As businesses reopen in Tennessee, unemployment benefits may end for those who choose not to go back to work

Gov. Bill Lee announced April 20 that the state's stay-at-home order will expire April 30. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)
Gov. Bill Lee announced April 20 that the state's stay-at-home order will expire April 30. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

Gov. Bill Lee announced April 20 that the state's stay-at-home order will expire April 30. (Dylan Skye Aycock/Community Impact Newspaper)

With many restaurants now reopened or partially reopened across the state and retailers expected to reopen April 29, with exceptions in Nashville and other large cities, healthy employees who have been receiving unemployment benefits will likely not be able to continue to collect weekly checks if they choose not to return to work.

According to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, if an employee is called back to work when their company reopens and they do not return, they will be ineligible to receive benefits from the state.

Department Commissioner Jeff McCord spoke on the requirement during an April 28 press briefing sand said that being worried about returning to work does not qualify as an acceptable reason not to return to work.

“There are several reasons and several instances that qualify you for what we call PUA, or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. One of the things that is not is that there’s some sort of worry about going back to employment,” McCord said. “If you are offered a job and your employer opens back up, then, you stand the chance of losing those benefits if you don’t have a clear reason not to go back.”

According to the department's website, any benefits collected after an employee is called back to work would be considered an overpayment that must be repaid to the state.

However, there are some stipulations under which an employee could still collect benefits or Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, which lasts for a period of 39 weeks, according to the department.

Employees may still be eligible if:

  • A doctor has told the employee to quarantine;

  • The employee has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms and seeking a diagnosis;

  • A member of the employee's household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;

  • The employee is a primary caregiver for a child whose school or day care has closed;

  • The employee is now their household's primary earner after the previous head of household died due to COVID-19; or

  • The employee is unable to reach their place of employment as a result of an imposed quarantine.

Read the department's full slate of answers to unemployment questions here.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


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