As limits on business operations triggered by the coronavirus pandemic are slowly being relaxed across Colorado, some employers are asking their laid-off workers to come back to work — but not all …
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To apply for unemployment benefits, visit the state's filing website.
For questions about eligibility, see the different sections of that site, or call 303-318-9000.
A state partnership called OnwardCO also offers help for those who have lost a job. Coloradans can use onwardco.org to:
• Connect to emergency resources such as food, shelter, child care and money.
• Find training programs for a new career.
• Find job opportunities.
The online resource was launched by Bitwise Industries in coordination with Gov. Jared Polis, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, and the Kapor Center, according to a news release.
Lori Denham, owner of Moxie Med Spa in Lakewood, laid off all 13 of her employees in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic began to wreak economic havoc in Colorado.
She plans to bring back three full-time employees and one part-timer. Denham's business is waiting on bringing back another employee because she is pregnant, and Denham doesn't want her to be exposed to others.
"She isn't ready to come back, and I am happy she is not because I don't want to take any chances,” Denham said. “She is incredibly vulnerable.”
Lynn Conrad, who owns the Baby Doe's clothing boutique in downtown Golden, said she had to lay off all eight of her store's employees when she made the decision to close the store on March 19.
She hadn't been concerned about employees not wanting to return to work, in large part because only two of those employees applied for unemployment and neither of them has received anything despite qualifying.
“They got their PIN and then they got through the first parts of the process, and then weird things happened and it's like a loop,” Conrad said. “I'm confident they'll receive the benefits at some point but they have been six weeks without a paycheck.”
The employees at the new Salon Sisu in the Gateway Village development near Red Rocks had only been working a few weeks when the salon was forced to close.
Owner Lucinda Quattrochi said all of her staff was set to come back to work on May 9.
“What I've heard from my staff is that they were kind of enjoying having a little time off, but they were really anxious to get back and see their clients again,” Quattrochi said of the salon's stylists. “And they make good money and they make tips, and they have relationships and there is a creative element to the work. So that's not an issue for them.”
While the salon's receptionists are also able to return to work, Quattrochi's husband, Sam, said he does have some concerns that those workers, who make less money than stylists though still well above minimum wage, might not want to come back to work.
“I could see definitely if this progresses and in a month we have to be off for another two or three months they're going to be in a terrible position, and that that could become more of a possibility for them,” he said.
As limits on business operations triggered by the coronavirus pandemic are slowly being relaxed across Colorado, some employers are asking their laid-off workers to come back to work — but not all of those idled workers are agreeing to return.
And in some cases, state officials are allowing workers who refuse to go back to their jobs to continue to collect unemployment benefits.
In Colorado, employers have reported 250 job refusals in the first couple weeks since late April, around the time the statewide stay-at-home order ended, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Two of those were refusals of work from somewhere other than the person's most recent work situation, but the rest were offers to return to the most recent employer.
Ninety-eight of those refusals had been processed as of May 7, with 93 of those state decisions determining the workers are still eligible for benefits, according to the department.
Workers can't choose to stay on unemployment simply because they're taking in more money that way, said Cher Roybal Haavind, the labor department's deputy executive director. That's important because, in light of the new federal program that gives an extra $600 per week on top of a state's regular unemployment assistance, the possibility of people making more on unemployment than they would while working has become a hot topic.
On average, Colorado workers eligible for unemployment benefits are receiving nearly as much in benefits now — with the $600 boost included — as they were paid on the job as of late 2019, the New York Times has reported. That means that a large percentage of Colorado laid-off workers are paid more in benefits than they were in wages.
Under state rules, those workers who receive benefits are required to make biweekly reports to the labor department, and those updates must say if a person refused a job offer. From there, the department evaluates whether that person is still eligible for benefits.
Failing to report job refusals when requesting benefit payment can be considered a fraudulent act under Colorado law, said Philip Spesshardt, a manager at the state labor department. That rule applies for any job offer, not just an offer to return to a previous position.
Some reasons a person could turn down a job offer and still collect unemployment benefits, according to Haavind, include:
• The work environment is not complying with social distancing or the guidelines of Colorado's recent safer-at-home order.
• The person is part of a group that is more vulnerable to COVID-19 than others.
• The person has COVID-19 or is caring for someone with the disease.
• Work offered involves an “unreasonable” reduction in the rate of pay.
• Work offered is substantially different and less favorable to the employee than their prior experience with the employer.
The department is asking employers who make a return-to-work offer, or any job offer, that is not accepted to report it on the coloradoui.gov website.
After either an unemployed Coloradan or an employer reports that a job offer has been turned down, the department suspends the Coloradan's benefits while it contacts both parties about the job offered and the reason for the refusal before issuing a decision.
The process typically takes between two and five business days, depending upon the responsiveness of both parties, Spesshardt said. Any decision can be appealed by either party, according to Haavind.
For gig workers — such as Lyft drivers — and self-employed and contract workers, their unemployment benefits come through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, a new stream of money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
In April, the state announced that people who have lost gig work and similar previously ineligible positions would be able to apply for benefits.
Federal guidelines for returning to work for those groups are not explicit, Haavind said.
The state doesn't judge when workers should return to work based on market demand in their field.
Such labor market information does not determine whether individuals on regular state unemployment should continue to be eligible for benefits, so any labor market information related to gig workers and the self-employed also would not determine eligibility on pandemic unemployment assistance, Spesshardt said.
“The information would more commonly be used to determine whether an individual is performing an active and reasonable search for work when required,” Spesshardt added.
During the fallout from the Great Recession, the week with the highest number of claims for unemployment assistance filed in Colorado was the week ending Jan. 9, 2010, with 7,749 claims.
This year, the week ending March 21 — when Colorado closed dine-in restaurant and bar service, and hair and nail salons, spas, and tattoo and massage parlors — shattered that record with 19,745 new unemployment claims filed.
Then, the next three weeks saw the numbers increase fivefold. And although the numbers have dropped off from that high point, Colorado continues to see historic numbers of claims each week.
In the week ending April 11, the department counted 104,217 initial claims filed.
There were 67,334 initial unemployment claims filed the week ending April 18, more than 79,000 initial claims filed the week ending April 25 and more than 41,000 filed the week ending May 2, according to state Labor Department news releases.
For those last two weeks, the total includes both regular unemployment and pandemic unemployment assistance for those such as gig workers and the self-employed.
The week ending April 25, there were 40,906 pandemic unemployment assistance claims. There were 13,149 of those claims filed the week ending May 2.
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