COVID-19 & Minnesota’s Return to Work

By May 18, 2020COVID-19

Minnesota’s governor issued Executive Order 20-54. This order provides employers with explanations on worker protections during COVID-19. As Minnesota begins to reopen, the Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development would like to assist employers with answers to common questions. Employers can review common FAQs on the state’s website: https://www.mn.gov/deed/safework. The state provided important highlights of the governor’s Executive Order 20-54 and the FAQs below.

Employers must be safe for their associates and customers:

  • Employers must follow all CDC, MDH, and OSHA guidance and standards to create a safe and healthy environment.
  • Employers cannot take any retaliatory actions (such as terminating, laying off, etcetera) against any associates who raise safety and health concerns, refuse to work under conditions they reasonably believe are unsafe, participate in union activities regarding work place safety, file a safety and health complaint, or participate in an official OSHA or state investigation.

In order to reopen, any non-critical sector business or retail establishment must have a COVID-19 preparedness plan in place to protect the health and safety of their associates:

  • Preparedness plans provide direction on how associates are going to remain safe after the state reopens. The state developed a template plan and guidance for employers to use as a starting point for their plans to reopen. Please be aware that employers are not required to use this template, but employers are required to follow all CDC, MDH, and OSHA guidelines to reopen their businesses.
  • If possible, employers should allow associates to work from home.
  • Employers should consult with associates on their preparedness plans, which will allow employers to proactively address concerns and ensure associates are invested in the new norms being set.
  • Employers are not required to submit their preparedness plans to the state for approval but they should be prepared to provide one should it ever be requested in the future.
  • Employers should distribute the preparedness plan, and post it, before they reopen.

The state urges employers to be flexible and provide necessary accommodations for their associates:

  • Associates may have concerns about returning to work and associates should also not have to sacrifice their health for economic security. The state encourages employers to be as flexible as possible with their associates, be responsive to requests for accommodations, and ensure that associates are provided with protective gear in accordance with CDC, MDH, and OSHA guidance and standards.

Some associates may not be able to return to work when recalled by their employers:

  • The new Executive Order 20-05 provides a list of COVID-19 exemptions for those with underlying health issues or caretaking responsibilities.
  • Any associates who qualify for these exemptions do not need to return to work and will continue to qualify for unemployment benefits.

If an associate believes that their employer is not operating with a COVID-19 preparedness plan and/or not following health and safety protocols, they can take the following actions:

  • The state encourages associates to attempt to resolve their concerns directly with their employer first.
  • If the associate is not successful, is not comfortable raising their concerns with their employer, or has additional concerns about the safety of their workplace, the associate should contact Minnesota OSHA at 651-284-5050 or compliance@state.mn.us.
  • If an associate raises concerns with an employer about not operating with a COVID-19 preparedness plan and/or not following health and safety protocols and the employer does not address the concern in a reasonable amount of time, the associate can quit and not lose unemployment benefits.
  • If an associate is fired for raising concerns about workplace safety – either with Minnesota OSHA or directly with their employer – they will not lose unemployment benefits.

State unemployment law prevents the state from continuing to pay benefits to those who are no longer eligible:

  • Associates who are offered the opportunity to return to work and do not qualify for an exemption under Executive Order 20-05 or state unemployment insurance law are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits.
  • Each unemployment applicant is asked on a weekly basis whether they have refused an offer of suitable employment. Please be aware that any applicants that provide inaccurate information may result in an benefit overpayment.
  • When associates return to work or want to stop filing benefits, no additional notification is needed. They should stop filing for weekly benefits. Some additional information about unemployment and returning to work can be found here.
  • Employers can “raise an issue” regarding a former associate’s eligibility for unemployment benefits. By raising an issue, the employer will be advising the state that they have a question regarding an associate’s eligibility for unemployment. Employers can find more information about how to raise an issue here.

If an associate or employer notifies the department that an offer to return to work was refused, the state will review the applicant’s eligibility for unemployment. After the state is made aware, they will take the following actions:

  • The state will mail questionnaires out to both the applicant and employer about why the applicant did not return to work, including questions about the applicant’s medical situation. A doctor’s note may be requested during any follow-up process for additional information.
  • Once the state has enough information, a written determination about the applicant’s continued eligibility for unemployment will be sent to both parties.
  • The applicant or employer can file an appeal within 20 calendar days of the mail date. The state provides an opportunity for a fair and impartial hearing to any party who disagrees with a determination.
  • A telephone hearing and an appeals process will then take place after an appeal, which will be outlined in detail to any associate or employer in this situation.

 

Our office will monitor COVID-19 updates closely and will send out additional announcements as we become aware of any updates. You can also review these updates on our website at https://www.thomas-and-company.com/covid-19/ too.

 

Please reach out to your representative with any questions.

Mike Parker

Author Mike Parker

Mike has 30 years of experience in unemployment cost control management, and has been with Thomas & Company for 25 years. He is the primary contact with state agencies building strong relationships, lobbying for opportunities that increase quality of service and efficiencies, and insuring compliance with state specific requirements. He works with the client service team, answering technical questions related to the unemployment insurance programs administered by the individual states and oversees the processes associated with wage audits and fraudulent claim inquiries. Mike is a member of the SIDES Operations Committee and currently sits on four Operations Committee subcommittees.

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