With at least six weeks of most businesses being shut down in the United States, unemployment claims spiked to historic highs. However, the country has started to see a downward trend over the last three weeks.
In the latest jobless claims report released by the U.S. Department of Labor, there were 3.84 million jobless claims last week. That is about a half a million less than the week before, and these numbers are expected to continue going down as more businesses begin reopening.
“If you start working again, but you’re only coming back to part of your hours, you may still qualify for unemployment insurance as a partial unemployment insurance benefit,” said Michele Evermore with the National Employment Law Project (NELP).
As many begin returning to work and getting off unemployment, a lot of new questions are arising. For example, what if you feel it is unsafe to return to work, can you refuse and stay on unemployment? According to NELP, the simple answer is no.
“Workers can’t refuse suitable work if it is offered to them, but I think in some cases the work that is being offered to them isn’t really suitable if it is not safe.”
NELP is pushing for federal authorities to change that rule given the unusual circumstance of COVID-19. However, for now, you can only refuse to go back to work and maintain unemployment benefits if you are currently sick with COVID-19, have lingering COVID-19-related disabilities, or have caregiving-related responsibilities related to someone with COVID-19.
Another concern some have as they return to is over another potential spike in COVID-19 cases. What happens if there are closures again and you get laid off a second time, do you have to start a new claim all over again?
“It is not so much that a worker would have to start a brand new claim, they could continue the old claim and now the agency has verified their income and where they have worked,” said Evermore, “So all the agency would have to verify is that they indeed lose work again.”
Millions of Americans who have applied for unemployment over the past few weeks are still struggling to receive that money. In Florida alone, there have been roughly two million unemployment claims. Only 35% of the claims there have been processed and only 20% have been paid out, according to data provided by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
So, what if you are someone who has been waiting for weeks for your benefits and are returning to work now? Can your claim still process, and will you get the money for the weeks you were not working?
“Workers should absolutely qualify for unemployment benefits for the weeks they were unemployed and that should apply retroactively,” explained Evermore.
If your claim is denied or retroactive benefits are denied, you can appeal the decision. Many local legal aid offices can help you with an unemployment appeal. NELP recommends appealing your claim, if you feel it has been wrongfully denied.
“Fight for your unemployment insurance rights,” said Evermore.