Unemployment and reopening: What happens next?

Posted at 12:49 AM, May 20, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since the start of the pandemic, 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment. At least two million New Yorkers have collected $9.2 billion in unemployment benefits. But as reopening begins and more people go back to work, what happens to unemployment?

“New York as a state is not allowing businesses to reopen either in unsafe environments or with unsafe conditions,” New York State Labor Department Commissioner Roberta Reardon said on a press call last week. She continued, “Our unemployment system has guardrails in place to ensure those collecting unemployment benefits are doing so because of lack of work.”

In terms of reopening and unemployment benefits, there are three scenarios for New Yorkers.

To still qualify for unemployment benefits:

  • A person can turn down a job for a “specific” COVID-19 health-related issue. This means if someone is high-risk and a doctor says it’s unsafe to return to work, they will most likely still be eligible to collect unemployment benefits.
  • A person can turn down a job and still receive benefits for non-health related COVID-19 issues, such as being a child’s primary caretaker.

Not eligible for unemployment benefits:

  • A person turning down a job because of any “generalized fear” of the virus or not liking the job.

7 Eyewitness News reporter Nikki DeMentri asked New York Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul on a Zoom press call Tuesday: “Some have reached out to us saying they’re fearful of going back to work. What’s your message to them as we begin Phase One today and hopefully Phase Two in two weeks?”

Hochul responded: “They should understand that today is not an arbitrary day. We didn’t make up these dates, we didn’t make up these metrics.” She continued, “People should realize that we’ve taken every measure necessary to protect public health and so they should feel secure.”

Any business reopening has to follow strict guidelines such as a plan for social distancing, ensuring the use masks and enacting disinfecting protocols. Businesses will also have to certify with the state that it will follow those standards.

Anyone who feels their employer is in violation is encouraged to report it to the local health department or the Department of Labor.

On a press call Monday, Commissioner Reardon said the department has looked into 20,000 complaints of unsafe work environments already across the state.