Oregon Employment Department Issues Guidance Regarding Return to Work and UI Questions

Published Wednesday, April 29, 2020

On April 24, 2020, the state of Oregon’s Employment Department released guidance pertaining to employers resuming operations in light of COVID-19. Specifically, the statement addresses questions regarding employees who cannot or will not return to work when businesses begin to resume operations.

Please take note that Oregon does not have a specific date nor timeline regarding when businesses will be able to resume normal operations – all of these guidelines are simply in anticipation of such an announcement. The guidance states that:

  1. Employees may be eligible to continue claiming unemployment insurance (UI) benefits if they are unable to return to work due to:
    1. A COVID-19 related illness.
    2. The potential exposure to COVID-19 and being subject to a mandatory period of quarantine.
    3. Having to stay at home to care for someone (family member, or other person whom the employee lives with or provides care to) who is suffering from a COVID-19 related illnesses and/or they are subject to a mandatory quarantine.
    4. The inability to work because of having to provide childcare in light of COVID-19 related-daycare and school closures.
    5. There being a mandatory quarantine or government directive order and going into work would violate such an order.
    6. They have been advised by their health care provider or by public health officials to self-quarantine due to possible risk of COVID-19 exposure and/ or spreading COVID-19.
  2. Businesses who have received the Paycheck Protection Program but are having trouble getting all of their employees to come back to work should contact the Small Business Administration for guidance, as the Employment Department cannot advise on such information.
  3. Employers who are having problems with staff not wanting to return to work due to the fact that those employees are better off financially under UI benefits should note that:
    1. Those employees would not be considered eligible for UI benefits if none of the situations outlined in Questions 1-2 apply to them.
    2. Employers will soon be able to report when an employee does not accept suitable work without having a good reason for refusing.
    3. If it is found that the person did not return to work solely because they wanted to receive UI benefits, that individual would be required to pay back all benefits received and may be subject to other penalties or prosecution.
  4. If employees are refusing to come back to work because as an employer, the worksite cannot provide six feet of social distancing, those employees would generally be able to continue to receive UI benefits.
  5. Individuals who are refusing to come into work simply because they are scared are considered eligible to work and because of that, such refusal will affect their UI benefit eligibility. This holds true if the employer has followed all social distancing guidelines issued and none of the above situations apply.
  6. Employees who either have COVID-19 or who are quarantining after the rest of the workforce is called back to work will still be eligible for benefits if they have been advised by their health care provider or by public officials to self-quarantine due to possible risk of exposure to COVID-19 or the risk of spreading COVID-19.
  7. If employers call employees back to work and the Stay Home, Save Lives order considers the employer’s business non-essential and the employees refuse to return to work, those individuals do not give up their eligibility for UI benefits if going to work would violate government or public health orders.

The guidance goes on to state that if you as an employer or anyone in the company becomes aware of someone who has intentionally misrepresented or omitted information in order to receive UI benefits, to please notify the employment department immediately. The employment department goes on to note that such benefit fraud requires repayment of benefits, including monetary and other penalties, and may be subject to prosecution.

In addition to these helpful clarifications from the Employment Department, Governor Brown’s task force has developed draft business guidelines for reopening and returning employees to work including General Employer Guidance, Guidance for Restaurants, Guidance for Retail, and Guidance for Childcare.

Please note that these are draft guidelines. These are not the law. While these drafts are not legal documents nor official guidance, they still provide helpful insight as to where the state of business operations may be headed in the coming weeks.

Cascade will continue to keep you updated with COVID-19 related news. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

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