my employees don’t want to return to work because they’re making more from unemployment

A reader writes:

I’m a small business owner who had about 45 employees before the COVID-19 shutdown hit us hard. We laid off or furloughed the entire staff, and we’ve now been approved for and received a PPP loan. Here’s the problem — most of my furloughed employees are making more on unemployment than they did when they were at work (because of the $600/week supplement from the federal government on top of regular benefits) , and now don’t want to come back to work before their unemployment runs out. It is a considerable difference money wise, and I don’t think I’d be able to meet the wages they’re earning on unemployment. One employee who makes $20 hourly told me she is making $30/hour on unemployment.

This doesn’t work for us, considering the repayment qualifications of the loan (we have to use most of it on payroll and maintain a certain number of staff). I also understand that some are afraid to come back to work, due to the continued spread of the virus. While our work can’t be done at home, there is plenty of room to practice social distancing (think two people working in a 4,000 square foot place).

I am torn, but ultimately feel like I have to follow the terms of the PPP loan, and while I value and appreciate my employees, some of who have worked for me for 10+ years, I am not financially able to let them sit out their unemployment and then come to work afterwards. I need to use the PPP loan on payroll, and I need to use it now. I’ve already lost one week on my repayment window. I am unsure whether to hire new staff and say “sorry” to those who do not want to come back to work yet.

We are not in an area that has been hit hard by the virus, and there have been no new cases recently.

Any guidance would be appreciated. This is such a hard situation. I have been heartsick since we were forced to shut down, and I’m doing everything I can to save my business.

In order to have a Payroll Protection Program loan forgiven, you’re required to spend at least 75% of the loan on payroll and to maintain the average headcount you had in the previous year. So you have to re-hire staff.

Obviously you’d like the staff you hire to be the people who have worked for you up until now, but if they’re not willing to return, you can’t leave those spots open. You have to hire other people. Otherwise your loan won’t convert into a grant (or at least most of it won’t) and you’ll have to repay significantly more of it.

All you can do is make the offer to people and let them know you need to re-hire regardless, you hope it will be them, but if it’s not you need to get someone else into their spot. Be clear that that means you might not have an opening for them down the road if at some point they do want to come back (which you could point out might happen once the federal supplement to unemployment ends after July 31). But from there it’s up to them.

In theory you could make temporary hires — people who would only work until your previous employees are willing to return. But that means you’d be investing in training people who would only be there short-term and they’d likely be less invested while they’re there — and there’s no guarantee your old employees would return at the end of that period anyway.

For what it’s worth, this isn’t how unemployment insurance is supposed to work. It’s supposed to be an emergency safety net to help keep you afloat if you lose your job, not something that you choose over working because you prefer it.

That is of course wildly complicated by the fact that loads of people are rightly concerned that returning to work right now could mean risking their health. But this answer would be incomplete if I didn’t note that the law does say that your employees are giving up their eligibility for benefits if they decline to return to work (unless they qualify for continued benefits under one of the other new categories in the law, such as not being able to work because their child’s school is closed, or because a health care provider has advised them to quarantine). If they decline your offer and the unemployment office finds out about it, they risk having to repay the payments they shouldn’t have received (plus additional penalties).

But that’s for your employees to decide how to navigate.

On your end of things, start interviewing for replacements so you don’t lose more time, and meanwhile let your staff know that if they want to return, you need to know by (date). Then go ahead and hire.

Any previous employee who holds that against you would be being ridiculously unfair. You have a business to run, and if they don’t want to come back — which is of course their prerogative — you need to move forward with other people.

{ 588 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    This is not the place to take out your frustrations on employers generally for underpaying workers. There’s no indicating the letter writer is doing that; $20/hour is a good wage in many places for many jobs. We don’t know the business or the market. Comments attacking her for underpaying workers when we have zero evidence of that violate the site rules; don’t do that here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      An addition the OP just sent me: “As for wages, on average we pay 120% over the national average for the service industry we are in. We do not require college education from employees and often hire people without work experience.” She’s in a rural area.

  2. Eda*

    I’m confused as to how someone makes *more* on unemployment, seeing as the amount you receive is supposed to be a fraction of what your employment income was

        1. Jon*

          Yes the $2400 extra federal money on top of state unemployment per month is what makes the OP’s employees resent *getting their jobs back*. The extra federal money alone would be equal to a $28,800 per year job.

          1. JaneLoe*

            But the extra $600 is not offered for an entire year, but instead for 15 weeks (Apr 4 thru July 25 to be exact). Just wanted to point that out, it’s NOT an additional $28K for the year but instead an additional $9K, period.

            1. nep*

              Right–only through July. I think a lot of people have the impression it’s for the entire time.

              1. You bet I'm anon for this*

                My job description includes moderating online comments on a newspaper website, and much of the underinformed local peanut gallery seems to believe that people are being paid an extra $600 a week for life.

            2. Claire*

              Right, you wouldn’t be receiving the full $28k that would come from the full year, but it’s a way to get some perspective on how much of a difference $600 a week makes on your earnings just because salaries are usually stated in yearly amounts or hourly amounts–it’s clearer to me to hear the yearly amount and then think “that’s more than half your pay if you make $50k per year” than it is to hear the weekly amount, because I just don’t generally hear salaries described as how much you make per week.

      1. Dorothy Gale*

        Is the gross pay higher or the net pay, I wonder? I’m Canadian, so it’s likely different, but our covid payments are being sent out with no income tax deducted. So for some people it’s a higher amount now, but at tax return time they are going to owe money.

        1. Kathlynn (Canadian)*

          yeah, I’m putting $100/’check’ into savings to pay in tax. But that $500/week is more then I’d receive on EI but less then I would receive as a full time employee making a bit above minimume wage. (CERB isn’t a top up, it’s a replacement)

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I heard the $500 will be taxed at 30% so the next tax year is going to be brutal for many people. After the billions spent now the Feds will want their money back, PDQ. Socking some away now is a very good idea.

            1. NoCoffeePotUnturned*

              It’s all currently already being taxed if you choose to have taxes taken out of those unemployment payments. They won’t be somehow taxed again.

        2. sromano*

          And…UI is a taxable event on your US federal and state tax returns (California).

          So it doesn’t appear to be as great of a deal as it sounds.

          1. Cj*

            both your wages in unemployment benefits are subject to income tax. However unemployment benefits aren’t subject to payroll taxes, which is Social Security and Medicare withheld on equals 7.65% of your gross wages.

            it’s not at all uncommon in lower wage places that you make more on unemployment. Many jobs in rural areas don’t even pay the $15 per hour that the $600 Federal benefit equates to for 40 Hour Work Week. But it has to be very uncommon that somebody making $20 an hour working makes $30 an hour. what’s the $15 an hour federal unemployment benefit oh, that means you need to be getting another $15 an hour, or 75% of your working wage, in order to equal $30 an hour. There are very, very few states that pay 75% of your wage for benefits.

    1. Nini*

      They’re only making more right now because they’ve upped the amount UI gives by $600. Normally, UI *is* less than you’d make by being employed.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      WSJ reported on this today — apparently based on the addition of federal benefits to the average state’s level of benefits, *half* of all furloughed workers stand to make more by not working. I think the average they calculated was something like $950/week.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        The reason that half are making more money is due to the methodology used to come up with the amount. The goal was to make unemployment in the pandemic money neutral for workers. Ideally, the states would have reprogrammed their algorithms to just make UI equal to the workers’ pay. Since only a couple of states have updated their computer systems from 60s/70s era equipment and software, that wasn’t going to happen. So they used the average wages and the average UI payments and added enough federal money so the UI payment equaled the average wage. So about half of all workers on UI will get a raise and about half will take a lesser pay cut.

    3. Elizabeth Proctor*

      Even so, to be making $30/hour wouldn’t they have to be receiving $600/week from state unemployment (plus the $600 federal)? That’s a lot…I think only 7-9 states have a max benefit of over $600.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        The number is pre-tax. So in some states (if you don’t know your states UI payments), you may end up disappointed long-term since the $600 is temporary and there is no guarantee your job situation is going to be.

        Even in the better paying states, UI payments won’t necessarily cover your expenses. They only go so high.

        1. Cj*

          If anybody is still reading these comments, could somebody please explain to me why so many commenters have pointed out that the $600 a week is pre-tax? Why don’t people talk about their hourly wage while working, and compare it to hourly wage theme maid working, that number is also pre-tax. Plus there’s no social security or Medicare withholding on the unemployment benefits.

          1. ExcelJedi*

            Because many people don’t look at that, and many people will be in a tough spot come next April when they realize that they didn’t save for taxes. It sucks, but it’s the reality of a system where people can choose not to have taxes withheld (and one reason employers are required to withhold taxes, and companies & contractors are required to pay taxes quarterly, not annually).

            As you said, we also talk about wages pre-tax (someone makes $50k/year, not $39k after taxes) — but employers take out all the taxed money, so people are used to that. And many people mistakenly think that because money comes in as a benefit, it’s not taxed.

            Though not universal, it’s likely that many people are making calculations based on the full benefit instead of calculating their tax obligation.

      2. Claire*

        Maybe she’s part-time and pro-rating her weekly benefits as if she was working her typical number of hours? I’m not entirely clear on whether or not part-time workers are receiving the full $600, but if they are, $600 works out to $30/hr if you work 20 hours–if she typically works 25 hours at $20/hr, I’d guess the $600+regular benefits would bring her to 25 hours at $30/hr.

    4. Lauren*

      Because of the $600/weekly kicker the federal government is providing until the end of July. That’s an extra $2400 a month in addition to whatever unemployment you’re entitled to.

      1. Myrin*

        You know, this letter is giving me whiplash – not because of its general content but because as a non-American, I’d vaguely heard about the 600 dollars thing on here during the last week or so but I hadn’t really thought about it much. But what I had thought is that we’re talking about a $600 per month thing, not per week. That’s what I learned just now through this here letter (and also why I’m kinda randomly replying to you, Lauren, because you’re actually spelling out that I’m not mistaken with my 2400 dollars math I’ve got going in my head now).

        And like. Apparently I know much less about the American market than I thought after years of reading AAM, but 2200€ – which is my local rough equivalent of $2400 – is A Fine Wage. Not outstanding for 40 hours a week but perfectly acceptable. And yet there are several people saying that if you as an employer pay less than this Fine Wage, you’re paying people poorly? My world has been tilted a little, honestly – there must be a bigger discrepancy in money’s worth than I thought there was!

        1. humans are weird*

          If you are in a country that provides universal health insurance, keep in mind that $2400 monthly is (1) pretax, and (2) will likely also need to have health insurance premiums taken out of it. So the amount being brought home that can be used on things like rent, food, and transport will be smaller. $2400 monthly works out to $15/hour, which is the amount some economists are saying is a “living” wage if you’re supporting a household on it – it may actually cover housing and other necessities in many places.

          1. Maddy*

            Actually – in Canada at least – the cost of universal health care is included in the income tax we pay. There isn’t an additional deduction from our pay.

