Currently, all 50 states have started reopening their economies after the COVID-19 shutdown, meaning small businesses across the county – from restaurants to gyms to hair salons – have reopened or are preparing to reopen.
Entrepreneurs know they need their employees to return to get back to business, but some are finding that not all employees are ready to return to their jobs, often for fear of exposure to COVID-19.
When employees choose not to return to work
Several states, including Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, South Carolina, and Vermont, have created websites asking employers to report workers who refuse to return to work.
This can put entrepreneurs in a difficult position as reporting workers who choose not to return to work can effectively end their unemployment benefit, however return of workers is required for Loan waiver under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
Fortunately, employers do not have to worry about reducing their PPP loan waiver if they resume their jobs in good faith and both the offer and the rejection are documented, the company said US Small Business Administration.
But the business owner still faces the question of whether they need employees to run their business and the dilemma of whether to report employees who refuse to return to work.
What entrepreneurs can do
Entrepreneurs with workers who do not want to return to work can first ensure that they take all necessary precautions to protect workers and that they make workers aware of these precautions.
Specific strategies differ depending on the industry in which the company operates. For example, different precautions are taken for employees with close customer contact than for employees who can distance themselves socially from customers.
Businesses are regulated at the state and local levels when it comes to reopening after COVID-19. Therefore, it is very important to understand and follow the applicable guidelines in your location. Failure to comply with state and local laws can result not only in fines and licensing issues, but also in employee reluctance to return to work.
Business owners may need to take additional precautions for employees who are at higher risk of complications from COVID-19. The US Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has issued instructions for employers in processing employee accommodation requests due to COVID-19.
Employers should consider speaking directly to their employers about their concerns and working with them to make the workplace feel safe. Consider implementing solutions that are supported by the. were proposed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to limit exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
Do workers have to return to work?
Of course, an employee cannot be forced to do a job they don’t want to do. But whether they can still collect Unemployment insurance benefits depends on national laws, which generally do not allow unemployed workers to continue to collect unemployment if they have “suitable” employment available.
Finding “suitable” employment in times of COVID-19 is complicated, but likely relies on employing the health and safety regulations and proposed protocols from organizations such as the CDC and Occupational Safety and Health Authority (OSHA).
Remember that some states, such as Vermont, Oblige employers to report employees who refuse suitable employment.
Because state law is different and this is a new and complex area of law, it is advisable to seek help from an employment law attorney who can advise you.