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What to do if an employee is refusing to work.

As employees now have access to stimulus packages, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave and expanded FMLA, you may experience employees refusing to work. And for some companies, employees are fearful of contracting COVID-19 and are scared to come into work, even though there is work available. Here are a few tips on how to handle this situation when it comes up.

1. Seek clarification.

The most important step to take is to seek clarification from your employees on why they are refusing to work. Are they taking care of a child? Are they worried about their own health and safety? The health and safety of a family member? Or are they interested in taking time off to collect unemployment. All of these different reasons mean we need to take different approaches.

2. Ineligible for unemployment.

First and foremost, if an employee is refusing to work, and they only reason for the refusal is because they want to collect unemployment, they, unfortunately, do not qualify for the benefit. Unemployment insurance is for individuals who are unemployed "due to no fault of their own". In the case of an employee refusing work, it's their own fault that they are now unemployed, and therefore would be ineligible for the benefit.

If an employee is able to work on a partial or reduced hours schedule, they may still qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Each state has its own qualifications and guidelines for partial unemployment benefits, we suggest checking out the state-specific Unemployment Insurance websites for more guidance.

3. Could be ineligible for Paid Sick Leave and Expanded FMLA.

The Department of Labor has stated that "you are not required to provide leave if materials sufficient to support the applicable tax credit have not been provided." The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will be releasing information about what documents employers will need in order to file for the available tax credit. If an employee is unable to furnish the documents, then you are not required to provide leave.

You should always try to work with the employee and give them time to collect the required documents before you decline their request for leave.

We would also suggest that you proceed with caution. Make sure that your practices and procedures around qualifications for Paid Sick Leave and Expanded FMLA are consistent for every single employee.

4. Fearful of contracting COVID-19

Things are scary right now, and contracting COVID-19 is top of mind for many. If an employee is fearful of contracting the virus and is refusing work due to fear, here are a few suggestions on how to handle the situation.

  • Communicate safety precautions your team is taking and work with the employee to find out how these may be improved to make them feel safer.

  • Provide hazard pay for employees who are working at your worksite. For those that have to interact with customers, provide a supplemental wage in addition to their regular rate of pay. While this won't reduce the employee's sense of fear, it may entice other members on your team to work additional hours and allow you to provide your other employees with time off.

  • Provide telework opportunities. While not all businesses are able to provide teleworking as an option, we have had some companies provide employees who are fearful of COVID-19 with additional tasks and projects that they can complete in the safety of their homes.

5. Teleworking

While this may not be an option for every business, teleworking can provide those with concerns about contracting COVID-19 a little comfort. Companies are getting creative with not only the way their employees work but in the actual tasks assigned to their employees. Whether that means tackling a new work task, cross-training an employee to help in another department, or finally getting some help with that very long to-do list, teleworking has provided some businesses the opportunity to expand and develop new ways of working and create new business opportunities.

6. Work together

This is an unprecedented time and with it comes the need for compromise. Working together with your employees to figure out what will work for them and what will work for you and your business operations will be key. Remember to document any compromises, set expectations, and check-in with your teams as they navigate their new "normals".



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