            1. tiasp*

              Even in Canada, universal health care doesn’t actually cover everything (e.g. prescriptions, eyecare, dental, elective surgeries are more), so eg for my family of 6 our blue cross insurance is about $450 per month, and I still have to pay on top of that (e.g. covers 80% of prescripstions, covered $2000 of my kid’s $6500 braces, etc). Many jobs provide health benefits but not all of them, and many people just pay out of pocket for that kind of stuff.

        2. MissBliss*

          It’s really interesting to see a non-American’s perspective on this. To take your example a little further, $2,400/monthly would translate to about $15/hour for a person working a 40-hour work week ($2,400/4 = $600, $600/40 = $15). There’s a big “Fight for Fifteen” in some places in the U.S. that are pushing for $15/hour to become our new federal minimum wage, but it isn’t in most parts of the country.

          The OP’s employees are actually making 25% more than this ($41,600/year at $20 for 40 hours/week). How far $41,600 (pre-tax, of course) will get you really depends on where you live and what your circumstances are. But under this extra $600/week, they’d be making something like $64,500/year (this is quick math so I might be off), depending on how much of their “usual” wage is paid out in unemployment (I estimated 80% of their usual weekly wage, but that’s a made up number).

          Comparing annual income can help illustrate what a big bump it is, but it’s not really accurate, because the $600/extra a week will go away by the end of July. But still– an “extra” few hundred dollars a week makes a huge impact. It is in my home, where my SO is unemployed but dying to go home. That “extra” money is going toward projects he’s working on at home to preserve his mental health.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            COL is very different across the world! Sometimes it can be really hard for a non-American to wrap their head around the US wage expectations.

            To expand:
            $15 equates to £12
            UK living wage is £8.72, or $10.91 (for those aged 25 and over)
            For the sake of a further example, I am comfortably well off (in the area I live) on £27k. This is a bit less than $34k

            (Additional notes:
            The equivalent UK minimum wage is €1598 a month, which is just higher than France and Germany as of Jan 2020, but falls behind these two countries in terms of what this money will buy (actual purchasing power).
            (these are pre-income tax and social security contributions))

            1. Certaintroublemaker*

              But somebody in London would not be able to survive on that! Similar issue in the US with places like New York, San Francisco, Seattle versus the Midwest.

              1. Sparrow*

                Or even a city in the Midwest (especially Chicago) and suburbs/rural areas in the same state. I’m sure there are similar variations in the UK…

              2. Dust Bunny*

                I’m in a big city in the southern US and $2400 a month is not enough–I could easily pay half of that for a decent (basic, not extravagant; no gym or pool or anything) one-bedroom apartment. And it’s more than I make at a white-collar, college-degree-needed, job.

            2. Runaway Shinobi*

              And the biggest difference is not paying for (or even thinking about) health insurance. The N HE removes so much financial and emotional load.

            3. Belgian*

              I think this is a big one! You need to compare wage + cost of living across different areas.
              I was shocked to find out that what I earn in Belgium, which allows me a good life, wouldn’t go nearly as far in the US.

          2. Liz*

            Yes, COL is a huge deciding factor. As a Brit, my mind boggles at some of the numbers. Federal minimum wage in the United States seems phenomenally low, and yet the average wage seems quite high. But I’ve found from conversations with Americans that COL is comparatively high, which makes that federal minimum wage seem even lower. I help an American friend with budgetting sometimes and have quickly found that $15 per hour doesn’t go far.

            The obvious differences have been mentioned: we have the NHS, so minimal healthcare costs in comparison. Our car insurance seems cheaper on the whole, and mobile phone and internet bills are a fraction of those in the States (a comment downthread attributes this to lower infrastructure costs).

            Another big difference I don’t think has been mentioned here is tax. Here in the UK, we don’t pay tax on the first £12,500 we earn in the fiscal year. This applies to everyone. So if you are on a low wage, you are barely paying any tax at all. I am lucky enough to earn a living wage, but due to medical issues I work part time. I do not pay any tax right now. I gather the American system is very different.

            The other big difference is student loans. While university fees jumped up considerably several years ago, I hear they are still low compared to the American universities. Our student loans have minimal interest attached to them and payments are only taken when you earn over a certain threshold. At a certain age, they will be forgiven entirely if not repaid. I graduated in 2006 and have only made a single payment (when I happened to work a 70 hour week and it pushed my paycheck over the line for a single week). Postgrad is a different system, but you don’t see people with BAs worrying about covering their student loan payments.

            Our unemployment system is also very different. It is not linked to salary at all. You get £73.10 per week as a single person over 25, with other benefits paid on top of this depending on circumstance (housing benefit, child allowance, carer allowance, etc). If you are married or living with a partner, you get nothing. In theory, you can claim this indefinitely, but the hoops you have to jump through will get more and more ludicrous, which causes problems in times of economic crisis when jobs are scarce and people are being asked to apply for 50 jobs a week to avoid losing their money. Currently, our COVID19 emergency payments are considerably higher, with furloughed/laid off workers and self employed people receiving 80% of their usual/average salary, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month. Some of the more generous employers are topping this up by paying the other 20% themselves. But it’s highly unusual for benefits to be linked to salary in the UK.

            Sorry this turned into an essay, but that’s some of the major differences that sprang to mind when comparing the American systems and figures to my own country. If anyone has any questions, feel free to ask!

            1. Bagpuss*

              I appreciate you laying it out, I was coming here to do something similar and you saved me the bother!

              Only one minor correction – the £12,500 income tax allowance doesn’t apply to everyone, you start to lose it if you are a high earner. It starts to go down if you earn over £100,000 – by 50p for each £1 you earn, so if you £125,000 or more you don’t get an allowance at all. But in fairness that isn’t going to affect anyone who is claiming benefits :)

              Someone working full time on national minimum wage will be earning around £15,800 a year, which is just under $20,000 which is not a lot to live off.

        3. Blaise*

          I mean, that’s only $28,800 a year… which is phenomenal as a supplement, but certainly not something that would be easy to live on on its own.

          1. emmelemm*

            And yet there are many people, indeed millions of people, living in the U.S. on far, far less than that, year after year.

            1. HelloHello*

              True, and those people are largely struggling to get by and one emergency expense away from bankruptcy and/or lifelong debt. It’s not a fun way to live, and it has real consequences on a person’s health and quality of life.

              1. Artemesia*

                And people making these wages literally cannot afford health care. Insurance, even if they have it in those crummy jobs, doesn’t cover lots of expenses if one is injured or sick and one moderately serious illness and one is pushed into bankruptcy. My husband used to do some pro bono work for a program that helped incarcerated women with children get back on their feet and a lot of his cases were convincing a judge to wave court fees and fines for people who would be driven into bankruptcy if they had to pay them and they needed to preserve their right to declare bankruptcy as their ‘health insurance’. for themselves and their children. If their child broke an arm or they were ill they would be able to go to the ER and then later go bankrupt when they couldn’t pay the tens of thousands it would cost.

                1. Not today*

                  This makes me so sad. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. How stressful / anger creating is a life lived when we are one accident away from bankruptcy and all the results of that. No wonder there is increased violence in low income homes.

            2. Mookie*

              And yet millions sounds substantial on paper until we reckon with the disconnect between American aspirations and what it looks like to “live” as an average American, resident of one of the world’s wealthiest, most populous countries.

            3. yala*

              Yeah, I mean, I do. My pay works out to something like $13/hr. I can get by…but I also have two roommates, and am absolutely dreading when one of them moves out and we have to find a new place to live. Rent is so expensive. Utilities are expensive. Insurance is expensive.

          2. PollyQ*

            Depends very much on where you live. $29k in many parts of the US would be a reasonable, livable wage. Where I live, it would barely cover rent.

            1. A*

              Yup. This would by no means be considered a livable wage in my recently-ex area. I got sick of the rat race and still being unable to upgrade quality of life after tripling my salary – so I moved two hours outside the metropolitan city I had previously been in. Now I’m on track (after the world opens back up) to buy a house on my own, and am extremely comfortable financially. It isn’t necessarily possible for everyone, living the lifestyle they prefer, to afford to live in the most desirable and populous areas of the country. It’s unfortunate, but supply and demand. Unable to, or don’t want to, do what is needed to bring in the amount necessary to get by (in your preferred lifestyle) in that area? Time to find a new area.

              1. Flora*

                Course, sometimes the preferred lifestyle (or the field of employment for whatever reason) requires the area.

              2. Julia*

                What if your “preferred” area is literally your home? I was born in a capital city in Europe and cannot move back home becuase housing prices exploded, rich foreigners are buying luxury vacation condos while locals can’t find regular apartments, and companies are moving elsewhere. My family lives there, though.

                And don’t even get me started on gentrification…

              3. tempanon*

                The jobs I could get in low cost-of-living cities did not pay me enough to cover my monthly student loan burden and also rent and food. The jobs I could get in higher cost-of-living cities allowed me to cover my student loans, but also made rent and food cost more. It’s a deeply unpleasant bind.

            2. Dragon_Dreamer*

              Where I live and with my lifestyle, I could live comfortably, AND afford my own place!

        4. ThatGirl*

          I made *half* that — about $1200 a month — at my first job out of college. And yes, it was a low cost-of-living area, and I was damned lucky to not have student loans or any major living expenses beyond rent — which was $419 a month, I should add, and yes, it was 2003. But man, I didn’t make $2400 a month until 2009 or so, and I was glad to be making it, and by then I’d moved to a much larger metro area.

          It does depend a lot on the area you’re in and the line of work you’re in, though. There are still places in the US where you can get by just fine on $2400/month, and better yet if you’re in a dual-income household or have a roommate. You’re not out of line. But there are also places in the US where $2400/month will barely cover your rent – or not cover it at all. There are huge disparities in income in this country, and huge disparities in how much it costs to live in various places.

          1. ThatGirl*

            I’m actually realizing now my math is off, and it was 2400 after taxes; I was making about $20/hr in 2009. But either way. :)

        5. HelloHello*

          $2400 a month translates to $28,800 a year, which is a pretty unlivable wage in the US, especially if you have any dependents. For one, people making that low of a wage often have to pay for their own health insurance as well, which can be hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month. Rent in a large city is rarely under $1000 a month. Even if you’re living somewhere with a lower cost of rent, you likely also need to pay for a car (since outside of a handful of big, expensive cities America’s public transportation is not particularly great) which can be hundreds of dollars a month as well. Add any student loans/support for family/repayment of debt from medical emergencies/childcare cost/etc on to that, and you’re going to be hard pressed to not fall deeply into debt.

          1. PollyQ*

            And yet, the median wage for a full-time US employee is only just a bit higher than that — $31,000 per year.

            1. Jessie the First (or second)*

              WIki is out of date. Current median, publish by the BLS, is $957 per week. Household income data, as published by the US Census, is higher.

              In a large number of places, 31k means real struggle. Many people do live on it, but if it’s more than a family of one, it is *hard* to put food on the table at that income level. Unemployment assistance is meant to be temporary and isn’t supposed to be luxurious, but it should allow people to keep feeding their family with a roof over their heads. The supplement, IMO, is not at all too much.

              1. Artemesia*

                If a few people make a bit more than usual, fine. The billionaire class has added 50 billion to their wealth in the last two months.

