What happens if you refuse to return to work during pandemic?

Can you keep receiving unemployment benefits? Here's what the BBB wants you to know.

Posted: Jun 17, 2020 11:25 AM
Updated: Jun 17, 2020 11:51 AM

EUGENE, Ore. -- As we continue in phase two, more and more businesses are starting to reopen. But what happens if an employee decides not to return to work when called back?

“One of the main things we are hearing is some of their employees make more money on unemployment than what they pay them,” said Danielle Kane with the Better Business Bureau.

According to the Oregon Employment Department, employees can continue claiming unemployment benefits if they do not return when called back to work under the following conditions:

  • They are ill with coronavirus
  • They have possibly been exposed to coronavirus and are under a mandatory quarantine
  • They are caring for a family member who has coronavirus or is under mandatory quarantine
  • They must stay home to care for a child due to the closure of schools or other child care providers
  • They have been advised by health care providers to self-quarantine due to the possible risk of exposure
  • Their workplace has not met state guidelines

Officials said these workers will be able to access benefits based on the details of their individual case. The employment department may need to reach out to employees and employers to gather information.

Though being out of work is never ideal, changes under the CARES Act have resulted in many workers making more money on unemployment than they were at their jobs. Going back to work might not seem attractive.


Federal law requires those on a temporary layoff related to the COVID-19 pandemic return to work when called back. Failure to do so when work is available could be considered a “refusal of work” and potentially disqualifies the person from continuing to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

“You have to be at will to work and ready to work in order to receive those benefits,” said Kane.

Can employees fight this? Kane said it is possible.

There are certain conditions that, if met, allow someone to continue receiving unemployment after refusing to return to work.

"If an employee feels that, ‘Yes, you gave me the chance to go back to work, but I asked you multiple times to implement this or I have asked you to have (personal protective equipment) and you don’t, then the employee can report it to OSHA,” she said.

General tips for a safe work environment include space for social distancing, work-from-home policies, and availability of sanitizing wipes, sprays and gels. More information can be found here. 

More info on this topic can be found at trust-bbb.org.

You can learn more about when an employee is within their rights to refuse to come back to work due to “danger” on the Occupation Health and Safety Administration website.

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