Following Supreme Court order, DWD addresses questions about going back to work

MADISON, Wis. – After Wednesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling, the state’s Department of Workforce Development is addressing concerns about getting back to work.

With the state’s Safer at Home order gone, businesses in many counties have the green light to reopen, meaning employers are asking their employees to return.

List of counties that have enacted a local stay-at-home order 

According to the DWD, if an employee refuses their employer’s offer to work, the worker must include that in their weekly unemployment insurance benefit claim. That usually renders them ineligible for unemployment benefits.

“That does cause an eligibility issue for unemployment benefits. We need to see if that work refusal would be for good cause under the law,” said Emily Savard, an unemployment division program and policy analyst. “Every situation is really unique.”

Savard said the DWD will determine what qualifies as good cause on a case by case basis.

“This is all brand new for us too. Typically in situations where there’s some sort of medical issue, we would require some sort of a doctor’s note or medical excuse,” she said. “We haven’t had many situations I know of or I can speak to simply of someone not feeling safe.”

That may be the case for people who don’t feel comfortable returning back to work during the pandemic. In that case, Savard recommends workers document interactions with their employer.

“What questions were asked or what options were given? What did employers do to ease fears? Were they following practices they were supposed to?” she said. “If a claim ends up denied, (the worker) has the right to appeal that determination. I’m sure that will go up to the higher courts and I’m sure that will have some precedent-setting cases.”

The one-week waiting period and job search requirement are still waived for the coming months.

Since regular unemployment benefits require the recipient be available for full-time work, Savard recommends workers who are prevented from returning to work because of a lack of childcare options apply for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. She said the DWD has been taking applications for PUA, but haven’t started rolling payments out yet.

For those still waiting to get their unemployment claims approved, Savard said even if they’re back to work by the time their claim is addressed, workers will receive all the back payments they’re entitled to, Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation included.

“We’ll end up with I believe about 1,300 additional employees when this is all said and done,” Savard said, adding that employees are still being trained as part of a new 500-person call center.

“These things take time. We’re a government agency. We have policies and procedures and rules we need to follow,” she said. “I can’t even ask for patience anymore because people have been very patient, but all I can really say is we’re doing the best we can.”