According to new guidance from the U.S. Department of Labor, workers who refused jobs that they viewed as unsafe for COVID-19 reasons may now be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. The DOL published this guidance on February 25 in keeping with President Biden’s promise to provide unemployment benefits to workers who chose unemployment over exposure to COVID-19.
The DOL’s action applies to persons who are eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance under the 2020 CARES Act, which includes independent contractors and others who may not otherwise be eligible for state unemployment benefits. These persons are now eligible for unemployment benefits – even if they refused to perform their jobs or refused to accept an open job – if they refused because the work site was not in compliance with COVID-19 health and safety standards. The health and safety standards can include things such as mask wearing, physical distancing and provision of personal protective equipment.
Under the new DOL guidance, unemployed individuals can seek benefits retroactively as far back as February 8, 2020. In order to be eligible, the individuals will have to attest to the unsafe work conditions in writing, and they will have to make that attestation under the penalty of perjury.
President Biden made it clear that his DOL would be active, and more actions from the DOL are a virtual certainty in the weeks and months to come.