            2. Mookie*

              Yeah, it’s a gas what people put up with and what is eventually regarded as acceptable, even generous.

              “Median,” of course, hardly denotes fair or equitable.

        6. Reba*

          $2400 doesn’t cover my rent. Cost of living varies so much in the US (also everywhere — I guess this is obvious :) )

        7. Jam Today*

          To illustrate where that $2400/month would go in my neighborhood, which is a little fancy but the only thing that impacts is rent, but even the lower boundary for that in my city is probably $1000 — everything else is a fixed cost:

          $1500 – rent for a 1br apartment
          $150 – car insurance
          $100 – phone
          $150 – internet / basic cable
          $600 – COBRA health insurance

          You can see that I am already $100 in the hole and I haven’t even bought groceries. I could cancel my internet/cable but internet is a basic utility so I’d at least have to have it on my phone, which is definitely sub-optimal for doing things like job searching and applying. I also own my car outright, but if I didn’t then tack on another $150/month for the car payment. Let’s say I cancel my cable/internet: now I have $50 left over for groceries, gas (assuming I’m going anywhere), clothing, household items (cleaning supplies, etc.) for the entire month. The only other thing I could conceivably turn the dial on would be the insurance *if* my state participates in the healthcare exchanges — that would drop about $300/month off that cost, unless I have a family in which case it wouldn’t. I know of some people who are paying $1200/month in health insurance premiums for family plans in other states.

          1. remizidae*

            Or get a roommate, bike instead of driving, use a discount phone service and access Internet at the public library. LOTS of people are living on $2400/month or less, and still saving and paying their bills.

            1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

              During the recession I survived in a major Northeast US city on $1050 a month.

            2. cryptid*

              Ah yes, libraries, notable for being open currently. And everyone wants to get a new roommate during a pandemic!

              1. HappySnoopy*

                Libraries in my area announced they’ve boosted their wifi signal, so you can get internet access from inside your car in the library parking lot.

                They’ve also upped # of items can check out using their virtual platform (audio and ebooks, magazines, shows, music, movies) And are doing virtual read along and promoting existing homework help online programs. Trying to do what they can.

            3. ...*

              exactly….. $2400 wouldnt go that far if you make expensive life choices and live in a trendy neighborhood…shocking

              1. ThatGirl*

                $1500 a month will get you a studio or small 1 BR in my not trendy suburb, so I’m not sure what you’re talking about…

              2. Jam Today*

                Ah yes the “make better choices!” refrain:

                I moved into my “trendy” neighborhood 17 years ago when the house across the street was a drug import/export business (that ended in a SWAT raid just as I was coming home from a date, which did not make the best impression on my gentleman companion), the one up the block was a brothel, and there was a drive-by murder at the other end of the street the two months prior. I moved there because I could afford it (having been gentrified out of my previous neighborhood x2) and I would walk or bike to everything — isn’t that what you want me to do? I have, in my “trendy” neighborhood, gotten my car broken into and the mirrors taken off 4 times, and had the pleasure of discovering someone climbing over my backyard fence at 4am. However: this is my home, my neighborhood, my community, and I’m hanging on by my fingernails because I got lucky in my career and could afford the upswing — up to a point. Moving to a place that knocked anything significant enough off my rent to be worth it would eliminate my ability to walk (or bike, your other suggestion) to most stores and things to do for fun in my area and take public transportation for the rest. My job is *currently* 13 miles away and would take me > 1 hour to bike, which I would do after dark on winding roads or in anything but the summer anyway due to slippery roads. Moving to a materially “more affordable” neighborhood would add 5-15 miles to that commute so I’m not sure how bike everywhere/live someplace cheaper are compatible here.

                Yes, I could become an ascetic and forgo all the comforts and conveniences of modern life, but I understood the conversation here to be about thriving, and not merely surviving. If plenty of people can “live” on suppressed wages, what is everyone complaining about? As long as you have running water, everything else is just poor life choices, right?

            4. BWooster*

              I didn’t realise public libraries were open at the moment. Or that getting a roommate was currently feasible. Or that you know a single thing about the person writing the comment that would allow you to lecture them like this.

            5. Groove Bat*

              It always amuses me how the “bike instead of driving” crowd is so oblivious to the realities of living in an area where the busy highway is the only way to get to work. Some people have nearly an hourlong commute by car; even if biking were possible that would triple the time. And public transportation in these areas is practically nonexistent.

              1. Jam Today*

                Or people who have mobility issues and can’t bike. People who bleat that refrain definitely tell on themselves when they do so.

              2. Massmatt*

                It is annoying; I biked a lot when I was younger but lived in a pretty pedestrian-friendly city, even then many people were surprised I biked everywhere or used public transit.

                Many people avoid the “trendy neighborhoods “ the commenter mentioned and commute large distances, or live in places where biking is otherwise unfeasible.

                Public transit is another common suggestion but a sad joke in many areas. In many areas you would be very hard pressed without a car. And It’s not as though many people making $25-30k can just buy a car or conjure a network of subways and buses.

            6. Jam Today*

              Get a roommate — 1br apartment, and I addressed the rent issue in my post, there is a floor
              Bike instead of driving — my office is 13 miles away, my aging parents are 100 miles away. I have to pay insurance/car payments just to own the car, whether I drive it daily or not. I will be going back into an office eventually, and I need to be able to get to my parents when they need me . I’m not going to sell my car at a loss to avoid a temporary downturn then buy a new one and lose thousands of dollars in the process.
              Discounted phone service — I’m grandfathered in on a plan I’ve had for 15 years that gives me free data, if I cancel it I’ll never get it back, its worth riding it out for that alone
              Internet at the public library — libraries are closed, and even if they weren’t I am not going to do a job interview in an open environment in a library (not to mention a telehealth doctor’s appointment)

              I’ve done the layoff thing x3. I’ve canceled cable, eaten nothing but tuna fish and noodles, even sold off my possessions back in the mid-90s. That is not a good solution to depressed wages; that is actually a very bad solution. Lots of people *are* living on that amount — and the national conversation is focused on them because their ability to stay ahead of things is significantly diminishedas a result. Do they have a savings? Can they afford a car breaking down? An unexpected pregnancy? The point is that people need to thrive, not just survive with the bare minimum and no room to cope with catastrophe.

              1. Law Office Anon*

                I live in one of the most expensive cities in the US- because that’s where the good doctors are and I’m finally able to actually live my life after decades of medical neglect. I had insurance, I was seeing doctors, but the best doctors don’t live in some podunk town in Pennsylvania. So, yeah, Imma continue to stay where the rent (and everything else) is high, because I need to.

            7. yala*

              “Or get a roommate, bike instead of driving”

              Biking really isn’t feasible in a lot of areas. Folks do it where I live, but it’s downright dangerous–the streets aren’t really good for it, and from April-October, it’s HOT. During the summer months it would be about unbearable. And everything is so spread out.

              As for roommates. I live with my brother and my best friend. I’m fortunate. But the older you get, the harder it gets to find roommates–everyone starts getting married and all. And at a certain point, living with strangers is just…exhausting and stressful. Makes it feel like home isn’t home anymore.

            8. Dust Bunny*

              Where do you put a roommate in a one-bedroom apartment?

              Not everywhere is that bikable–my city is getting better but it’s iffy and it’s also functionally summer for 2/3 of the year, so by the time I get anywhere I’m not presentable (it also rains heavily pretty regularly).

              I know everyone thinks everyone else should be better at this, but at some point you can’t save any more money and have a life that preserves your sanity and isn’t a logistical nightmare. A basic one-bedroom apartment to yourself shouldn’t be a luxury.

              1. planetmort*

                This is a really excellent point. We can do so many things in times of need and most of us do do them when required – we move in with others, or take in roommates, we downscale our activities and food, turn down our heat and turn off our AC, all that stuff. But there’s some weird fetish in the US that’s become more pronounced as I age that seems to hold that if you aren’t actually dying or homeless under a bridge, you’ve got nothing to complain about. I agree: a basic (not luxury, not huge) 1 bedroom apartment and the ability to move about without undue stress and eat reasonably are not things we should consider luxuries. They should be the baseline in a first world country.

            1. ASW*

              It depends on where you live. I’m paying almost $170 per month. I drive a Civic. No accidents, no tickets, I only drive 15 miles a day. I searched all over and couldn’t find anything cheaper. I paid about half of that and then it doubled in our part of the state after a major flooding event even though my car was not damaged and I have not had any claims.

              1. Jam Today*

                Same here, I have a 5 year old Civic, bought used, and a driveway to put it in so I’m not even parked on the street.

              2. Pennalynn Lott*

                Same. I pay $150/mo and drive an 8-year old car. Perfect driving record, park the car in my garage. It’s just the city that I live in. Too many people, not enough roads, and some *really* bad drivers. I don’t think I’ve ever driven to/from work and NOT seen an accident each way. And I have lots of different routes I take (depending on traffic). Surface streets, freeways, tollways, quiet residential streets, you name it. No matter which way I take, someone has smashed into someone else or crashed their car into a tree in the front yard of a house in the residential areas.

            2. KinderTeacher*

              I paid close to $200 a month when I was a K12 teacher living in Detroit from 2012-2014 driving a 2007 Mazda6. Location + Michigan being a no-fault state meant car insurance rates were awful. Rates dropped over a hundred dollars when I moved out of the city to go to grad school.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              Mine is about $115 for a six-year-old car. I drive more miles than average but I haven’t had a ticket in 15 years and haven’t made any claims.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I’m always astonished by how much it costs to have a phone in the US (or Australia) – I pay £20 a month which is $25 US ($38 AU) for unlimited calls and SMS and something like 20GB data which may as well be unlimited because I’ve never used it all, even on vacation. I guess our infrastructure is cheaper as the cables will all be shorter and not so many towers needed per person.

        8. Mid*

          I live in a metro area, and I pay on the low end of rent and it’s still over $1000/month. Just for rent. $2400 isn’t a bad wage, but it doesn’t go as far as one would think once you factor in taxes, health care, etc. But, on the other hand, my parents live in a rural area and could easily support two people on $2400 a month with room to spare.

        9. Amy Sly*

          As noted by many others, whether you can get by on $28K a year is very dependent on your location, with some areas that being perfectly adequate for a modest lifestyle and others that being completely impossible to live on by oneself.

          Another thing to note however is that when one compares median income and adjusts for purchasing power, the citizens of European countries like England and Germany are poorer than those of most US states, even taking into consideration all the government benefits. (Source: a paper from the Mises Wire entitled “If Sweden and Germany Became US States, They’d Be Among the Poorest States”) In 2018, the median income of a Swede was $27,167 — there’s a reason their most famous store sells cheap furniture for tiny apartments. When adjusted for cost of living, the median lowest US income is for New Yorkers who made $26,152 for the same year. A few other locations for 2018 with this methodology: Germany $25,528; UK $21,033; Mississippi $26,517, Colorado $35,059.

          The commentariat of AAM skews very professional (so high incomes expected), highly educated (so high student loan balances common), and urban (so high cost of living), which is why salary expectations are so high. (I remember the glee of getting my first two week paycheck with a comma (that is, four digits) in the amount less than five years ago. We were rolling in the money!) But yes, for the average American, these UI benefits are incredibly generous.

