Jeremy Johnson new mug

Jeremy Johnson

While things are far from business as usual, we are seeing businesses start to reopen across the state of Idaho. We understand that it’s small businesses hurting the most amid COVID-19 and, therefore, are among the organizations most eager to open their doors and start transacting. But we also know safety is the top priority, both for employees and customers.

And though being out of work is never ideal, changes under the CARES Act have resulted in many workers making more money on unemployment than they were at their jobs. Therefore, going back to work might not seem attractive — at least not until things are more “normal.”

With our ears to the ground, Better Business Bureau has been listening to the concerns of these small business owners. One question we keep hearing is, “What do I do if my employee does not want to come back to work because they are making more money on unemployment?”

This is an issue many are bracing for, and as an employer, there is action you can take.

Federal law requires those on a temporary layoff related to the COVID-19 pandemic return to work when called back. Failure to do so when work is available could be considered a “refusal of work” and potentially disqualifies the claimant from continuing to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

In short, if there is work available and the employee declines, they forfeit their right to collect unemployment. Employers should report these refusals to their state unemployment division right away.

However, details will matter. Notice words like “could” and “potentially” in the previous paragraph. This is because the context of the situation will be assessed. Be ready to provide details regarding the dates the employee refused to work, what type of work was offered, how the work was offered and by whom, as well as the reason given by the claimant for not accepting the work.

BBB cannot advise on what employers can and cannot do in this situation, nor can we advise what protocols employers can legally put in place as they reopen — such as taking temperatures, signing waivers, mandating masks at all times, etc.

What we can do is provide best practices — what we have seen and heard being done across the Northwest and what we believe to be general tips everyone should consider to create a safe work environment. Consider the following:

— The availability of space for social distancing and if your location can accommodate the necessary parameters.

— Daily sanitizing of the establishment and high-touch areas.

— Indoor face-covering requirements and what protective equipment, if any, you will be providing.

— Work-from-home policies — determine if those who can work from home may continue to do so.

— Adapted sick policies that clearly state when a person should stay home and plainly communicate there is no pressure to come in when someone doesn’t feel well.

Implementing these types of safeguards will serve business owners well as they invite their employees to come back.

More information on when an employee is within their rights to refuse to come back to work due to “danger” can be found on the Occupation Health and Safety Administration website at https://www.osha.gov/right-to-refuse.html.

Jeremy Johnson is the eastern Idaho marketplace manager for Better Business Bureau, serving the Northwest and Pacific. Contact her by emailing jeremy.johnson@thebbb.org.