BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — The Alabama Department of Labor reports they’re seeing an unusually high number of people receiving unemployment benefits who are refusing to go back to work.
Tara Hutchison, communications director with the Alabama Department of Labor, said these cases seem to be related to COVID-19.
“The law is very clear. If you are recalled to work, then you must return to work unless there is a valid reason for not returning and there are 10 of those reasons and prescribed by U.S. Department of Labor and COVID-19-related,” Hutchinson said. “A general fear of the coronavirus or general fear of returning to work is not considered a valid reason for refusing to work.”
Hutchison said that so far, ADOL has taken away around 3,200 unemployment benefits from people refusing to return to work and have denied around 900 claims due to the same reason.
Those 10 reasons for being allowed to stay on unemployment and not returning to work are under the CARES Act, which according to the ADOL website, “In order to remain eligible for benefits, a claimant must be otherwise able and available for work except that they are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to a qualifying COVID-19 related reason. If a claimant answers that they are NOT out of work due to a COVID-19 related reason, their benefits will be halted.”
Hutchison said those who refuse to return to work, but try to stay on unemployment could be committing fraud and also hurting the business owner.
“Unemployment insurance taxes are not paid by the employees. Those are 100% funded by business owners so it’s impacting those business owners in the fact that if benefits continue to be paid to employees who do not legitimately deserve them or are not getting them for valid reason, then that increases tax rates on employers,” she said.
Shirley Abts, owner of The Ark restaurant in Riverside, said she’s had a handful of employees refuse to come back to work who were on unemployment.
“It’s very hard because we are extremely fortunate that the community, the surrounding area and all, they are supporting us. We’ve been here 90 years and they support us so we have a lot of our business back, not all of it, not all the tables, but we got probably 70% of our business yet we don’t have employees to match it so it’s very difficult,” Abts said.
Abts said she needs at least six employees to help her restaurant run smoothly. She said her employees are working extra hours and overtime to help out until she can find replacements for the employees she lost.
ADOL reports that the unemployment rate is going down. In April, unemployment was 13.8% and then in May it was reported to have gone down to 9.9%.
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