Suitable Work: What does this mean for Unemployment Claims?

Employers across the US are facing similar challenges, finding workers to fill the job openings to bring things back to normal. When making a job offer, it is important to consider the concept of suitable work as it has an impact on the unemployment process. We will take a look at several topics, including identifying what suitable work means, how work is offered to someone, and how suitable work offers could affect an unemployment claim.

What is suitable work?

All states have a provision that allows an individual to refuse an offer of work when the offer is determined to not be suitable employment for the individual.  While the exact rules can vary from state to state, under federal law, an individual is not required to accept work that is less favorable in terms of wages, hours, or other conditions than those prevailing for similar work in the area.

Most state laws include criteria for evaluating the suitability of work in addition to the requirements of federal law. Such provisions generally include:

  • the degree of risk to an individual’s health, and safety
  • the individual’s physical fitness, prior training, experience, and earnings
  • the length of unemployment and prospects for securing local work in a customary occupation
  • and the distance of the available work from the individual’s residence.

Earnings

The rate of pay can be a reason an employee may refuse an offer of suitable work.  Some states include specific criteria up front that evaluate the earnings for a new job compared to other factors. Often those factors are based on what the individual was previously earning or their current weekly benefit amount.  Generally speaking, if the rate of pay is comparable to what they were previously earning, it will be considered to be a suitable offer.

Distance

The distance of the job site/location from the employee’s residence can also be a valid reason for refusing an offer of work. If the location is in the same general local as the previous employment, the state will determine that the offer is reasonable.  Each situation will differ, but states will be looking to see if the distance is reasonable given the geographical area.

Duration of Unemployment

Another factor that plays into the earnings scenario is the length of time that someone is unemployed.  For example, after an individual is on unemployment for a set length of time (usually 10 week or more), the criteria the states use for determining what is suitable work related to earnings can change dramatically. In some cases, as long as the job pays minimum wage and they are earning more than their weekly benefit amount, the state will consider the offer suitable.

How should I offer work to a potential employee?

Reporting job refusals is a key component to managing your unemployment costs. When a State Workforce Agency (SWA) receives a report of a job refusal, the burden of proof for refusing that offer is placed on the employee.  To aid the SWA’s in investigating these refusals, it is a best practice to provide the following information when an offer is made:

  • Job Title,
  • Rate of pay,
  • Scheduled start date,
  • Duration of offer (is this temporary or permanent),
  • Work Hours or schedule,
  • Job location.

In addition, employers should document how the offer was made (phone, email, letter) and who made the offer to the employee. It is important to document any subsequent attempts to contact the employee and if a deadline was provided on the offer, what was the deadline that was conveyed.  If the employee refuses the offer, document the reason that they provided and the date that the offer was declined.

COVID-19 Impact on Job Refusals

Earlier this year, President Biden announced, “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.” The new federal guideline will still place the initial burden of proof on the employee.  They will need to demonstrate how their work environment places their health in jeopardy, that they have done something to raise the issue with their employer to enforce an improved standard, and that their employer has chosen not to act on recommended health and safety guidance, from such agencies as the CDC, state, local and now federal regulations on workplace health and safety.

While there are some valid reasons to refuse an offer of work due to COVID-19, a general fear of the virus is not a good cause to refuse an offer of work in any state.

Job Refusal Impact on Unemployment

Job refusals have an immediate impact on you, as the employer, in that you still have open positions that you need to fill. But job refusals can also impact your unemployment costs as well.  Unemployment benefits, funded by employers, are designed to provide supplemental income to individuals out of work through no fault of their own, and who are able, available, and actively seeking work.  Refusing a suitable offer of work can cause an employee to be disqualified from receiving further unemployment benefits. Such disqualifications prevent improper payment of benefits from being paid and mitigate potential increased unemployment cost to you, the employer.

Reporting job refusals to Thomas & Company can ensure that these refusals are reported to the State Workforce Agency and together we can mitigate unwarranted benefit charges to your account. SHIELD users can upload documentation about job refusals directly inside the SHIELD portal.  If you are not a SHIELD user, you can report job refusals to your T&C team by sending the information listed above to job-refusal@thomas-and-company.com. Your T&C team will report these refusals to the State Workforce Agency and monitor your account.  Once the state concludes their investigation and determines that a suitable offer of work was refused, the employee may be disqualified from receiving any additional unemployment benefits. We will monitor your account to ensure that no additional benefits are charged to your account.

 

Reporting and monitoring job refusals are just one way that Thomas & Company helps you manage your unemployment costs.  As always, we will continue to monitor the states for any potential updates to the job refusal reporting process and will notify you if any additional actions need to be taken as an employer.