September 15, 2020 by Southern Maine Workers Center

What if my employer asks me to return to work, but I am unable to do so due to concerns related to COVID-19?

In general, you cannot receive unemployment benefits if you refuse an offer to return to work. But you may still be eligible for benefits if there was “good cause” for your refusal, a determination that is made on a case-by-case basis. If you or your employer notifies the Department of Labor of your refusal, there will be a fact-finding interview to determine whether there was “good cause.” Good cause could include reasons like having COVID-19, being advised by a doctor or public health official to quarantine because of possible exposure to 

COVID-19, or documenting that your employer has failed to take steps to minimize COVID-19 exposure. You may also be able to show “good cause” for refusing to return to work if you are the primary caregiver of a child who has not returned to in-person schooling, although the Department of Labor has not indicated whether that will be considered “good cause.” All of this will be determined on a case by case basis, and it is always worthwhile to continue to file your weekly claims and explain your refusal. 

If you are pregnant or have a disability as defined by the ADA or the MHRA and your employer asks you to return to work, you may be entitled to reasonable accommodations, such as working from home or working in an environment that minimizes your exposure to COVID-19. If you ask for a reasonable accommodation and are denied without good reason, you may have both “good cause” for refusing the offer to return to work and a potential separate legal claim against your employer for denying you the accommodation. It is also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you because you request an accommodation. If you are denied an accommodation or experience retaliation, you should contact an employment lawyer.

More frequently asked questions:

For all frequently asked questions, you can download a copy of our Know Your Rights document here.