As Washington’s economy slowly re-opens, many retailers have reported challenges with finding employees willing to return to work. The question has surfaced whether workers are unwilling to return to work because of the level of benefits they may be receiving under Washington’s unemployment insurance system. Under Governor Inslee’s emergency proclamations, which eased work search requirements during the pandemic, claimants risk losing unemployment insurance benefits if they refuse to accept suitable work, or return to work to their employer under most circumstances. There are some nuances:
- “Suitable work” is defined as work that is in line with the claimant’s prior training, work experience and education. If you are offering an employee a return to work, the working conditions, wages earned, and hours worked by the employee must be similar to those previously provided.
- Under normal circumstances, UI claimants must be able, available, and actively seeking work. The requirement that UI claimants actively seek work has been waived throughout the crisis, but UI claimants must still be able and available for work.
- Individuals generally do not have the option to choose between receiving unemployment benefits or an offer to return to suitable work from their employer. Individuals must have a good cause reason not to accept suitable work to continue either state or federal benefits.
Good cause reasons an employee may refuse work and continue to collect unemployment benefits include:
- Being at high risk of or sick with COVID-19 or taking care of a household member who is at high risk of or sick with COVID-19.
- Staying home to take care of a young child because their school or daycare is closed.
- If the job has substantially changed, such as significantly cutting pay, moving the job location a significant distance, or if the worksite does not meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
For additional information and guidance for employers, please see ESDWAGOV – Refusal to work
Washington Retail will be working with the Employment Security Department, the Governor’s office, and stakeholders to urge a return to pre-pandemic job search requirements as Washington State opens its economy on June 30th.