MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Alabama employers have reported 3,236 employees to the Alabama Department of Labor for refusing to return to work since January.
“We’ve stopped payments on over 3,000 people, which is a significant increase over what we would normally see, that type of volume, by this time in the year,” said Alabama Department of Labor Spokesperson Tara Hutchison. “Obviously, [the] majority of those are going to be pandemic related.”
Part of this, Hutchison said, is because there are more people filing for unemployment to begin with.
“We’re paying hundreds of thousands of people benefits,” Hutchison said. “So, around 3,000 is a small percentage of what we’re actually paying out.”
Hutchison said most Alabamians are returning to work when being asked, but there are some employees who are refusing to return to a suitable work place and give up their checks.
“Anyone who is receiving unemployment benefits and they are recalled to work, or they refuse an offer of suitable work, is subject to being disqualified from receiving those benefits and it could potentially be considered fraud,” said Hutchison.
So far, the state has denied unemployment benefits to 909 employees who have opted not to return to work. Over 2,000 more people are not receiving benefits as their “refusal to work” claims are reviewed.
Hutchison said a general fear of COVID-19 is not enough to refuse work.
“Once the employer notifies us then we’ll be able to go in and investigate and determine if it’s a legitimate refusal or not,” Hutchison said. “Under the CARES act, there are approximately 10 reasons that are acceptable for refusal to work and they are all COVID related.”
The state does not have a workforce safety regulatory agency. Hutchison said if you are fearful of returning to work to contact the Alabama Department of Public Health or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
“Speak with your employer, try to work the differences out and see if a resolution can be reached,” Hutchison said.
According to Hutchison, they have a limited number of staff and only a couple of people are able to review the refusal to work claims.
Employers or employees who are wanting to file a “refusal to work” claim can do so on the Alabama Department of Labor’s website.