Last year in New Hampshire, critics mocked a proposal from Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dan Feltes and passed by the Democratic-controlled state legislature to give unemployment checks to people who say they’re simply “too scared of COVID” to go to work — regardless whether there’s any risk or not.
It’s a bad idea that was killed by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu, but has now been embraced by President Joe Biden.
A fact sheet released by the Biden administration says, “workers have a federally guaranteed right to refuse employment that will jeopardize their health, and if they do so, they will still qualify for unemployment insurance.” Biden’s plan is to allow employees who decide they feel their workplace is unsafe to refuse to work and receive unemployment checks.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihoods and their health or the health of their loved ones,” Biden said Wednesday. “I expect the Department of Labor to guarantee the right to refuse employment that will jeopardize your health. And if you do, you’ll still be able to qualify for [benefits].”
When the issue was debated in New Hampshire, opponents noted workers who wanted to get paid to stay home would have the right to do so regardless of the safety measures taken by their employers.
“This amendment allows individuals to be eligible for unemployment if they felt they have a reasonable risk of contracting COVID-19 at the workplace,” David Juvet of the New Hampshire Business and Industry Association told NHJournal at the time. “And they can make this claim even if the employer is doing everything required in terms of the CDC and state health guidelines.”
The amendment read: “Individuals impacted by COVID-19 shall not be disqualified for benefits if… an individual is quarantined by a medical professional or under government direction, or leaves employment due to a reasonable risk of exposure or infection, including self-quarantine.” [emphasis added].
“If an employee says ‘I have a fear,’ they’re qualified for unemployment. That’s essentially a gift,” Juvet said.
This sounds eerily similar to the new Executive Order from the Biden administration. Will there be standards? Or, for example, will teachers be able to refuse to return to classrooms and still collect benefits, even if the classrooms are proven to be safe workspaces?
“Too scared to work” isn’t an objective standard. Using it to hand out taxpayer-funded unemployment checks is almost certain to raise difficult questions.