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Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Returning to Work: Guide for Workers

In normal times, the intent of the unemployment insurance program is to assist people during periods of unemployment when suitable work is not available.

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor encourages temporary flexibility to comply effectively with government social distancing recommendations and to mitigate the spread of the virus. In response, the Department of Unemployment Assistance enacted emergency regulations, that, among other things, altered the definition of suitable work. The regulations, which are effective from March 16 to June 14, 2020, state at 403 CMR 22.05:

"In determining whether work is suitable, the department will consider whether a claimant (the worker) has a condition that prevents the claimant from performing the essential functions of the job without substantial risk to the claimant’s health and safety. For purposes of this section, “condition” means a request from an employer, a medical professional, a local health official, or any civil authority that the claimant or a member of the claimant’s immediate family or household member be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19, even if the claimant or the claimant’s immediate family or household member has not been actually diagnosed with COVID-19."

If suitable work is available, however, the claimant has an obligation to properly apply for or accept offered work. Indeed, recent guidelines promulgated by the U.S. Department of Labor provide that refusing suitable work will likely result in a loss of unemployment benefits. A claimant may not refuse work because unemployment benefits are higher than the amount the claimant would earn from employment.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Why is my weekly regular unemployment or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit so high right now?

Your weekly benefit currently includes an extra payment of $600 per week due to a provision in the CARES Act known as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC). FPUC adds $600 to both regular unemployment and PUA benefits, regardless of the amount of your typical weekly benefit. The last week you will receive the additional FPUC payment is the week ending July 25, 2020. Note: The $600 FPUC benefit expired July 25. The DUA is awaiting federal guidance on whether the program will be renewed.

My employer furloughed me four weeks ago and I have been collecting unemployment benefits. My employer now wants me to return to work. I am 64, have asthma, and my job requires me to have contact with public. If I refuse to return to work will I still be able to collect unemployment benefits?

If your refusal to return to work is reasonable, you will remain eligible for unemployment. Determining what is “reasonable” is a fact-specific inquiry. The individual’s own health situation is an important consideration, as are the work conditions, including the nature of the job, and whether employees work with or near other employees or members of the public.

My employer temporarily laid me off at the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency and I have been collecting unemployment benefits. My employer now wants me to return to work. I am 32 and in reasonably good health, and I don’t have any other high-risk factors that I’m aware of. Nevertheless, I’m still worried about returning to work. If I refuse to return to work will I still be able to collect unemployment benefits?

If your refusal to return to work is reasonable, you will remain eligible for unemployment. As discussed above, determining what is “reasonable” is a fact-specific inquiry. The employee’s own health situation is an important consideration, as are the work conditions and the job the employer offers, including whether employees work with or near other employees or members of the public.

If an individual’s work requires them to be physically present in the workplace, and the individual does not have a reasonable reason for failing to report to work, the employer may lawfully terminate them. If the work offered is suitable and your employer fires you because you refuse it, you may be disqualified from receiving further benefits. General fear of being exposed to COVID-19, without more, is not considered a reasonable basis for refusing work.

Because of the COVD-19 public health emergency, I was laid-off from my job as a waitress in a restaurant. The owner of the restaurant has offered me work packing and delivering take-out orders, but I know that I will not earn as much money doing that as I am currently getting in my weekly unemployment benefit. Can I refuse the offer of work and keep collecting unemployment?

No. If you refuse a job offer, and the offered work is suitable, you may be disqualified from receiving further benefits. Refusing work because you would rather collect more money in unemployment benefits is not reasonable in any circumstances and may be considered fraud.

Can I get fired if I refuse to come back to my job when my employer offers work to me?

Yes. Your employer has the right to replace you and may terminate your employment for refusing to accept an offer of work.

If the work offered is suitable and your employer fires you because you refuse it, you may be disqualified from receiving further benefits. Alternatively, if your refusal to return to suitable work is not reasonable, DUA may determine that you voluntarily quit your job, which would also disqualify you from benefits.

Contact

Phone

Call Center (877) 626-6800

Open 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Monday–Friday, 8 a.m–12 p.m. Saturday. Multilingual call agents are available.

TeleCert Line (Automated system is operational*) (617) 626-6338

To request weekly benefits, daily 6 a.m.–10 p.m.

Payment Status Line (Automated System is operational*) (617) 626-6563

To check your claim or benefit payment status (*please do not transfer to an agent while in the system-this is not staffed at this time)

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