As of June 2020, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 11.1% of American civilians were unemployed. This is the largest percentage of unemployed Americans since June of 2000. The cause, of course, is the unprecedented global pandemic known as COVID-19. Countless businesses were forced to close their doors in an attempt to slow the spread of disease. Since then, many employees have relied on unemployment benefits to keep their families afloat.
However, many businesses have begun to reopen, despite the fact that COVID cases are not slowing down. Americans everywhere are facing a difficult choice: to work and risk exposure, or to stay home and lose their unemployment benefits. According to the Pennsylvania Office of Government Compensation, if your employer offers you work, you must accept. Refusal is considered grounds to terminate your unemployment benefits. The only way to remain eligible is to resign with “good cause.” Valid causes include unsafe working conditions, lack of transportation, or medical problems. Fear of coronavirus, however, is not considered a good cause.
Why is this the case? The answer is unclear. One possible reason is that workplaces are required to keep their facilities in line with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines. For example, facial coverings are required, and employees must follow social distancing procedures. If OSHA’s conditions are met, an employee cannot label their workplace as unsafe, even if the employee feels personally at risk.
Economic concerns could also be at play. If a general fear of coronavirus was considered good cause to refuse work, most employees could choose to stay home. Businesses would be hard-pressed to find workers that would risk their health to paint nails or bag groceries.
“Good cause” is forcing Americans to make a cruel choice: return to work and risk exposing ones family to COVID-19, or refuse work and lose their household income. Neither choice is better than the other, especially where families are concerned. Does one accept the chance that their children contract COVID, or does one accept that their family will not be able to afford groceries?
It is a choice that many Americans will be forced to make.