Filing for unemployment: Can I refuse a job to care for my children during the pandemic?

Posted at 12:47 PM, May 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-11 19:26:45-04

It's a scenario facing many parents especially as western New York looks to begin a phased reopening in the coming weeks.

You're unable to work because you are the primary caregiver for your children.

Now what?

According to N.Y.S. Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, parents and caregivers in general will be allowed to file for unemployment even though you have refused a job.

"You can turn down a job because of other, non-health COVID-19 scenarios, and qualifiy for benefits," she said during a recent conference call with members of the press statewide. "So, for instance, you are a child's primary caretaker, and the child is not able to attend school or other childcare options because of COVID-19, you would qualify."

But, it’s not that simple when you go through the online application process.

The first question under “Work and Earning Status” asks “did you refuse any job offer or referral?” You can only answer yes or no without any explanation. By answering “yes,” you are typically denied benefits.

So, what should you do?

Legal experts say step number one is to be honest.

“It is never okay to lie on an application,” said Coppola Firm Managing Partner, Lisa Coppola.

Instead, Coppola, who specializes in labor and employment law, said you can include why you’re refusing to work in another section of the application. She recommends copy and pasting the department of labor’s own information somewhere so it gets noticed by whoever is reviewing your claim.

If you’ve already been denied, she said don’t give up.

“Just be dogged, and diligent and persistent in following up with unemployment benefits,” Coppola said.

You could also file through your employer under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA.) The federal program allows private employers with fewer than 500 employees to provide paid leave related to COVID-19. “Parents may find themselves receiving a greater dollar amount by applying for that sort of leave from their employer versus unemployment,” Coppola said.

We reached out to the Department of Labor Press Office for their advice on what parents should do and whether it's considering changing the verbiage of the question. But, it didn't return our request.