The Rebound Indiana: State answers questions about unemployment benefits as Hoosiers return to work

Posted at 6:30 AM, May 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-01 08:37:53-04

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INDIANAPOLIS — As more Hoosiers are called to return to work, some are at risk of committing fraud if they continue to collect unemployment benefits.

RTV6 spoke with Josh Richardson, chief of staff with the Indiana Department of Workplace Development to get answers and advice about some of the most common scenarios Hoosiers are facing as they get back to work.

You can view the Q&A below:

Can I refuse my job and continue getting unemployment benefits?
Rafael: I’m offered my job back…can I refuse to return to receive unemployment benefits?
Josh: The guidance from the Feds—this is a federal program being administered by the state. Individuals are expected to return to work when work becomes available.

Because its unemployment not everything is cut and dry, what is clear is individualized fear is not going to be enough.

You will jeopardize your benefits.

'I’d rather draw unemployment benefits than work,' that’s not going to be enough. If you refuse work under those circumstances you’ll be denied benefits.

If people have been directed to quarantine if in a high risk group, that becomes a little bit more questionable for us to look at. You are likely eligible, harder for us to deal within coming weeks.

What will trigger an appeal and how far can I go?
Josh: The question here –has the person refused an offer of suitable work, or in some situations, have they quit a job unnecessarily?

We’ll have to assign someone to that case.

They’ll contact the individual, they’ll contact the employer. Ultimately, we will come out with a determination.

Yes, you did require suitable work, then you’re ineligible for unemployment benefits from that time forward. Or this was not suitable work under the circumstances, for whatever those reasons may be, so your benefits can continues and yes to the point either party disagrees with that, they would have an avenue to an appeal and they’d make same case to administrative law judge.

What is key to expressing COVID-19 workplace concerns and why is it key to a possible appeal?
Rafael: You would say to someone if they’re not accepting that position to at least have all documentation together so when you have to make that appeal, that you will be ready to move forward with their claim?
Josh: That’s absolutely, right. Let’s take one step further.

First step is open communication between employer and employee and that goes both ways. To the extent you are an individual facing this situation, certainly be open with your employer about your concerns are and make recommendations what would make it better for you. That will be relevant for us.

Did you attempt to maintain the employment relationship will be important.

Conversely, certainly my recommendation that employers work with employees to make sure creating the kind pf environment that brings employees back.

We know if Indiana’s economy will bounce back the way we want and expect to, it will require that individuals return to work.

So it’s important on employers and employees to try to facilitate discussions that leads to successful and healthy and safe work environment.

What makes the classic unemployment fraud case and if my hours are cut, am I eligible for assistance?
Rafael: Can I keep my PUA or state benefit and return to my regular job?
Josh: Every once in a while, we’ll hear from someone who says 'Hey, I have never drawn unemployment before, so I thought it was ok to draw out the rest of my unemployment claim. That’s a dangerous thing for people to do.

One of the first questions we’re going to ask on that voucher every single week, did you work this week? Pretty simple question.

If you are working reduced hours, there is a potential there is still benefit eligibility left.

What you definitely don’t want to do is tell us you didn’t work and earn income when you in fact did.

That is the classic unemployment insurance fraud case, is someone who has returned to work and continue to draw.

We have thousands each year and in some cases we have prosecution.