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If I refuse to return to work when recalled, will I remain eligible for unemployment benefits?

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The State of Iowa is beginning the process of re-opening for business. If I refuse to return to work when recalled, will I remain eligible for unemployment benefits?

It depends on your circumstances.

On April 27, Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) released a statement providing guidance on unemployment benefits. The guidance provided, in pertinent part, the following:

Iowans who have been placed on a temporary layoff related to COVID-19 but refuse to return to work when recalled by their employer will lose unemployment benefits, except for certain circumstances including:

  • If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing symptoms; 
  • If you have recovered but it caused medical complications rendering you unable to perform essential job duties; 
  • If a member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19; 
  • If you are providing care for a member of your household who was diagnosed with COVID-19; 
  • If you do not have childcare due to COVID-19 reasons; or 
  • If you do not have transportation to your place of work because of COVID-19.  

In the guidance, IWD also stressed that employees in any of the above described positions are strongly encouraged to work with their employer in the best way to handle the situation to return to work.

Thus, if you are recalled to work and if one of the above situations does not apply to you, as a general rule, you must return to work or you risk losing eligibility for unemployment benefits.

Despite not being mentioned in the IWD guidance or in public statements made by Governor Reynolds, the law does provide that an employee will be eligible for benefits if she quits “due to unsafe working conditions.” What is an “unsafe working condition” will likely depend upon individual circumstances. At this point, it is unclear what criteria IWD will consider when making this determination. As such, employees considering refusing to return to a workplace that she believes to be unsafe, should know that she risks IWD reaching a different conclusion, meaning that the employee is unemployed without access to jobless benefits. Any employee should move carefully weighing the various risks. We recommend that before quitting under these circumstances, every employee should first raise her specific safety concerns with her employer, giving the employer an opportunity to respond. Employees should know that it is illegal for an employer to fire them for raising safety concerns.