150 Coloradans Have Been Reported For Refusing To Return To Their Jobs

May 7, 2020
Restaurant On Miner Street in Idaho SpringsRestaurant On Miner Street in Idaho SpringsHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Across the state, employees of salons, retail stores and restaurants have expressed concerns about returning to work. Miner Street in Idaho Springs, with its numerous restaurants and shops, was almost deserted during the dinner on Tuesday evening, May 5.

Conflicts between workers and their employers are starting to pile up as businesses reopen in Colorado.

About 150 people have refused to return to their jobs, according to reports filed with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Workers and employers are supposed to report "job refusals" by employees who are receiving unemployment benefits. Those workers might then lose their unemployment benefits, depending on the situation.

Employees of salons, retail stores and restaurants have expressed concerns about returning to work. Some are worried about their health, while others are receiving more money through unemployment than they would at work.

So far, the state is largely deciding cases in favor of workers and allowing them to keep their benefits. 

Officials have reviewed 55 cases. Of those, about 50 of the workers were allowed to keep their unemployment benefits. Five workers lost their benefits.

State officials weigh several factors in each case. Employees might keep their benefits if:

  • The work environment is not complying with social distancing, World Health Organization guidelines or Safer at Home guidelines
  • The wages or the job significantly changed.
  • The employee is especially vulnerable to COVID-19, including because they are older or immunocompromised. 
  • The employee is caring for someone with COVID-19.

CDLE doesn’t have the authority to inspect workplaces. “Rather, we can analyze the facts as presented for both parties,” said Jeff Fitzgerald, director of the unemployment insurance division.

State officials couldn’t immediately say where and in what industries the conflicts were happening. Employees and their bosses can appeal the department’s decisions.

People who lose regular unemployment still may be eligible for the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offers benefits for people who are caring for children who can’t go to school or child-care facilities, among other categories.

About 279,000 people collected unemployment benefits in Colorado in April, far surpassing previous records. The rate of new claims has slowed but remains at historic highs. 

Over the last seven weeks, about 420,000 people have applied for benefits, and the state has approved more than 75 percent of those applications.