Employees too afraid to come back to work could lose unemployment benefits

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Most Tennessee businesses are open again, but in some cases, workers are refusing to come back.

Workers who worry for their safety if they return to work don’t have to go back, but according to the state, they can’t collect unemployment even if they’re too scared to be at work again.

“If you are able and available and your employer does call, you must return to work,” said Chris Cannon with the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. “People are saying everything from they’re apprehensive about going back to work or they can make more money on unemployment than going back to their job, and those are not legitimate reasons to not return to work.”

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) said fear is a legitimate concern.

“I’m hearing it from constituents; there’s a lot of uncertainty out there,” Rep. Parkinson said. “And a lot of it is also based on the fact that if I go out there and I contract this disease, will I bring it back into my children or my loved ones?”

Rep. Parkinson said reopening plans across the state have been rushed, and he’d like workers on unemployment to get an extension on their benefits if they’re too scared to go back.

“There are still people out there right now, right now that applied for unemployment weeks ago and still have not received one single benefit, and now they’re saying if you don’t go to work, we’re going to cut you off,” Rep. Parkinson said.

The state said hundreds of employers have called about workers refusing to return.

“There’s really no way to check that they refused to go back to work unless their employer lets the state know,” Cannon said.

There are exceptions that would allow you to keep collecting unemployment even if you’re healthy and able to go back to work. For example, if someone in your household has COVID-19. 

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