On April 30th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott addressed concerns about furloughed employees being denied unemployment benefits because of concerns about COVID-19. The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) issued guidance to unemployed claimants that concern their continued eligibility for unemployment benefits. Furloughed employees who decline an offer to return to work are subject to a case analysis by the TWC to determine their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Each claim is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and the TWC Guidance outlines specific exceptions which grants the continuance of unemployment support which are stated here:
Reason for refusal:
- People 65 years or older, and/or people with medical issues, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID‑19.
- Household member at high risk – People 65 years or older or are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
- Diagnosed with COVID – the individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
- Family member with COVID – anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
- Quarantined – individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
- Child care – Child’s school or daycare closed and no reasonable alternatives are available.
Any other situation will be subject to a case by case review by the Texas Workforce Commission based on individual circumstances.
Employees who do not come back to work because of an excuse not recognized by the TWC are in violation of the law and could lose unemployment benefits. If an employee lies about the reason for refusal they can be reprimanded by the employer, for example if an employee states that they have been exposed to the virus but refuses to provide documentation that they have been tested for the virus, this will give an employer doubts about the validity of their sickness. If you suspect an employee is lying about their reason for refusal or that their excuse is not covered by the TWC, let them know that the employee is not entitled to job protection. Before making a decision on the employment status of the employee, consider if their refusal to return to work is protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and/or the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Employees who do not have a good excuse or are lying about their refusal to work should know about the consequences of their actions. It is recommended to follow these steps to convince employees to come back to work after giving them a furlough recall letter. Only use these steps if an employee is not protected under any of the acts or laws listed above.
- Ensure employees that your workplace is suitable for reopening. Check out our article here that gives an outline to successfully re-open your office. If your office is optimized for social distancing and routine sanitization, it will give your employees confidence in your safety measures and are more likely to come back.
- Let your employees know about short term versus long term benefits. Yes, they may be getting more money from unemployment checks, however in the long term they are losing valuable experience and are damaging their reputation. If one of your employees ever uses you as a reference, you have the right to let the hiring manager know that the former employee was unethical, which will greatly hurt their chances of getting a job. Emphasize that the employee is hurting their future because of their actions in the present.
- Let the employees know about their benefit status when they become employed. There are many credits that can be awarded to businesses that are eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program, Employee Retention Credit, and others that help businesses subsidize paid/unpaid time off expenses.
Employees who are taking advantage of unemployment benefits can be reprimanded if their excuse is not eligible according to the TWC. We hope these tips to get employees to come back to work can help you re-open your business. If you are interested in more information about career and HR advice, consider following Agency 8 on our social media.