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Can Workers, Fearing Covid, Quit And Still Get Unemployment?
February 3, 2021
Shortly after taking office, President Biden issued an executive order asking the Department of Labor to instruct state unemployment agencies to allow workers to claim unemployment benefits even if they quit their jobs because they feared they would contract Covid. According to a White House Fact Sheet, the order reads in part: “President Biden believes that workers should have the right to safe work environments and that no one should have to choose between their livelihoods and their own or their families’ health. As one of many measures to help keep workers and their families’ safe throughout the pandemic, the President is asking the Department of Labor to consider clarifying that workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance.”
Days later, on January 29, the Department of Labor issued a workplace safety guidance. While the document does not explicitly address the matter of unemployment benefits, it includes provisions that some have interpreted as acceding to Biden’s ask. Among those are two provisions under the heading of “The Roles of Employers and Workers in Responding to COVID-19″:
“Instruct workers who are infected or potentially infected to stay home and isolate or quarantine to prevent or reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19. Ensure that absence policies are non-punitive. Policies that encourage workers to come to work sick or when they have been exposed to COVID-19 are disfavored. See below for additional guidance involving eliminating the hazard.
“Minimize the negative impact of quarantine and isolation on workers. When possible, allow them to telework, or work in an area isolated from others. If those are not possible, allow workers to use paid sick leave, if available, or consider implementing paid leave policies to reduce risk for everyone at the workplace. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides certain employers 100% reimbursement through tax credits to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19 through March 31, 2021.”
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