          1. Mama Bear*

            What one can get by without is very situation-specific. Not everyone can house a roommate, go without internet, and I certainly would not encourage someone to drop having a phone of some kind right now. Biking is location-specific. If your job is 20 miles of highway away, that’s not going to be feasible or safe. My rural hometown had one bus that came once an hour and didn’t go very far. Places that would normally offer wifi or Internet service are closed. There are no libraries or cafes available. These are unusual times. I’ve had my share of Ramen noodle in a cup (if I was fancy) days. I get it. But if your doctor is only doing telehealth, that wifi isn’t so optional (for example). I’m trying to help people cobble together plans B and C and D and it’s really hard to balance what they really need and what they can let go. Can’t sell the car if you think the boss might call you in a week or if it means you can’t drive to the store because you live in nowhere and there’s no store for miles and they certainly don’t deliver.

            Anyway, I think we need to remember that things are very different depending on where one lives, good and bad.

          2. Ominous Adversary*

            There doesn’t appear to be a paper by that name on the Mises Wire, setting aside that the site itself is pretty far out there.

          3. mrs__peel*

            “Even taking into consideration all the government benefits”

            Would love to see a breakdown of that. Most of the middle class Americans I know spend a huge chunk of their paychecks on health care, higher education (i.e., college tuition or loan repayments), and daycare costs due to lack of governmental support for those things. There’s a reason that the US generally ranks much lower than European countries on “quality of life” indices.

            1. Amy Sly*

              You can follow the link above to the Mises article which links to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development page where the income data was harvested, and each country has a link to a detailed breakdown of what was included in the income calculation.

            2. Koala dreams*

              I’m also curious about that. I see from the article that they included free (or subsidized) health-care, but the article didn’t mention subsidized education and daycare. I would think the situation would be very different depending on a person’s medical needs, family situation and such.

              1. mrs__peel*

                Student loan repayments are the biggest line item in my budget, personally! (Don’t go to law school, kids…)

          4. TechWorker*

            Totally agree that AAM skews professional and highly paid. Dubious that you can disregard or easily place value on non-monetary benefits – in a country with a functioning public health system you don’t have the risk of going bankrupt if you get sick (in general, not discounting rare/new diseases where folks might end up forking out for experimental treatment). I wonder how accurate the values in the report are at assigning value to those benefits. If you don’t get sick, they’re not worth a lot, if you get sick, they’re worth huge amounts – I’m not sure the ‘average’ worth really tells you very much.

            To put that another way – if poor Americans on average have more buying power than poor Europeans, that doesn’t necessarily prove the ‘safety net’ isn’t worse or that the very poorest in society are still having a crap time. (But yes, there is poverty in Europe as well! I am not disagreeing with that, though people having it tough everywhere doesn’t necessarily make it any less tough!)

            1. Amy Sly*

              And I’m certainly not trying to suggest that we have a great safety net. It’s just that when you start digging into the numbers, you realize that people both here and in Europe survive on amounts of money that many of the commentators here think are impossible.

              When white-collar Americans think of Europeans, they mostly think of their white-collar European equivalents — and there are plenty blue-collar Europeans working crappy industrial or service jobs for whom living by oneself in a flat in London or Paris is just as unattainable as living by oneself in an apartment in New York or DC is for Americans working crappy industrial or service jobs. And the same holds true in rural areas — a hundred year old cottage may be more charming to American eyes than a factory-built trailer, but that doesn’t make it any bigger or give it better amenities or make it more pleasant in bad weather or mean that the resident wouldn’t trade it for something bigger and better if they could afford to.

              Again, there’s a reason the big Swedish store specializes in cheap furniture for small apartments — because that’s all a lot of people can afford.

              1. TechWorker*

                Fun fact – I have strong memories of being at school in the U.K. and the general perception (not remotely corrected by teachers afaik I remember it coming up in English class) being that ‘Americans are rich’ – probably because people were mostly basing that on what they saw on film or reality tv. When I went to America as a child and saw huge trailer parks it did seem far worse than the U.K. (I’ve now obviously also seen fairly deprived areas in the U.K. and do broadly agree it’s not clear which is ‘worse’ – I’d still choose the healthcare!)

                1. Amy Sly*

                  I have a couple of friends who immigrated from England. When he was apartment hunting in DC, she had one absolute requirement — there had to be a shower instead of just a bathtub. She grew up in a quarter million pound house in the North; he in a several million pound house in London. Neither initially believed me when I told them that no place they would consider living in would lack that amenity.

                  Stories like that are what I think about when I hear about how much better off poor Europeans are than their American equivalents. Both sides consider things “luxuries” that the other side considers the bare minimum.

                2. Dust Bunny*

                  See, I’ve lived in enough crappy apartments that I’m all for the bathtub, because I once had a shower that was literally like 18″ square. I’m not that big but, frankly, it sucked. I don’t think it’s so much that showers are an overused luxury item in the US as that they’re just a cultural norm.

                3. Sacred Ground*

                  I used to travel seasonally for extended business in Tokyo, staying for months a time in a company-leased condo in a neighborhood of expats. I occasionally met Japanese people who had this same skewed idea that all Americans were rich because all the ones they’d met were rich or at least appeared so.

                  The Americans they’d met were mostly there on business, wearing expensive suits, living large, and spending on the company dime. Or were tourists who by definition have money to spend and are there to spend it. They were simply forgetting that the people who travel to Tokyo, whether as tourists or for work, are not exactly representative of the general US population and many are not even spending their own money.

                  I mean, my other job in the US at that time, when I wasn’t working seasonally in Tokyo, was driving for a car service. It’s a living, but that’s all it is.

              2. TechWorker*

                Also not sure the existence of IKEA proves *that* much, it’s now in a huge number of countries and mostly specialises in high production run good quality cheap furniture. If you’re renting a shit place in the U.K. and get Ikea furniture you’re probably fairly lucky (there are cheaper ways to acquire crap furniture :p) and I own a tonne of it despite earning way over minimum wage etc etc

              3. MsSolo*

                I’m curious about the living alone element – there’s definitely a perception (in the UK, at least) that by their 30s most single Americans are living alone or strongly aspire to. Some of that is the depiction of urban living in US TV, which is mainly apartments because it’s easier to build sets like that, but I’ve been surprised how common it is in novels and films as well. It’s hard to tell here, where as others have pointed out most of the commentariat are white collar professionals, whether living alone is genuinely common or something that only occurs within a very specific demographic.

                The majority of housing in the UK is still houses – in urban areas usually cheap Victorian terraces with no insulation and bad damp – so it’s pretty common to have 3-6 people renting a room each in a shared house, with a communal kitchen and bathroom. Rent here in my Northern city is usually about £400 pppm – much, much less than London, but even there you can still squeak under the £1k mark if you’re in a shared house in the right part of the city – and utilities are normally split between tenants (as someone else pointed out, our phone and internet is significantly cheaper than the US, though I think our energy costs tend to be higher). Certainly, I only know two people in their 30s who live alone by choice; others have very much chosen to share houses even where they could afford to live alone. It’s definitely causing some issues under lockdown because people make assumption when they see a group of millennials spending time together, forgetting the very good odds they are a single household.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  I won’t claim to have any sort of representational experience, but among my friends and coworkers, the pretty common pattern was to live with friends until they could afford to move out. If the house was big enough, they might move their spouse/significant other in until they could afford their own place. But I also know several single folks who bought a cheap house for themselves when they didn’t see any romantic entanglements on the line and decided they could afford it. Now, this was a 2 million person midwestern metro area with reasonable housing prices, and my friends were generally white collar computer folks, so mileage will certainly vary.

                  I think there’s a pretty common perception that roommates are for when you are young, but by your 30s you ought to be well-enough established to afford a place for just yourself and possibly a romantic companion. I’m not saying this perception is correct, just that it is common — I have a friend, who among other things, is employed by a news network for opinion commentary. She and her husband were in their forties with two grade school children before they could buy a house in the DC area.

                2. sb51*

                  There’s also laws in a lot of US areas against more than a certain number of unrelated people living “together”, which means that house-shares like that have to be under-the-table/illegal. Which tends to make landlords split the house up into multiple apartments, rented separately (which IS legal). There’s a ton of old houses split into 3 or 6 apartments (locally known as triple-deckers because they’re generally three stories high, and either 1 or two apartments per story depending on how big the house is). Some of them were built that way, some had extra tiny kitchen/bathrooms stuffed into what used to be a bedroom in order to split them apart.

                3. Dust Bunny*

                  Most US movies and tv shows aren’t all that realistic about living situations. They tend to depict characters as living in much nicer spaces than they could actually afford, because nobody wants to see the cast of Friends sharing a gritty walk-up with four other people. A waitress in New York is unlikely to have a sunny loft apartment.

            2. LifeBeforeCorona*

              This also illustrates why people stay in crappy and/or toxic jobs. If your health insurance is covered by your workplace, that is a big expense to carry on your own.

              1. Lancelottie*

                I know this was a huge deciding factor for me, as someone with multiple chronic conditions. There wasn’t much I wouldn’t put up with from a boss for the sake of keeping coverage.

        10. Gumby*

          To further blow your mind, it is not $2400 total per month, but $2400 *plus* what your unemployment payments would have been otherwise. My guess is that those amounts range from ~$300 to ~$500 per week. (CA max is $450/week.)

          Whether $2400/mo (or $4200, or whatever the total ends up being) is A Fine Wage is highly dependent on where you live in the US. And not just what state you live in, but area. But yes, in many and perhaps most places those are quite livable amounts. Not luxurious, but livable. But, as has been pointed out, the $600/week supplement only lasts for a few more months. After that, you go back to lower amounts ($1800/month in CA if you are at the max, assuming a 4-week month). And you have to job search with a ton of other people on the market at the same time.

          1. Mahkara*

            Yeah. When I lived in rural Kentucky, my three bedroom apartment was $700 a month. I had a coworker renting a MIL unit for $300 a month. My car insurance was also half of what it is in the Seattle area. Groceries and gas were cheaper too, as were splurges. (You could get a nice restaurant meal with a glass or two of wine for $20-$30 vs. $40-$60 for the same thing in the Seattle area.)

            So a Fine Wage really is heavily dependent on where you are.

        11. JaneLoe*

          $28,800 is not a “fine” wage for many people. It is a low wage for most, especially since that is a pre taxed amount.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            In Las Vegas, not a particularly expensive city, that’s a Barely Getting By wage. For one person.

        12. Jane*

          The value of money varies so much between places, however. Where I live, the current market rate for a bedroom in a shared house is about $1300, unless you’ve lived there forever and have rent control. A two bedroom apartment would run be about 2600/month.

          I’m in a smaller city that is near more expensive ones, and unfortunately used as a bedroom community for those more expensive places.

          My budget for 2400/month would be:
          $360 taxes
          $400 health costs (insurance, healthcare. Bare minimum.)
          $1100 rent
          $40 internet (would need to downgrade)
          $40 phone (would need to downgrade)
          $460 groceries and everything else.

