Unemployed and making more: Some Virginia employers say workers refuse to come back

Coronavirus

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The unemployment rate continues to rise across the country because of the pandemic.

The Department of Labor says more than 38 million Americans have filed initial unemployment claims since the middle of March. But despite states entering “Phase One” of reopening and some jobs coming back on the market in Virginia, employers say in some cases workers are refusing to return to work.

The Virginia Employment Commission says it’s receiving calls from employers who report workers turning down a paycheck, and it’s not over health concerns.

It’s because some Virginians are making more money through unemployment benefits than they would by going back to work.

Virginia’s unemployment benefits range from $60 to $378 dollars per week. But when Congress passed the federal CARES Act, an additional $600 per week in unemployment insurance was guaranteed through July 31.

“We did what we did to last and help people get through a tough couple of months,” said Virginia Senator Tim Kaine.

Virginians out of work are seeing between $660 and $978 dollars a week. The highest end of that range would translate to a yearly salary of nearly $51,000. Some employers are feeling the pinch as they try to get workers back on the job.

“Guaranteeing people an additional $600 a week in unemployment insurance through the end of July, I think, was kind of overstepping,” said Stephanie Gilbert, co-owner of several Dirty Buffalo restaurants in Hampton Roads.

Gilbert says her trio of restaurants laid off 168 workers in mid-March.

“We have offered jobs back to 95 percent of those people,” said Gilbert.

But she says only a fraction of them have come back to work. Senator Tim Kaine said the expanded benefits under the CARES Act were intended to help Americans and the economy.

“It helped backstop people at a time when frankly we wanted them if they could to stay home,” Kaine said Thursday.

Kaine recognized that in some cases, workers are making more under these circumstances. Going forward, however, the senator does not want to extend the additional $600 per week for unemployed workers.

Instead, Kaine is pushing for another round of stimulus checks to go out to all eligible Americans. Not just those who are out of work.

“Past July 31 that direct payment would be the better way to make sure people have the resources that they need to get by and pay rent and pay utility bills during this tough time,” said Kaine.

The Virginia Employment Commission has now added a “job refusal form” on its website where employers can report workers who turn down an offer to come back to work. The VEC says those who refuse to take their job back will lose their unemployment benefits.

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