Hoosiers who feel unsafe returning to their jobs when their workplaces reopen likely won’t be eligible to continue collecting unemployment benefits, state officials said Thursday.
The state’s stay-at-home order expires at midnight Friday, and Gov. Eric Holcomb has indicated he intends to start reopening the economy in some rolling fashion. An announcement about what that looks like is expected to come Friday afternoon.
In Indiana, 57,397 people filed initial unemployment claims for the week ended April 25, down from 72,756 new claims the previous week, according to the labor department. More than 262,000 Indiana residents are now receiving unemployment benefits.
Indiana Department of Workforce Development Commission Fred Payne said Thursday that the department has been fielding questions from Hoosiers concerned about returning to work and what that means for their unemployment benefits.
Hoosiers are eligible for unemployment benefits when they’re out of work through no fault of their own. Not returning to work when called upon because of “generalized fear” of the virus will likely result in a claim being denied as a refusal to work, Payne said.
“Generally speaking, our unemployment insurance system was built and designed around the concept of having an individual who is out of work due to no reason of their own and providing them some bridge until they receive some employment,” he said.
“This is the backdrop that we’ll assess all claims, federal and state,” he said. “Claimants who have been placed on a temporary lay off related to COVID-19 must return to work if called back to remain eligible for benefits. Not returning to work when there’s available work could be considered a refusal to work and potentially disqualify claimants from receiving unemployment benefits.”
Workers who are called back to work but don’t receive their normal hours could be eligible to still receive partial benefits, and all claims will be investigated on a case-by-case basis.
If a person makes a claim that their workplace is unsafe and unfit under COVID-19 conditions, the department will consider that in deciding whether to approve a claim, he said, though the workforce department does not regulate workplace conditions.
It’s a concern that currently unemployed workers across the country are now grappling with as more state’s reopen. Do they return to their job and risk getting sick or getting a family member sick or do they risk missing a paycheck?
Gov. Eric Holcomb recommended that Hoosiers concerned about returning to work go to their employer “and try to work these things through and make sure they understand and realize where you’re coming from.”
“You’ve got to go to your employer and say, ‘Here’s why I can’t work,’ and if we need to get involved as a state, we can look into that,” he said. “But I’m telling you, the pent up demand and getting the economy back on track is of paramount importance as well.”
Holcomb said Indiana’s economy was “rolling” before the COVID-19 pandemic with 90,000 high-paying, high-demand jobs that needed to be filled. Those jobs, and others, will still need to be filled once the pause on the economy is lifted.
“My message to Indiana is, we occupied the high ground going into this, and we still seek to take it back coming out of this,” he said. “We’ve got to do it safely, but that requires every single Hoosier who has the ability to work to do so. We need you. When we say we’re in this together the way we get our economy back, whether it’s Main Street or out on the farm, the way we get out economy back is we get back to work.”