Returning to Work

The Department of Commerce Division of Employment Security (DES) is providing the following information for individuals and employers about how returning to work may impact unemployment benefits.

When you return to work, you should stop filing your Weekly Certifications for unemployment. Refusing to return to work when your employer calls you back typically makes you ineligible to receive unemployment benefits.  

DES will consider that you have good cause to refuse to return to work, and may continue to be eligible for unemployment benefits, if you refuse due to one of these COVID-19 related reasons:

  1. You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and have been advised by a medical professional to not attend work.
  2. A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or you are providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  3. You are at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a high-risk individual as a person 65 years of age or older, or a person of any age, who has serious underlying medical conditions including being immunocompromised, or has chronic lung disease, moderate-to-severe asthma, serious heart conditions, severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and undergoing dialysis, or liver disease.
  4. You are the primary caregiver of a child or person in your household who is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public  health emergency, and the school or facility is required for you to work.
  5. You are unable to reach your place of employment because of a quarantine imposed as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency or you have been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19. 
  6. In order to comply with any governmental order regarding travel, business operations and mass gatherings, you must refuse a recall to your former employment or an offer of suitable work.
  7. You reasonably believe there is a valid degree of risk to your health and safety due to a significant risk of exposure or infection to COVID-19 at your employer’s place of business due to a failure of the employer to comply with guidelines as set out by the CDC, other governmental authorities or industry groups as may be found in CDC guidance, the Governor’s Executive Orders, or other binding authority; or due to objective reasons that the employer’s facility is not safe for the claimant to return to work.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have been getting unemployment benefits, but I am returning to work. What should I do?

I have been getting unemployment benefits, but I am returning to work. What should I do?

If you return to work, stop filing your Weekly Certifications to discontinue your benefits. You do not need to report to DES that you’ve gone back to work.

If you continue to receive benefits for weeks after you return to work, you may be required to pay back the benefits you were overpaid.

What should I do if I’m returning to work, but I’ll be working reduced hours?

What should I do if I’m returning to work, but I’ll be working reduced hours?

Continue to file your Weekly Certifications and report any wages you earn. Remember, you must report wages for the week in which you earned them, not the week in which you are paid.

Any wages you earn may affect your weekly benefit amount.

My employer has called me back to work. What happens if I choose not to return?

My employer has called me back to work. What happens if I choose not to return?

Generally, an employee is disqualified from receiving further benefits if the employee chooses not to return to work after receiving notice to do so from their employer. If your employer has called you back and you did not return to work, you should report that you have refused an offer to work when filing your Weekly Certification. You will have an opportunity to provide more information about your reason for not returning to work.

DES will determine eligibility for unemployment benefits on a case-by-case basis.

You may continue to be eligible for benefits if you do not return to work for good cause. Examples of good cause related to COVID-19 are set out above these FAQs in the section entitled Returning to Work, including being diagnosed with COVID-19, caring for someone with COVID-19 or being unable to get to work because of travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

What happens when I exhaust my 12 weeks of state unemployment benefits?

What happens when I exhaust my 12 weeks of state unemployment benefits?

You may apply for an extension of benefits for up to 13 weeks through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. 

When you exhaust your regular state unemployment benefits, you will see an ‘Apply for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation’ link instead of a link to file your Weekly Certification in your online account. Learn more about applying for PEUC here.

I feel unsafe returning to work because I am 65 or older and/or have a medical condition that makes me at higher risk for severe illness if I contract COVID-19. Can I refuse to return to work?

I feel unsafe returning to work because I am 65 or older and/or have a medical condition that makes me at higher risk for severe illness if I contract COVID-19. Can I refuse to return to work?

If you are 65 or older and/or you have a medical condition that puts you at a high risk for severe illness if you are infected with COVID-19, and your employer is not able to offer you a safe workplace or your job does not allow for a reasonable accommodation such as teleworking, you may have good cause for not returning to work and be eligible to receive benefits.

