Pa. officials cause confusion over unemployment benefits, refusing to return to work

Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — There has been some confusion surrounding a response from Governor Wolf after a business owner asked a question about unemployment benefits during Monday’s press briefing.

“If we have employees that are currently laid off and we call them back to work and they tell us that they don’t or won’t come back because they’re getting paid more with unemployment and the $600 bonus, what can we do?” asked a business owner. “Can their unemployment be revoked?”

“No,” said Governor Wolf. “And as a former business owner, if you ever face that kind of situation, there’s one really simple thing you can do as a business owner and that is raise the compensation of your employees.”

After some confusion, we followed up with questions to Wolf’s press team. A press secretary clarified that a person may not refuse work solely because they are making more on unemployment claims.

However, there are some exceptions. As an example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, if an employee refuses to return to work because they are at high risk of complications of the virus and their employer cannot make reasonable accommodations for them, or if they were being asked to return to work at reduced hours that result in them earning less than they did before the pandemic, UC staff would review those specific reasons and make determinations based on the facts of their individual cases.

“The governor’s point was that we all depend on those workers now more than ever and they deserve a safe work environment and living wage, which is why he has proposed a minimum wage increase each year he has been in office, among many other proposals to improve working conditions for workers,” said Penny Ickes, communications director with the Department of Labor and Industry.

Gene Barr, President and CEO of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, says he’s heard of small business employees refusing to return to work because they were making more money on unemployment. He says he was confused by Governor Wolf’s response.

“We are probably going to have to put out a clarification on this too because.. if you say ‘I’m not going back to work just because I don’t feel like it, I can make more money not working’ — that’s fraud, because you have to certify that you’re out of work through no fault of your own,” said Barr.

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