Colorado unemployment disputes skyrocket as employers begin to offer returns to work that employees decline, with CDLE at least initially tending to rule for workers

As previously posted on this blog, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Unemployment created a new portal for employers to use to report when an employee refuses after being offered to return to work; the refusal will generally render the individual ineligible for further unemployment, unless the individual can prove they are “vulnerable” and that the company has inadequate coronavirus protections in place.

The Denver Business Journal is reporting that approximately 150 workers have already advised the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment that they do not wish to return to work and would rather stay on unemployment due to concerns about coronavirus, while 200 employers have used the new portal to report refusals.

How is the CDLE handling these disputes? The Denver Business Journal advises the agency is attempting to investigate each claim individually, without agency representatives actually going to jobsites though.

Instead, workers will be asked to explain what underlying condition they have that makes it unsafe for them to return to work or why they feel the workplace is an unsafe environment, and employers will be asked if the worker is coming back at the same job and pay rate and if efforts have been made at increased sanitation and social distancing.

Who’s winning these disputes? For now the Denver Business Journal reports the CDLE is ruling generally in favor of the workers.

So far, CDLE officials, who have gone through about 55 claims, are coming down on the sides of the workers at a ratio of about 10-to-1, said Jeff Fitzgerald, unemployment insurance division director.

The CDLE does not explain in the article how it plans to address this issue going-forward especially if, as reported in the Denver Post, the combination of traditional unemployment benefits plus pandemic unemployment benefits is high enough that a “majority” of workers in Colorado are actually earning more money on unemployment currently than they would in their job if returned.

The cutoff point is around $30 an hour in Colorado, according to the study by Gregory Miller, a CFA and graduate researcher at CSU. Make more than that and the financial incentive is to return to work. Make less than that, and collecting unemployment pays better, especially if a job doesn’t come with health insurance and other benefits.

The combination of that “financial incentive” plus health concerns about the possible coronavirus-related implications of returning to work around others, even subject to Colorado’s social distancing guidelines, means the CDLE is going to be required to address many, many more such disputes going-forward.

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