $600 and makes more workers, including the self-employed, independent contractors and gig economy workers, eligible to collect unemployment benefits through the PUA program. Workers may be eligible for PUA if they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable to work for certain reasons relating to COVID-19, including, but not limited to: (i) being diagnosed with COVID-19; (ii) caring for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19; (iii) caring for a child or household member whose school is closed due to COVID-19; (iv) being unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine; or (v) being unable to report to their place of employment because it has been closed as a direct result of COVID-19. The extra $600 in weekly unemployment benefits that was passed under the CARES Act in March is set to end July 31, 2020. But, given the payment schedules of most states, the last week of the $600 payments ended on Saturday, July 25. Congress is currently debating a new coronavirus relief package for workers.

Among its highlights, the Q&A addresses whether an individual who refuses an offer of work due to legitimate COVID-19 concerns is eligible for PUA. The answer depends on whether the individual is able to work and available for “suitable” work within the meaning of applicable state law. Many states have provisions that consider work that unreasonably exposes an individual to safety risks, such as contracting COVID-19, to be unsuitable. Thus, if the work does not meet the “suitable” standard under employment law, the worker is not disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. Similarly, a worker who refuses “suitable” work for certain virus-related reasons or who declines work for “good cause” under state law may be eligible to collect PUA. (The DOL’s update, however, does not define “good cause.”) Among other topics, the Q&A addresses workers’ initial and continued eligibility for benefits and states’ mechanisms for rooting out and punishing fraud.

Employers should be aware of this updated guidance on unemployment benefits under the PUA program. A link to the DOL’s additional questions and answers about the PUA program can be found HERE.

Delaware’s Department of Labor has not issued any new guidance on the issue of “suitable work.” If you have any questions on how Delaware has traditionally approached the issue of “suitable work,” or if you have any other questions, please contact a Richards, Layton & Finger labor and employment attorney.

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