As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, we've asked readers what they most want to know about its impact, prevention and treatment. This is an answer to one of those questions. You can find more answers here.
I was furloughed from a hotel job and am receiving unemployment. What if they recall me and I do not feel it is a safe environment to work in due to the lack of [personal protective equipment]? Do I lose unemployment?
Many Minnesotans may soon be asked to return to work as the governor eases closure orders on some businesses. But if some refuse to go out of health concerns, they will likely lose unemployment benefits.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) says that people able to return to work "need to do so," or risk becoming ineligible for unemployment benefits.
"If you have a health reason or caretaking responsibility, then you should stay home and you would likely continue to qualify for unemployment," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said in a statement. "But if you are an able-bodied and otherwise healthy worker, unemployment insurance isn't able to pay you if you desire to stay home."
The exceptions are outlined in a March executive order from Gov. Tim Walz. Someone who has a compromised immune system or risks infecting other workers may remain eligible if they have a doctor's note.
Wade Lüneburg, recording secretary at Unite Here Local 17, which represents hospitality workers, said many workers may be initially fearful of being recalled back to work.
"I think there are going to be lots of questions and a lot of confusion at a minimum about what will be expected of people and if they can decline work, and what that means with their unemployment that they have been receiving," Lüneburg said.
Workers might also remain eligible if their employer is not following proper safety protocols, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
That's because people applying for unemployment must show they have sought "suitable employment," but the executive order specifies that this does not include employment that might jeopardize people's health. Eligibility in situations like those would be determined on a case-by-case basis.
The state Department of Labor and Industry says employees have the right to refuse to work in unsafe conditions around an "infectious agent" like the coronavirus.
"Your employer may not fire you or otherwise discriminate against you for your good-faith refusal to perform assigned tasks if you have asked your employer to correct the hazardous conditions but they remain uncorrected," the agency wrote in an overview of worker protections.