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Texas Workforce Commission: Report employees who won’t return because they can earn more money from unemployment

Nikki Veney, right, gives a customer his to-go food order outside a Lupe Tortilla restaurant Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Houston. The restaurant setup a tent outside to handle curbside to-go orders. Houston area bars and restaurants have been ordered to follow new restrictions for the next two weeks in an effort to curb coronavirus exposure. Bars and nightclubs must close and restaurants can only be open for delivery, pickup and drive-thru services. No in-dining service is allowed. For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Nikki Veney, right, gives a customer his to-go food order outside a Lupe Tortilla restaurant Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Houston. The restaurant setup a tent outside to handle curbside to-go orders. Houston area bars and restaurants have been ordered to follow new restrictions for the next two weeks in an effort to curb coronavirus exposure. Bars and nightclubs must close and restaurants can only be open for delivery, pickup and drive-thru services. No in-dining service is allowed. For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

As some businesses and restaurants prepare to open their doors to the public Friday, the Texas Workforce Commission is advising employers to report employees who say they won’t return to work because they can earn more money from unemployment benefits.

“You can’t force them to come back,” Velissa Chapa, legal counsel to the commissioner representing employers, said during a webinar Thursday. “But if an employee had already filed for unemployment, they may be denied benefits if they deny suitable work.”

"Suitable work" must be within the realm of the worker’s training and experience and doesn’t include work that can be proven as unsafe, said Tommy Simmons, who also provides legal counsel to a workforce commissioner.

Employers should give workers written proof of steps taken to create a safe work environment, including things like sanitization guidelines and social distancing parameters, Chapa said, adding that employers should also document written offers of work. Employers should report rejections based on an employee's preference to receive unemployment benefits to the commission’s fraud department, she said.

A Texas Workforce Commission spokesman told The Tribune Tuesday that they are working on establishing guidelines for what constitutes “good cause” for employees to refuse to return to work. — Clare Proctor