A note from a Doctor of Medicine or Osteopathy who is authorized to practice medicine by the state will be considered as proof of a high-risk medical condition.

I am not 65 or older or a high-risk individual for severe illness if I contract COVID-19. However, I have reasonable concerns that my work environment is unsafe. Can I choose not to return to work and remain eligible for benefits?

I am not 65 or older or a high-risk individual for severe illness if I contract COVID-19. However, I have reasonable concerns that my work environment is unsafe. Can I choose not to return to work and remain eligible for benefits?

You should talk to your employer. If your employer has taken steps to create a safer workplace by following safety standards as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or other governmental authorities or industry groups, you may be found ineligible for benefits if you choose not to return to work. If your employer is not following recommended safety standards, then your refusal to return to work may make you eligible for benefits.

I can make more money collecting unemployment benefits than I can returning to work. Can I refuse an offer to return to work because I will earn less and remain eligible for benefits?

I can make more money collecting unemployment benefits than I can returning to work. Can I refuse an offer to return to work because I will earn less and remain eligible for benefits?

No. Choosing not to return to work solely on the basis that you will earn less than you can collect in unemployment benefits is not considered good cause when your employer has offered you your former employment back or other suitable employment. If you refuse to return to work solely on this basis you will not be eligible to receive benefits.

What if I disagree with the decision that is made about my benefits?

What if I disagree with the decision that is made about my benefits?

You and your employer will be notified about the determination of your eligibility. The employee and employer both have the right to appeal the determination if they disagree with the decision.

My employees are returning to work. What do I need to do with regard to unemployment claims?

My employees are returning to work. What do I need to do with regard to unemployment claims?

You do not need to report to DES that your employees are returning to work. However, please notify your employees who have been receiving unemployment assistance that they should stop filing their Weekly Certifications for benefits.

If employees continue to receive benefits for weeks after they return to work, they may be required to repay the benefits they were overpaid.

What if I have an employee who has refused to return or quit when I called them back to work?

What if I have an employee who has refused to return or quit when I called them back to work?

Employers may report to DES that employees have not returned to work when work is available. Sign into your online account at des.nc.gov and click on the form on your ‘Employer Homepage’ to submit information about an employee’s refusal to return to work. We will review the information to help determine the employee’s’ eligibility for unemployment benefits.

I have an employee who does not want to return to work because they feel unsafe. Can they quit and receive unemployment benefits?

I have an employee who does not want to return to work because they feel unsafe. Can they quit and receive unemployment benefits?

Eligibility for unemployment benefits is determined on a case-by-case basis. Typically, an employee who quits without good cause is not eligible for benefits.

An employee may have good cause to refuse to work, and may be eligible to receive benefits, if there is a valid risk to their health and safety due to a significant risk of COVID-19 exposure or infection at the place of business.

It is recommended that employers comply with guidance from the CDC and/or other authorities to help provide a safer workplace as their employees return to work.

I have made some changes in the way we do business due to the current environment. Can an employee refuse to return to work due to the changes and get benefits?

I have made some changes in the way we do business due to the current environment. Can an employee refuse to return to work due to the changes and get benefits?

An employee may be eligible to receive unemployment benefits if there is a substantial change in the contract of hire and they quit their position.

For example, if you reduce their pay by 25 to 30%, permanently change their assigned shift without their agreement, move them to a new facility with a substantially longer commute, or make other drastic modifications to the type of work for which you hired them would constitute a substantial change in the contract of hire.

However, minor changes, for example moving them to a new line, requiring one or two extra hours of work a day, or changing their work location in the same facility, etc., likely would not constitute a change in the contract of hire, and they would not be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The issue of what is substantial is very fact specific and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

What if I disagree with the decision made about an employee’s eligibility for benefits?

What if I disagree with the decision made about an employee’s eligibility for benefits?

The employer and employee will be notified about the determination of eligibility for benefits. Both have the right to appeal the determination if they disagree with the decision.