          Would it be doable? Sort of, if I ate a lot of lentils and it didn’t last long. The only grocery store in walking distance is expensive and I would not have money to own a car.

        13. Amber*

          It completely depends on the location. For example when I lived in California, the monthly rent for my small 1 bedroom apartment was $2200 per month. I’ve since moved to Washington state and my rent is $1750.

        14. BigRedGum*

          it’s not a super great wage. i bring home, in my pocket, just over $3000 a month. my mortgage is $1350. Car payment (almost done!) $340. but my student loan payments are over $700 a month. it’s INSANE. I am a single parent & I am also putting my kiddo through college. I am not destitute or hitting the poverty line by any means, but I barely have a savings account. one disaster will set me back a year. i’m no where near the median household income.

          I’m hoping to be accepted into the Masters of Business program here, and that could make a huge impact on my income. we will see.

    5. Finding My Purpose*

      I’m furloughed right now, and I’m making quite a bit more now than when I was working. My employer is also generously paying my entire insurance premium.

      I wish I were working. I’m missing the purpose and the drive I have at work. I have colleagues who are still working, telling me they are jealous of me and my situation, but I’m miserable. I’m dedicating some of the “overage” in my income to community needs, including my childrens’ teachers (special needs pre-k and lower elementary). They deserve it more than I.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I would be absolutely making more money if I was furloughed that I make working, if we are talking UI+$600/week, ever after taxes. Like, $10k per year more (if it lasted the whole year). Than I have ever made working.
        I work a white collar office job, and exempt.
        Medical insurance would be questionable though.

      2. virago*

        For anyone reading this who doesn’t know the details of the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits, it does *not* last the whole year. It lasts until the end of July.

        (I just wanted to make that clear. It seems as if there’s a huge segment of the US peanut gallery that thinks that people are getting paid an additional $600 more a week for the rest of their lives.)

    6. Safetykats*

      Also, unemployment benefits aren’t taxed. So they may not be making “more” overall – they may just have a higher take-home than before.

  3. Dagny*

    Months from now, companies will have a choice of hiring two different people: those who lost their jobs during this mess with no ability to have kept it, and those who decided that the extra money from unemployment was worth more than their job. Can’t imagine that the latter group will be getting many job offers in a tough market.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Oh, they can probably finesse their way around it. But when potential new job calls for a reference, this is not going to look good at all. I bet they’re not really looking at that.

    2. mrs__peel*

      I doubt that’s true– I think a lot of people hiring will understand that many people basically had to stay home (e.g., due to health risks, taking care of their kids while schools and daycares were closed, etc.)

      1. Just J.*

        Remember the recovery after 2008? Employers could be very picky about whom they chose to hire. They will check references. I doubt they will look kindly on people who tried to game the system.

        1. Alice*

          People who try to game the system by… [checks notes] staying home to supervise their children whose schools are closed?

          I mean, I don’t doubt that there are employers who will be that “picky” (although I would use some other adjectives). But just because they can be “picky” doesn’t mean it’s good business strategy, or ethical.

          1. ShanShan*

            Also, is choosing voluntarily to make less money an admirable quality in an employee?

            I can’t imagine it would be, for any employer who wasn’t planning to underpay their employees.

            As far as I can tell, the only thing choosing to remain on unemployment for more money rather than returning to work for less money says about an employee is that they know the difference between a large number and a small one.

            1. Eeeek*

              It also says they’re quite short sighted. The extra money lasts til July. Then you need a job that pays that well and you previously weren’t in a job that pays that well. So within three months you need a new, better, higher paying job in the middle of a recession. Good luck to those who choose that!!

              1. Specks*

                Well, speaking of being short-sighted, where is the guarantee the employer will keep them on the payroll for more than the few weeks the PPP covers? This employer laid them off when the government wasn’t paying their wages through PPP. As soon as that subsidy runs out, who’s to say the employees won’t be out of a job again and trying to go through unemployment applications again (which isn’t easy right now with how overwhelmed the system is)? Would the OP be willing to guarantee to employees that they will continue to pay their wages in the future, past the 2 months and past July? If not, how is this short-sighted at all? In the meantime, they would’ve made less money and had to endanger themselves by going to work, and for what? So their employer could get a low-interest, partially forgivable loan? There’s absolutely no guarantee that even with the PPP this business will survive, hire them back, or anything else along those lines that will make the employees’ sacrifice Of extra money for their families worth it. I see OPs point of wanting to get this money for their business and do not fault them for it. But let’s not pretend like they have some sort of high moral road and employees that don’t immediately jump back as soon as the business that laid them off needs them back temporarily again are some sort of lazy deviants.

                1. ShanShan*

                  Yeah, this might just be the field I work in (academia) making me deeply cynical, but placing long-term faith in an employer over personal self-interest has never served me or anyone I work with well. Trusting an employer to repay your short-term sacrifices over the long term is a fool’s errand these days. I thought we already learned that back in 2008.

              1. Stef*

                People are incredibly short-sighted. I work for Lowes as a cashier and we’ve been so busy all day every day. Every day is like a Saturday. People spend over $1,000 on flowers/plants/shrubs and between $600-$5,000 on home improvement stuff. I’m thinking to myself how can people afford all of this extra stuff when they’re unemployed and getting unemployment? People put it on the credit card, and they’ll do the minimum payments. If I was them, I’d be stuffing everything away and only spending money on items I really need (food, toiletries, shavers, ect . . .).

                1. Massmatt*

                  Well, not EVERYONE is out of work, many people are still working, and many of them are working from home so home improvement/beautification is a higher priority. Many people are saving time they’d ordinarily be in a car or train commuting so they have more time for home improvement projects.

                  A lot of it is probably people dealing with stress, I have noticed yeast and most kinds of flour are sold out everywhere I’ve looked over the past couple months, some people stress-bake, others do gardening.

                  That said, many people ARE digging deep holes for themselves with credit cards and failure to have enough tax withheld. April 2021 is going to be really rough for a lot of people.

                2. Perpal*

                  Mmm, not gonna lie I understand the urge; stuck at home with no employment; fix up the house and make it awesome! maybe it is because they are still getting money from UI, maybe they hope the investment will see return if they sell the property some day, IDK. Maybe it was money they were going to spend on travel but can’t now.
                  I admit I am boggling a bit at the figures but if I had been saving and planning for it anyway, in some ways now might seem like a perfect time. I think it’s not unreasonable to be optimistic for the future.

                3. mrs__peel*

                  The numbers of hours worked by the average American has been steadily climbing over the years (to a degree that many people in other countries consider unhealthy). Realistically, this is maybe the only free time that some people will have for a few years to do these kinds of home improvement projects.

                  I’m still working full-time from home, but I’ve started to do some projects around the house (both for my mental health and because I have nothing better to do, since I can’t leave the house much).

                4. Stef*

                  I just don’t understand why hundreds and hundreds of people are coming into our stores when you can order online or do outside pickup. You risk infecting us, and our store has had 10 employees who have gotten sick with the virus.

        2. lazy intellectual*

          Not game the system. People have to consider real health risks when it comes to returning to work. Don’t underestimate people’s intelligence – most people know their unemployment benefits are temporary. They are hoping that the benefits will last until the whole health risk blows over. Let’s not shit on people who are in a very difficult situation.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — people aren’t going to say “I didn’t return to work because I made more on unemployment.” They’re going to say they had other reasons, like the ones you cite.

        1. Flyleaf*

          But if they check references, the former employer might say “He didn’t return to work when I offered them their job back at their former salary. He said he was making more on unemployment.”

        2. Sacred Ground*

          If a laid-off employee is offered their original job back, same position, same hours, same pay, how are they still eligible for unemployment at all, with or without the supplement?

      3. mrs__peel*

        And, honestly, if I was hiring and found out that someone was making more money on unemployment, my first thought would be “Wow, was that employer paying anything close to a living wage to begin with?” Not “Oh, that employee was really taking advantage of the situation”.

        Not saying that this applies to OP, but many employers pay low wages and then get bent out of shape when their employees make choices that are in their own economic self-interest.

        1. Yep*

          This employer said she’s paying $20/hr which is a liveable wage and also that’s all she can afford to pay in order to stay in business

          1. mrs__peel*

            I’m not necessarily talking about this particular employer, but rather what people who do hiring at companies generally will be thinking about in the next few months.

            I’ve been involved in hiring committees in the past, and I don’t think I would draw the conclusions that are mentioned in the comment I was responding to.

        2. Mel_05*

          People who were working at companies that don’t pay a living wage will also be interviewing at companies that don’t pay a living wage.

          There won’t be shock that they made more on unemployment. Everyone did.

          But also, the current benefits are SO much more than most people make in my area.

          I have a professional job. Even when I was getting paid market rate for my work (I took a pay cut for a better commute – worth it) I wasn’t close to making as much.

          No employer here would be shocked that people were making more on unemployment. No one here is paying more for anything that isn’t management level or higher. Sometimes not even for that.

      4. Dagny*

        But the employees aren’t telling their manager that they have childcare duties; they are telling her that they would rather get paid more money. That is what will come up in a reference check.

        You’re also assuming that the extra $600/month will last longer than the virus. Good luck telling a new employer that you left your job because of childcare duties when the schools are still shut down, or that it’s because of your own health risks when the thing makes a resurgence in the autumn.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          People reassess risk as conditions change all the time. It’s not unreasonable to say that you stayed home for childcare or health/safety reasons, and legitimately were able to weight them differently because UI was available. If push comes to shove and people need to eat, that might reasonably make them take risks they had previously deemed not worth it.

          1. Dagny*

            Please. Everyone knows this is happening. When you send out a resume on 01 August, along with ten million other people, the assumption is not going to be that this is some “reassessment” of childcare duties. The assumption WILL BE that you stayed on unemployment while it paid more.

        2. mrs__peel*

          Schools and daycares could very well still be closed later in the year, as the virus is predicted to have a resurgence in the fall. Health risks could still be in play as well.

    3. Tui*

      This is oddly moralising. Jobs are what you do to get money. If your staff are paid so little that they’re making more from unemployment insurance I couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to return to work.

      1. Nobody Here by That Name*

        Very much this. If a $600 bump on top of a fraction of their former pay is a significant increase in their income, then they weren’t making very much before they were laid off to begin with. Not only that, but the “game the system” narrative ignores the issue of benefits. How many of these laid off employees (in general, not pointing any fingers at OP) still have health coverage thanks to their old job, or was that taken from them as well? Even if they have COBRA it’s still significantly more expensive than employer-covered insurance.

        I’m not saying there may not be people gaming the system somewhere, but it’s a leap to assume surely everyone must be without considering all the factors.

        1. Captain Kirk*

          Well, I think it depends. I know there have been complaints about some people treating this like extended vacation, whether that’s working on house projects, going hiking, whatever. So as long as you were at least breaking even (and according to CNBC, the threshold is about $63k per year in Washington, for example, although in other states it will be less), you might be thinking, why not stay home and still get paid, even if it’s only a temporary vacation?

          It’s horribly unethical and illegal, but you can’t say it’s going through at least some peoples’ heads.

