So many things about running a business have been hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, and employment issues can be equally difficult. On the one hand, many business owners have been forced to shut down and lay off workers, and on the other hand, some businesses that have remained opened are faced with employees who refuse to show up or return to work due to fear of COVID infection.
The Texas Workforce Commission has said that workers can refuse an offer to return to work and still receive unemployment benefits in the following situations:
- They or someone they live with is 65 years or older.
- They have a medical issue, like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or a weakened immune system, or are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID 19 (DSHS website).
- They live with someone who is at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19 (DSHS website).
- They have tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and have not recovered.
- They live with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and that person has not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
- They were exposed to COVID-19 through close contact and are quarantining for 14 days.
- They are the primary caregiver for a child they live with, and that child’s school or daycare has closed and there are no alternatives.
The TWC has said that any other situation would be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Recent comments from newly elected President Joe Biden have said that any employee afraid of COVID can refuse to work and still receive unemployment enhancements. He recently signed an executive order asking the U.S. Department of Labor to offer guidelines clarifying the statement 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.”
Employers pay unemployment insurance taxes and reimbursements, which support unemployment benefit payments. Employees do not pay unemployment taxes, and employers cannot deduct unemployment taxes from employees’ paychecks.
If you need legal guidance about employment issues during the COVID pandemic, The Weisblatt Law Firm, PLLC. can help. Attorney Andrew Weisblatt is skilled and experienced at crafting employment policies and handling employee litigation on behalf of businesses. Issues around employment and COVID are fluid and evolving, and getting a legal opinion about your unique situation may be the best approach. Mr. Weisblatt would be glad to have a conversation with you. Please call him at 713-666-1981 for a free consultation.
Where Can I Find Out More About Evolving Rules Around Employment Issues and COVID?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers FAQs for Workplaces and Businesses. It’s also important to make sure you consider U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance where COVID and employment are concerned.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has published Worker’s Right to Refuse Dangerous Work, which may offer insight. Law.com (The National Law Journal) published a story titled 5 Things to Consider If an Employee Refuses to Return to Work, which is also helpful.
It also may be important to educate employees about current state/federal rules and guidance around COVID and showing up to work.
What Are Texas’ Current Unemployment Guidelines During COVID?
There are times when a business may want to challenge an employee’s application for unemployment benefits. If this is your situation, the following resources may be helpful.
Through the federal enhanced unemployment benefits and the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP), the U.S. government has tried to respond with financial assistance to both employees who lose jobs and businesses forced to shut down during COVID.
In Texas, workers who lost jobs due to COVID shutdowns can draw state unemployment, which also qualifies them for the enhanced federal unemployment benefits. These federal benefits have started and stalled and started again as Congressional lawmakers debate legislation.
The Texas Workforce Commission provides FAQs about unemployment benefits related to COVID-19 here. The Commission also provides Unemployment Benefits Basics for Employers, which may be helpful for business owners to learn more about what’s happening with unemployment benefits at the state level. And for information about unemployment eligibility in Texas and benefit amounts, see here.
Are There Other Times When I Might Need an Employment Lawyer?
Many different laws and legal questions may be at issue in a dispute with an employee. Some of the most common issues in such employment cases include the following:
- Allegations of unlawful discrimination or harassment under Title VII
- Allegations of wage or hour violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
- Allegations of wrongful termination or unlawful retaliation
- Allegations of health or safety violations under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)
- Violations of non-compete agreements
- Misappropriation of trade secrets.
No matter what particular issue is at hand in your employment dispute, these cases have the potential to be very complicated and potentially costly for your business if you do not prevail.
Contact a Skilled and Experienced Employment Lawyer Today
Employment issues can be challenging in the best of times. With the arrival of COVID, employment issues and the laws affecting them have been thrown into turmoil. As an employer, you may have received conflicting or vague information about your responsibilities and rights during COVID. Attorney Andrew Weisblatt can both provide guidance on evolving COVID-related employment rules and litigate any employment disagreements you may be facing. He has decades of legal experience both inside business and as outside counsel. To find out more about how Mr. Weisblatt can support your business’s goals, call him at 713-666-1981.