The information below may help to answer some of your questions around returning to work for workers
Information from the Washington State Employment Security Department. Updated April 28, 2020
Worker questions about returning to work.
What is the difference between regular unemployment and expanded benefits under the federal CARES Act?
Regular unemployment: Regular weekly unemployment benefits provide you with temporary income when you lose your job through no fault of your own. To qualify for regular unemployment benefits you must be able and available for work and accept any suitable work you are offered. If you refuse to return to work without good cause or because you are getting paid more on unemployment than your usual job, you will be denied benefits.
Expanded benefits: Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, “PUA”: This is a separate benefit program to cover many people who do not qualify for regular unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, including self-employed individuals, independent contractors and part-time workers (with fewer than 680 hours) and others affected by COVID-19. Use our eligibility checker to learn more.
Q. My employer has re-opened for business and asked me to return. Can I still collect unemployment if I refuse?
While unemployment claims are considered on a case-by-case basis each week, you will likely be denied regular unemployment benefits if you refuse to return to work, unless you have good cause reason for doing so.
If you cannot telework for pay during the pandemic, good cause can include:
- Being at higher risk for severe COVID-19 related illness as defined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Living in a household with a person at high risk
- Providing direct care for a high-risk person
- Being asked to work at a worksite that does not follow guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, or Washington Department of Health without telework as an option.
You may be eligible for expanded benefits if you have other reasons you can’t return to work during COVID-19 (see question below).
Q. My employer is open for business, I was offered to return to work, and I did not return to work and was denied state unemployment benefits. Will I qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)?
If you are denied regular unemployment benefits because you are not available for work, but the reason you are unavailable for work is because you are directly impacted by COVID-19, you may be eligible for PUA. For example, you have to care for a child in your household that is unable to attend school or daycare because it has been closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Use our eligibility checker to see if you may be eligible for PUA.
Q. What is considered “suitable” work offered by a previous or new employer?
Suitable work is employment in an occupation that is in line with your prior work experience, education, or training, and that you can physically and mentally do. Suitable work does not include work that would cause you to violate a request by a medical professional or order from a public health official to isolate or quarantine.
Q. My “essential” employer is open for business, but I do not feel the worksite is safe. Am I eligible for regular unemployment or PUA benefits?
Eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis, but this is not a simple case and may require us to do fact finding with both you and your employer. If you are working at a worksite that does not follow guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, or the Washington Department of Health, and you are unable to telework, you’ll likely be eligible for unemployment benefits.
If fact finding shows that an individual refused work for an employer maintaining a worksite that does meet guidelines published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, or Washington Department of Health, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits, unless you have another good cause reason to refuse work, like you are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19, are caring for someone who is at high-risk, or is in the same household as someone who is at such risk. For more information, please see the state’s Workplace Safety Guidance.
Q. My “non-essential” employer received a federal Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan or is otherwise offering a return to employment and/or to keep me on the payroll even as I conduct little or no work from home. Can I decline the offer and earnings while continuing to collect unemployment benefits?
When you submit your weekly unemployment claims, you must truthfully attest as to whether an employer provided an offer to return to work (including being put back on their payroll). If you are offered employment or pay from a non-essential business that involves working from home (and you can telework) then you must accept that offer OR be eligible for expanded benefits and apply for that (PUA).
You must report wages earned each week you file a claim so we can determine your weekly benefit. While the weekly minimum unemployment benefit amount is $188 and maximum is $790, earnings in any given week may be high enough so that you are no longer eligible for a weekly benefit amount (including the extra $600 per week through July). This will appear on your weekly claim as “eligible for $0” that week.
Submitting false information is fraud and subject to penalty, including criminal prosecution.
Q. I have been receiving weekly unemployment benefits, my employer has requested that I return to work, I refused this request, and I am waiting on the Employment Security Department to determine whether I still qualify for state unemployment benefits or PUA. Can I continue to receive unemployment benefits?
If you continue to file weekly claims then we will continue to pay weekly benefits to you while we determine if you are eligible for regular unemployment benefits or PUA. This is called “conditional payment” and we may collect any overpayments from you if it is later determined you were not eligible for the benefits received.
Q. What are the consequences if I do not truthfully report when I am able and available for work, when I refuse an offer of work or when I receive earnings?
You must answer truthfully all questions on your application and weekly claims. Breaking the rules, such as intentionally failing to report correct work and earnings or the reason for separation, can result in a denial of benefits, overpayments and penalties we will collect from you. Such actions may even result in criminal prosecution. Your employer is also notified when you collect unemployment and can contest your eligibility for the benefits or report you if you refused an offer of work and did not report it to us.
Fraud is knowingly withholding information about a claim. If you refuse an offer of work and fail to report that you refused an offer of work on your weekly claims, you may be denied benefits and assessed an additional penalty for fraud.