          1. kt*

            Is it really *horribly* unethical and illegal? We live in a world where our employers need to put business above people — not always, but certainly businesses with shareholders are legally required to prioritize the interests of shareholders — and in a country where no one is going to take care of us. Plenty of government programs to help out regular people have been shown to be mismanaged: before COVID-19, there was the loan forgiveness program run by the Department of Education for teachers, etc., through which no one could get forgiveness; there was Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; there are SNAP benefits being cut and Section 8 housing that ensures people who’ve served time in prison can’t go back to live with their families; there is a “benefits cliff” that ensures that people on disability can’t earn too much or they’ll lose their health care. And that’s before the PPP program and the small business loans and the COVID-19 tests that are “free” and “everywhere” but that you have to be hospitalized to get, and then you have to pay $700 for the incidental charges.

            With all that — what are ethics, really?

            So you have three kids and your daycare is closed and your schools are closed and you figure you can finish the deck, which you never got around to doing, and you’re making more on unemployment than at work. How horribly unethical that you’ve finished that deck in your backyard.

            WTF else are you supposed to do when you’ve got three kids and can’t go anywhere?!

            1. ShanShan*

              As far as I can tell, the only difference between “treating it as an extended vacation” and “treating it like a global crisis that has forced you to stay home or risk death” is the amount of self-flagellation and depression involved in taking exactly the same actions.

              I have no desire to be shamed for taking the most responsible course of action which will save thousands of lives, and I don’t think I help anybody by feeling like crap about it.

              1. Captain Kirk*

                I didn’t mean that there aren’t people with perfectly valid reasons to be home, but you can’t deny that some people are treating this all like one big joke. Here, we had people flooding to the Coast and to the Gorge, acting like it’s just an extension of Spring Break. And the home improvement stores sure are busy.

                1. Caliente*

                  I mean I’m working at home and helping the kid with school and homework AND I started a side biz and I started an online class and we did a home improvement project. Just saying, just cuz you did home improvement doesn’t mean you’re treating covid like a joke…

                2. GrooveBat*

                  What would you have them do? Sit home in a dark closet, rocking back and forth, waiting for the office to reopen?

                3. Sacred Ground*

                  Yes, home improvement stores are busy. Why wouldn’t they be? With people staying at home, not ALL of whom are broke and busted, there’s plenty of home projects to do and time to do them. Look at the gigantic and sudden shift to WFH. In pretty much every one of those shifts, people are having to come up with home office/work space where they didn’t before. This can easily be a project unto itself, even if it’s just a room divider and some shelves. Also, I see those lots full of contractors’ vans and trucks, which itself is the same as always.

                  So I’m not seeing why busy home improvement stores is an indicator that people are relaxing and hanging out, as opposed to working, at home.

            2. cryptid*

              I don’t always want to be able to upvote comments but this one deserves it. Thank you.

            3. JaneLoe*

              I think this is a valid point. We are supposed to hold ourselves to the standard that our “morales” align with being employed even when that might not be in our best interest for infinite number of complex reasons.

              1. Captain Kirk*

                I’m not calling it unethical and illegal because of some moral responsibility to be working. I’m calling it “illegal” because it is in fact illegal. You are defrauding others of money. You may argue it’s ethically OK, but it’s still illegal.

                And, of course, sometimes what is illegal is still ethical. But this is not ethical either. I cannot in good conscience defraud others of unemployment benefits if I am not due them. Maybe you can. Obviously other people commit fraud and get away with it. But just because others get away with fraud doesn’t make then make it right for me to do it. Every action we take contributes to our society as a whole. When we commit unethical actions, we drag our society further in the mud, and further normalize the behavior. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

                And I’m really disappointed because it feels like we’re all getting grouchy at each other, and I’m feeling like I need to stop reading the site because the community is just degrading into these spats.

            4. sequined histories*

              So much this.
              In the USA, we have endless moralizing about the importance of a strong work ethic, but little concern for the working poor and minimal enforcement of laws meant to protect workers from discrimination. We’re more or less okay with the fact that a lot of people can’t even retire and will lose everything if they can’t work.
              There’s lots of understanding, though, for the fact that businesses are in business to make money; thus, it’s perfectly reasonable that they fire people the second it’s unprofitable to employ them. That’s not considered “horribly unethical and illegal”—far from it!
              Obviously, the OP should hire new people if that’s what she needs to do to keep her business afloat. More power to her, if her business can survive this horrible crisis.
              But assuming that ordinary people who don’t rush back to their jobs at the first possible opportunity are unethical grifters? That just doesn’t make sense to me. I mean, if the first few months of unemployment benefits had just been more generous to begin with, we wouldn’t even have needed to come up with this awkward +$600 fix in the first place! But our public policies are predicated on the idea that nothing is more insidious than being too generous to ordinary people who are going through a hard time.

        2. De*

          “If a $600 bump on top of a fraction of their former pay is a significant increase in their income, then they weren’t making very much before they were laid off to begin with.”

          Are you aware that we are talking about $600 per week? $2500 ($600 times 4.2 weeks in a month) + some of your former pay being a significant increase does not mean your pay was low. I looked at what unemployment pays in WA, for example, and for someone who made an average of $3500 a month before, they’d get about $400/week in unemployment. Together with the $600, that’s $1000 a week = $4200 a month. A 20 percent pay raise, and 42K is hardly a wage close to poverty.

          1. Health Insurance Nerd*

            But that $42k is inflated because the extra $600 a week is only temporary.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        This. Why do employees owe loyalty to an employer (that furloughed them during a crisis, and may still lay them off, and could fire them at any moment even in good times) over their own economic self-interest? That’s absurd.

        1. ShanShan*

          I don’t even think it’s necessary to be upset with or unhappy with the employer to do this.

          I’m sure this employer hated having to furlough employees, but they still did it, because financially speaking they had no other choice.

          In the same way, an employee can feel loyal to an employer and feel terrible about not returning, but still choose not to return if it makes the most financial sense.

        2. Eeeek*

          I honestly don’t think not returning is in their economic best interest. They’re being offered their same job back at their previous rate which is fair and in this case it’s $20 which is a living wage in the USA and depending where you are is a quite good hourly rate. And yes I know cities are expensive. Unemployment is giving extra $$ for a couple months and technically turning down this job offer voids unemployment eligibility. So their option isn’t 20 an hour or 30 an hour. It’s 20 and hour or 0 because if they choose not to come back they won’t get unemployment bc they turned down legit, comparable work. So they’re choosing to make $0. That’s not in their economic best interest.

            1. Amaranth*

              A lot of people don’t seem to be thinking of it as being under actual UI restrictions, rather than some sort of stimulus. If they don’t have another qualification for staying on UI, I’m guessing the government will eventually be trying to get any overpayments back. I’ve read a couple of people rant online that employers should hold their jobs back but not offer them until UI runs out, which is when it gets too ridiculous for me. Your employer isn’t responsible to help you game the system.

        3. Brett*

          It might not really be in their economic self-interest, depends on their current financial situation and their ability to find a new job after July 31.
          Looking at the person making $30/hr on unemployment versus $20/hr employed.
          They come out significantly ahead between now and July 31, $5600 ahead. That’s a ton of money.
          But if they don’t find a job after July 31, that evaporates quickly. By September 16, they are breaking even.
          By November 4th, they are $5600 behind.

          1. schnauzerfan*

            Not to mention benefits the employer might provide. Medical insurance, dental insurance, pension or 401K match, profit sharing, etc.

            I’ve had this conversation in a slightly different context with people who decided to throw in a state job where you benefits equal about 33% of your pay for a waitstaff job where you can make “twice as much in tips” during tourist season. The money in your pocket at the end of your shift, or from now until July, is only part of the picture.

            1. mgguy*

              Retirement matching(I have a 403b, but it’s for all intents and purposes the same as a 401K) is a big deal except when it isn’t :) .

              Normally we get 7.5% even with no contribution from us, and they match an additional 2.5%, so in other words my employer contributes 10% for a 2.5% employee contribution. That’s unusually good I realize.

              Except that can go away in a second-contributions/matching have been suspended at least through the end of the year for us.

              1. Anon advisor*

                I work as a financial advisor, your employer contribution is unusually high for the private sector but not unusual for the public sector unless you also get a substantial pension. Many governments have moved away from traditional pensions towards making a defined contribution to a 403b or other type of plan.

                It is astonishing how many people don’t contribute to their retirement plan even when they get a substantial match from their employer.

                An even larger number contribute only the amount that gets matched, nothing more. When some employers suspended matching during the 2008 crisis many employees stopped contributing, even if they were still working. Many never resumed even when employers started matching again.

                1. mgguy*

                  I’m at a public R1 university, and yes I know that’s unusually high even by the standards of a lot of similar institutions.

                  I’m actually leaving at the of the summer, mostly for personal reasons, but also to take a better job(tenure track faculty vs. staff) at a smaller state school in a different state. The only retirement option there is a mandatory 8.5% employee to the state retirement system, and since I also won’t be paying social security at the new job I’m planning on tossing the money that would otherwise be coming out for that into an IRA.

                  There are a lot of organizational/higher up issues at my current employer that make be glad to leave, but there are things I’ll miss(including my coworkers and direct supervisor) in addition to how great the retirement is.

                2. mrs__peel*

                  It’s not that “astonishing” if you consider that wages have been stagnant for decades, while the costs of things like housing, health care, and higher education have exploded. A lot of people just don’t have the money, including many people who are ostensibly middle class.

                  I’m a “white collar professional”, but I only contribute the minimum 401K amount required to get the full employer match (6%) because the rest of my paycheck is already spoken for by things like student loan repayments.

                  What I managed to scrape together in a savings account vanished last year due to medical bills from a single surgery. (My employer-provided health insurance has an out-of-pocket maximum of up to $10K for an individual and $20K for a family, which is not at all uncommon).

                3. AntsOnMyTable*

                  I work for a hospital and get a 403b match and mine is for max 4% if you put in 4%. I am starting to feel that is very low.

        4. Dagny*

          In the long term, demonstrating that you are employable, building job skills, and developing a good reputation in your field is in your best interest.

      3. Niktike*

        Exactly. If I could make more money by not working that by working, why on earth would I choose to work for an employer? Time I spend working is time I spend away from my family, my friends, my hobbies, my self-improvement, my side projects, etc. I don’t go to work because it’s fun, I go to work because they pay me.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Because it’s fraudulent; you can’t legally collect unemployment if you’ve turned down suitable work.

          And also because it might be a lot harder to find a job when the supplement runs out in July, but who knows.

          1. Eeeek*

            Right, you can’t legally collect it so it’s a non starter. You can go back and make 20/hr or turn your job down and have nothing.

            1. doreen*

              Or they can try to continue to collect unemployment, hope that they don’t get caught , and then when July comes around find out that 1) The LW hired replacements so that job is no longer available and
              2) The only jobs available pay $15 hour or less.

              It’s one thing to not return if you really have no choice- child care or school is still closed or you have been advised by a health care provider to quarantine. It’s really kind of short-sighted to do so when you don’t know you will be able to get a comparable job after the extra $600 runs out in July.

