Can an employee refuse to return to work?

Yes. Although you can’t force a furloughed employee to return to work, their refusal to return may disqualify them from receiving unemployment benefits.

The California Employment Development Department (EDD) has released general guidance on COVID-19-related unemployment benefits.

For example, if a business has abided by local and state guidelines and is providing adequate employee protections, an employee who refuses to return to work out of a general fear of contracting COVID-19 wouldn’t qualify to receive unemployment benefits.

If, however, the business doesn’t have proper protective measures in place, an employee can use the lack of protective measures as a valid reason for not returning to work and will thus be able to claim unemployment benefits.

An employee who earns more money on unemployment cannot use the higher pay as a valid reason for refusing to return to work; their refusal would disqualify them from receiving unemployment benefits.

If an employee doesn’t have suitable childcare and cannot return work, it would likely be good cause for not returning to work and the employee would likely be able to keep their unemployment benefits.

Read more about Unemployment Insurance in the HR Library and HRCalifornia Extra’s Unemployment Insurance: A Guide for Employers with Newly Displaced Workers.

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