Workers shouldn’t have to choose between their lives and their livelihoods. That’s why Alabama Arise joined more than 220 organizations across the country Tuesday in a letter urging the U.S. Department of Labor to act aggressively to protect workers who are at higher risk from COVID-19.
Existing federal laws protect workers from losing eligibility for unemployment insurance (UI) or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits if they refuse to return to jobs that do not comply with health and safety rules. But the Department of Labor’s recent guidance does not reinforce these protections for workers whose employers are not taking proper precautions against COVID-19.
These shortcomings will force many workers to choose between their family’s health and financial security. And they will increase the pandemic’s toll on black and Latino communities where people are more likely to live in poverty and without health insurance.
The letter urges the Department of Labor to issue new guidance clarifying that workers are not disqualified for UI or PUA benefits if they refuse to work in conditions that do not comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to limit virus spread. The letter also asks the department not to require workers who are older or immunocompromised – or who live with people who are – to return to work under such conditions.