              1. ShanShan*

                The LW could lay them off or lower their pay to $15 an hour even if they do come back. They will quite likely have to once their loan runs out, in fact. Coming back guarantees nothing.

                1. XRae*

                  Coming back guarantees that IF they are laid off again after the PPP money runs out… they will still be able to LEGALLY collect unemployment benefits.

        2. Cassidy*

          You can’t exchange unemployment for your current rate of pay out of dissatisfaction with that rate. That isn’t what UI is for. It’s maddening the number of people who don’t understand this.

      4. Chinook*

        In what world is $20/hr being paid poorly? That is a good paying job that is no where near minimum wage even in places with a $15 minimum wage.

        While there is a definite need for some people to stay home longer than others, it would be naive to think that no one is gaming the system. And, if someone is stupid enough to admit this to their employer, it makes me wonder what they are doing that they won’t admit to.

        1. D#*

          $20 an hour is the bare minimum of what is considered a living wage for a single adult in many parts of the country, and not enough to raise even one child. It’s not actually that much.

          1. Eva*

            In some parts of the country, yes. But right now even in what I’ve seen listed as one of the “richest” suburbs in the entire U.S., I only make $20/hour at my job after over five years there.

            If it was a sole income for a family then no, it wouldn’t be doable, but it’s certainly beyond the norm here for the work I do. I can’t imagine there’s any retail around here that’s paying that kind of money, I certainly never got that kind of money in the ten years I worked retail, even in the same geographic area that I’m in now.

            It’s probably best for everybody if we don’t try to apply the numbers and lessons of one geographic area onto another when it comes to suitable wages unless we have a lot of expertise in those specific geographic areas. As we don’t know where the letter writer lives, none of us can do that.

            1. D#*

              Minimum wage, average wage, and living wage are all different measurements. I don’t think the minimum wage is a living wage anywhere in the country, not sure about average. Just because its common and typical doesn’t mean its good! Business owners should admit that they aren’t able to pay a living wage and be profitable. That’s the real reason the minimum wage hasn’t been raised in so long – many of us are essentially subsidizing the businesses we work for by working for less than a living wage. Obviously making $20 an hour is a lot in most job markets, but the conditions that created these wages are really messed up.

              1. Eva*

                I agree that the conditions that created those wages is really messed up, that’s completely true.

                But there are vast, vast swaths of the U.S. where $20/hour _is_ a living wage, along with being an above average one. It’s not just that it’s a lot of money in that market compared to what other jobs are paying, it’s that the cost of living in that market is also in line with those types of wages.

                There are a lot of business owners who are only still in business by exploiting their employees and not paying a living wage, that is very, very true. But we just do not have even a tenth of the information we’d need to have to know if this letter writer is one of them, so I err on the side of assuming they aren’t because it makes my day go a little bit better in the end.

                1. Mel_05*

                  Yes, exactly. It’s really cheap to live where I’m at. Food, housing, taxes, all low.

                  $20 an hour isn’t a *wild* amount of money here – lots of people make that much at factory jobs or in technical jobs, but it’s a very reasonable, very livable amount and for most of my adult life, I’ve lived on less.

              2. LifeBeforeCorona*

                $20 an hour here in a medium-size city is a good wage. However, if I could choose I’d be in another region where the $20 is equivalent to $30. I did the math because earlier this year I was considering making a move. Covid happened and now nothing can happen until the fall and maybe not even then.

            2. RussianInTexas*

              Yeah, in my part of the country, $20/hour is not great, but it’s completely livable, especially if you don’t have dependents.
              Large metro area here.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              I lived on $12 for years by myself from about 2003 until 2009. Rented my own apartment and everything.

              1. ...*

                me too at $15/hr lived on my own as well and before everyone says yes thats possible but only in rural alabama, i was in chicago.

        2. Lora*

          Depends where you live. Where I live (major metro area which until recently had very low unemployment) that’s a pittance – you’d still need to have multiple roommates or live with your parents, and even jobs fresh out of college pay quite a bit more. Cashiers at big box stores make $16/hour here; our minimum wage is $12.75/hour. Plus, OP hasn’t indicated whether these are skilled or unskilled jobs – they may need someone with specific skills / education / certifications, which costs a lot more. Can’t assume from the letter this is the type of job where they can use anyone with a pulse.

          I mean, some jobs and some companies that’s how it is – you pay entry level rates, you get people using you as a training ground to get experience on their resume and have constant turnover. That’s how it is. Best thing you can do to attract employees in that case is put together a really good training program to attract more newbies to apply. That’s OK, just know where you stand.

        3. Potatoes gonna potate*

          $20 hr translates to $41600 a year. That’s the starting wage for junior employees in my industry, it’s really not that high. Esp in NYC.

        4. A*

          I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s ‘being paid poorly’ as OP stated it is above market value for the line of work – but in my area (~2 hours outside a major metropolitan area, but definitely rural and lots of farm land) $20/hr is barely enough to scrape by. It’s enough for one person to rent and live paycheck to paycheck bare bones *maybe*, but certainly not much beyond that. The deep south is the only area of the US I’ve lived in where $20/hr would translate to a decent quality of life.

          My only point is that while it might be a livable wage in many (if not most) parts of the US, it isn’t in the metropolitan cities / more desirable areas (not based on my standards / opinion – just supply and demand).

          So I was a bit surprised to see your ‘where in the world!’ comment. Many, many, MANY places.

        5. mgguy*

          It definitely is a regional thing. I have a masters in a STEM field and employed in a job where that degree is both necessary and I use the knowledge from it on a daily basis, and I have a lot of specialized qualifications that I make use of several times a month(or at least did pre-plague) and save my employer $10-20K on a service call every time I put that knowledge to use. When I first took this job, it was because I needed SOMETHING and it was pitifully low-under $14/hour(in 2015). I’ve proved my work ethic and value to them, and fought tooth and nail to get that up. I was at $20 an hour for a while, and even though I’m salaried I’m now making just short of $25/hour($48K/year). That’s an above average for my area. I’ll be furloughed for 7 weeks here in a 2 weeks(my employer is bleeding money and I’ve run out of remote work to do) and at the state max of $532/week+$600/wk CARES I’ll be making more than normal salary(with them continuing to pay health insurance). In fact, they’re furloughing everyone under $59K because that’s the break-even point for no loss in income for my state.

        6. Rear mech*

          Average 1 bedroom apartments in my city are $1200/mo, $20/hr At 40 hrs/week is not enough to qualify. Plus, so many jobs just won’t schedule you 40 hours due to a busy day potentially causing overtime. Or you get cut on slow days and frequently work only 25 or 30 hrs but don’t have a predictable schedule that lets you get a 2nd job..

      5. OP*

        OP here- employees are making an additional $600 a week. Our wakes are significantly higher than the national average (service industry), and I’m proud to pay my employees well.

        1. A*

          I do think it might be worth looking into why so many of your former employees seems to think they will be able to find comparable paying positions once their UI benefits have run out. I don’t doubt you pay competitively, but please keep in mind that national averages are heavily skewed by large portions of the US that are lower cost in living. If you are paying 120% over the average in your immediate area, than – hoozah! – but against the national average for the service industry it’s a shaky metric.

          My only point is that if you are truly compensating 120% above anything else they can reasonably expect to find in this line of work – I highly doubt there would be multiple individuals willing to gamble that on a few weeks of extra cash.

          Not at all trying to pile on, just an observation. I wish you the best of luck, it’s a tough spot to be in for sure.

          1. TechWorker*

            Its also possible OPs employees aren’t thinking through the long term at all, or are worried that even if they go back the company might still go under so their current priority is ‘getting as much money as possible in the short term’ rather than keeping a job. Even if it’s a good job! I don’t know why we’d assume OP is wrong in their assessment of whether the wages are good for these roles.

        2. Mel_05*

          It sounds like you’re paying a *wonderful* amount. I’m a professional graphic designer in a semi-rural area and I’ve only ever made that much when I worked in marketing for a pretty large company.

          I know plenty of people who work in the service industry who don’t make even as much as I do.

      6. Anne Elliot*

        “This is oddly moralising. Jobs are what you do to get money. If your staff are paid so little that they’re making more from unemployment insurance I couldn’t blame anyone for not wanting to return to work.”

        I agree it’s oddly moralizing, but for a different reason. The odd moralization I see is the OP-employer beating herself up for replacing staff who she has asked to come back to work and who have declined. Because you’re right: employees work for money. And business owners run businesses for money, so in this case both parties are making reasonable business decisions, and neither side needs to feel apologetic about it.

        To me, the moral duties of the employer in this situation are: (1) to offer the open jobs to existing staff first (meaning, let them come back, don’t replace with cheaper); and (2) to not screw the employees, meaning paying them the same or more than they made before.

        But once you’ve made that offer, if the employee doesn’t want to return, then there’s no harm or foul on either side and certainly not any reason for the employer to feel bad, IMO. I would sincerely wish my former employees well and then I would replace them without turning a hair.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yeah, it seems that OP offered the jobs back and many of these people have said ‘nah I’m good, I’m getting $X more right now on unemployment’ hence my suggestion on another thread below to lay them off in that case and recruit others to do the work OP actually needs done — because OP offered it to these people but they refused.

      7. Mel_05*

        It’s not necessarily “so little” though.

        I was mildly under market value (with tons of perks to make up for it, it’s a great job) before I was laid off.

        I made plenty of money at that job. I make more now that I’m laid off.

        I’m grateful to have some extra money to ease the stress of this time. And I think the beefed up benefits made it any easy choice for my employer to lay us off for a bit to save the company.

        But, it’s not like I was destitute before. I’ve made around the same amount (adjusting for inflation) for most of my adult life. It’s not an extravagant life, but it’s very livable.

        Whenever my employer asks me to come back I’ll be glad to step back in for my normal paycheck. It won’t make sense go get more whole I can at the expense of a good job and certainly it would hurt future employers opinion of my judgement. How could it not?

    4. MusicWithRocksIn*

      My main concern would really be that it’s going to be so much harder to find a job once this is all over – so many people will be unemployed, a lot of businesses will have gone under. I would rather be making less right now with a guarantee of a job then be making more on unemployment with no idea what is gonna happen once all the extra money runs out.

      1. Blueberry*

        Yes, this. And it hurts my soul to say it — I don’t at all want to disagree with the idea that workers should generally be paid more, nor seem to agree with the idea that employees should be Grateful Just To Have A Job and should grovel before employers and [metaphorically] lick their boots and [literally] never ever complain about anything.

        But right now I would definitely advise most people who didn’t have another reason (such as childcare or increased health risk) to go back to work rather than staying on unemployment.

        1. Specks*

          But where is the guarantee that businesses that had to lay people off immediately (and had to rehire using the PPP) will 1) keep their workforce once the PPP runs out (only a few weeks, faster than unemployment!) instead of laying them right back off; and 2) will actually make it through this recession? You might end up out of a job regardless, but having made/saved less money in the meantime.

          1. Blueberry*

            That’s another reason it hurts my soul to say this, yes. But if one doesn’t return to work one’s now-previous employer will probably have one taken off UI anyway.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t think it’s going to be that big of deal, it depends on what the managers say in the end.

