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Can you collect unemployment if you're afraid to work?

Some hair stylists, others, worry about going back too soon
New Study Says Hair Dyes And Straighteners Are Linked To A Higher Risk Of Cancer
Posted at 11:35 AM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 21:20:06-04

Cincinnati-area stores, salons and restaurants are now preparing to reopen, after governors in Ohio and Kentucky gave the go-ahead. However, some employees are afraid to go back to work, saying they are concerned for their safety.

Many employees work in businesses that require close human contact, like hair and nail salons. They wonder if they can stay home and collect unemployment a couple more months, until the COVID risk subsides.

Hair stylist Chrissy Yelton isn't sure she feels comfortable just yet. "We cut hair, we are inches from peoples faces. Multiple clients a day," she said.

Yelton works at Great Clips franchise in Clermont County, which is preparing to reopen.

Her franchise owner, RLO Inc. of Dayton, Ohio, sent a letter which said, "We would like you to resume work. We will formally notify the state unemployment office."

When companies notify the state, the state ends unemployment compensation.

The letter also said Yelton needs to agree and sign the letter to return, or the company will consider her to be resigning from her position.

Yelton said it is a lose-lose situation, where going back or not going back to work means no more unemployment benefits for her and her fellow stylists. And she said many are just as nervous as she is.

She noted a Great Clips private Facebook group, where more than a dozen other stylists posted their concerns about going back so soon.

The franchise owner, however, said she needs employees back to prepare to re-open the salons safely.

"We are recalling our employees with full pay, hours and benefits in order to train them on additional cleaning, sanitizing and social-distancing procedures and to prepare our salons to reopen," Clara Osterhage told us. Osterhage's full statement can be read below.

Starbucks workers express concerns

It's the same at other businesses that deal with customers up close, such as Starbucks, where workers are now being recalled, and some workers said they are reluctant to deal with customers all day.

Business Insider said, "Fearful Starbucks employees say they'd rather collect unemployment than risk their health returning to work – except they can't."

That's correct. If your business recalls you, your choice is to go back or go unpaid, no matter how worried you are about catching COVID, like Yelton.

"There will be 20 to 30 times a day I could be potentially exposed to a virus, not just me but all of us stylists," she said.

When can you refuse to return?

Specific laws vary state to state. But the US Department of Labor said when it comes to federal benefits, unemployment ends when you are recalled.

However, a report in Money Magazine said there are some exceptions, such as if you have COVID-19, if you are in forced quarantine or you are caring for someone who has the coronavirus.

If you have serious health concerns, speak with your employer. Some may agree to continue your unemployment compensation for a limited time.

But if your business asks you to come back to work, staying home could be costly. As always, don't waste your money.

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Full statement provided by Clara Osterhage, owner of R.L.O., Inc. and local Great Clips franchisee in Ohio:

"As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we unfortunately had to temporarily lay off our employees after the Ohio Director of Health ordered all salons and barbershops to close. We hope that we will soon be able to reopen our salons with all required safeguards in place, in addition to our long-standing cleaning and sanitizing standards. In the meantime, we are recalling our employees with full pay, hours and benefits in order to train them on additional cleaning, sanitizing and social-distancing procedures and to prepare our salons to reopen."

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