      I’m not giving anyone a bad reference because they decided to reject an offer because of their “reasons” during this crisis. I’d just say “Yeah we laid them off. No they weren’t able to return unfortunately. Yes I’d be able to rehire them if they reapplied.”

      Unless you’re a mediocre employee, this would be the stupidest most immoral thing to hold against an existing employee. Sure it may happen but that place had bees in their hair then.

    6. Beth*

      I really hope this isn’t a thing employers will judge candidates on.

      First, if someone is looking at their financial situation and seeing one option in front of them pays significantly more than the other, of course there’s a chance they’ll go for the higher paying option! Almost all of us work for money, not love or loyalty (we ideally feel those as well, but they’re not the top reason we sought employment). If you were looking at a candidate who had been choosing between two different job options and chose based on compensation, that would be completely unremarkable, wouldn’t it? It shouldn’t be any more judgement-worthy in this scenario than in that one. It’s not gaming the system to try to maximize personal profit, that’s literally what our system sets us up to prioritize, that’s the system operating by design.

      And second, a lot of people staying home don’t actually have a choice. Maybe they have kids whose school or daycare is closed and now they need a parent at home all day. Maybe they have a health condition that makes exposure particularly risky for them. Maybe they’re needed for caregiving for a family member who’s sick, or who’s at high risk and needs help with errands, or who needs medical advocacy on a more significant level than before, or etc. Maybe they can’t reasonably get to work anymore (public transit in my area at least is operating on reduced schedules, in addition to being scary due to exposure risk). Staying home right now means opting into precarity; unemployment income has an end date, and there’s no guarantee the job market will have openings when it comes.
      Most people don’t like precarity, and will choose to avoid it unless they feel like they don’t have a good alternative. Employers should assume that people staying home have reasons (likely multiple, complex, intersecting reasons) that it’s their least-bad option at the moment.

      1. Raea*

        “If you were looking at a candidate who had been choosing between two different job options and chose based on compensation, that would be completely unremarkable, wouldn’t it? It shouldn’t be any more judgement-worthy in this scenario than in that one.”

        I would absolutely find it short sighted if it was a shaky economy and the higher pay offer was a temporary gig, versus a lower pay offer with a chance of longer term security (the the extent possible right now). An employee choosing the temp gig is taking a gamble, nothing inherently wrong about it – but it is a choice and one that can speak to their ability to plan ahead etc.

        Ignoring the temporary nature of the extra $600/wk compared to the offer of (presumably) ongoing employment, is an over simplification and misrepresentation of this situation.

        1. Wintermute*

          At the same time, I’m worried this will become backdoor disability discrimination. Because if you lay out the full options realistically, it’s more like A temporary gig paying more money in a risky economy versus a stable job that is currently unsafe– that’s hardly an enviable position. You say the temp gig is a gamble but it’s a *financial* gamble, compared to a life-and-death gamble, and I, for one, will risk my finances before I’ll risk my health (because face it, in the US they’re one-in-the-same, you get really sick bankruptcy and crushing debt is in your future).

        2. Wired Wolf*

          My company got their PPP last week. It’s 90% of our average pay for Q1, insurance stays but PTO and 401K contributions are suspended. Also (puzzlingly) there was the directive that “this period does not count toward any promotion, advancement or reviews”. Electing to continue with UI was seen as an immediate resignation with no guarantee of rehiring. Yes, I was making more on UI–when I was actually getting it–but I had to jump through so many hoops with the state that it’s better for me to stay with the job and have one at the end of this rather than have to start searching in the middle of this disaster.

      2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        > if someone is looking at their financial situation and seeing one option in front of them pays significantly more than the other, of course there’s a chance they’ll go for the higher paying option!

        I think in this situation if the motive really was just the additional $600 a week and is a short term incentive… that ought to be seen as useful information about that person. Especially if they have to make decisions as part of the job, and it’s useful to see that they would take the short term payoff over a long term opportunity.

        I wouldn’t necessarily just ‘assume’ that, but might ask about it in those terms.

      3. Cassidy*

        “if someone is looking at their financial situation and seeing one option in front of them pays significantly more than the other, of course there’s a chance they’ll go for the higher paying option! ”

        Sure – except in this case, the higher paying option is TEMPORARY. What happens when the money runs out, versus going back to a steady job that might not pay as much but still offers some amount of reliable, steady income? Better to organize around the known and try to find ways to improve it than to lie awake at night because you don’t know how you’re going to pay for groceries the day after the UI spigot turns off.

        Also, UI is for when a person finds herself unemployed or under-employed. It’s not for an expression of dissatisfaction with one’s rate of pay.

    7. J.B.*

      I am graduating and might be lucky enough to find a job. I don’t think that I will have any easier a time with employers than folks who were laid off. In fact it’s really really hard to justify the stuff I’m good at because I don’t fit the mold of what employers are looking for.

      Students who got their job or internship offers revoked thank you sooooo much

    8. nep*

      But the important thing is, as Alison mentions, people would be committing fraud if they didn’t inform their state unemployment agency that they were offered a job and refused it; I reckon other states’ procedures are similar to where I am–we are asked that question very pointedly for every week we wish to certify.

      1. nep*

        (I gather the thinking is that states couldn’t or wouldn’t pursue all those cases so it’s just a question of a person’s conscience.)

      1. glebers*

        What constitutes turning down an offer to return to work? Can the letter writer “informally gauge” her employees’ interest in returning without making a formal offer so that the employees can keep receiving unemployment if they decide not to return?

        “If I end up deciding to refill your position, would you be interested in returning on date X?” sounds to me like it would cover the bases and both sides could truthfully say the employee did not turn down a job offer

  4. Pete*

    Much simpler: pay your employees more.

    Allison’s answer is way too long. You can solve this easily.

    1. Ann Perkins*

      The letter writer noted he doesn’t think he could afford to meet those wages. This is not the way to earn a raise at your employer.

        1. Ann Perkins*

          With 45 employees getting an additional $600/week, at 52 weeks, that would be an additional $1.4M of salary expenses per year to bring them all back at the pay they’re getting while on UI (not including potential retirement plan matches, too). That’s incredibly unreasonable. I’m not sure where you see in this letter that he seems unfit to run a business.

          1. Just J.*

            And when you add health insurance, social security, and other payroll taxes on top of this, it is much much more than $1.4 million. Generating this level of new, incoming business to compensate for all of this, even in a good economy, is exceptionally difficult.

          2. Jedi Squirrel*

            Thank you for doing the math on this one.

            Don’t forget he also has to pay out an increase in the Social Security tax, as well, so the figure is actually higher than $1.4M.

          3. fhqwhgads*

            The extra $600 is a limited-time thing though. If someone were on it the entire duration of its availability they’d have received an extra $9000 for the year. So to “match”, at most, he’d be looking at more like 48*$9000. I don’t really see them suddenly having a spare $432k for the year in payroll, but mathwise that’s still a maximum because the $600 is on top of their otherwise unemployment amount. Even if they’re making more now on unemployment, it’s not a full $600 more than their full previous rate of pay. So even the $400k-ish figure is likely an overestimation.

            1. fhqwhgads*

              Actually I just realized the letter says the difference: they make $20/hr working for the company but $30/hr from unemployment – but which only has the extra for 15 weeks. So to “match” for everyone it’s $400*48 employees*15 weeks, or an extra $288k a year.

              1. Ann Perkins*

                I used the annual amount because people are arguing that the employer should bring them back on at the pay they’re receiving while on UI. Presumably that wouldn’t mean then dropping their pay when the $600 supplement would have run out.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Normally, I am in favor of paying employees more, but we don’t know enough about the business to suggest that something so simple as increased pay is even feasible. Some businesses work on extremely tight margins.

    3. S-Mart*

      I don’t think that’s fair. Giving $600/week raises (ok, maybe more like 400, accounting for UI is lower than full pay) across the board is a lot to ask. That easily puts lots of salaries out of fair market value.

      1. Pete*

        I mean, yeah. We should pay people more. Labor is worth more than management or ownsership. That’s been proven even more true the last couple months.

        1. Mediamaven*

          Labor is worth more than management or ownership? How has that been proven? Because you decided it to be so?

          1. ReadyPlayer3*

            I think this is in the same logic that salesepeople matter more because they actually bring in the revenue. A manager may be able to maximize efficiencies but the labor is the one actually producing. So in that regard, yes, labor is “worth” more.

            1. Mediamaven*

              Salespeople are valuable but that’s not all labor. In our organization, we have labor who produces, but management brings in the new business which is essential or else we don’t exist. We also manage all operations – also critical. The statement is a very ignorant one and devalues others roles which is precisely what labor doesn’t want. Try having a business without someone conceptualizing, strategizing, developing a business model and running the company. Shortsighted and arrogant.

            2. LJay*

              Yeah but if that were actually the case, the salesperson (or the manufacturer or whoever) would go into business for themselves. It’s not all that simple. Management and other non-revenue generating departments do things like create and streamline the supply chain to get the parts needed to make the widgets consistently and economically, create ad campaigns so when the salesperson calls up a target the target has already heard of and has a good impression on the product, has an IT infrastructure in place so when the salesperson’s cell phone breaks they can get a new one the same day and transition seamlessly to it without their accounts noticing, etc.

              I may have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about this because I’ve always been in departments that are a revenue sink rather than a revenue gain. And sometimes even higher-ups in the company fail to see or acknowledge our work as important. But good luck running your theme park when you have no way of getting money from people’s tills to the bank. And good luck running an airline without replacement parts.

              And, while my company could not function without my employees, who are front line labor, they also could not function without someone in my boss’s role, either.

              If they could they would eliminate that position and not pay somebody to do it. If the company is paying for someone to do it, it’s probably because it’s actually necessary and important work that is worth money.

          2. Wintermute*

            I think what they’re trying to say, which is true historically, is that pandemics both elevate the value of labor and demonstrate to them their worth.

            Also it stands to reason, this is basic capital theory– without laborers managers are useless, you need people actually producing value: making goods or providing services. That’s the source of all value in the economy, someone created it by their labor. The people that make the people that make things able to do so faster, easier or more efficiently are creating value by proxy (and this is the space that good managers live in, in a functional business) as are the people that sell those goods and services but ultimately all valuable goods and services are traced back to someone that made them through their labor.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        More than I make, and I’m the most senior on my team and get the highest percent raises every year!

      2. Senor Montoya*

        It’s more than I make (not considering health insurance, retirement, a few other benefits).

      3. So long and thanks for all the fish*

        It’s $7,000 more than my tenure-track professor friend (at a PUI in a low COL area, but still) makes.

      4. Mike C.*

        It doesn’t matter if it’s a reasonable salary for “many” jobs, it matters if it’s reasonable salary for this particular job.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, and the point I”m making is that we don’t know and shouldn’t assume we do (as many here were doing until I asked them to stop).

      5. Mike C.*

        Oh, and those salary numbers may no longer be reasonable given the increased risk of dying alone on a ventilator.

      6. RussianInTexas*

        More than me or anyone in my company except for the owners and couple “indispensable” people make, for sure! And that’s even if I include ALL benefits.
        More than I’ve ever made, in my 20 years of working.

    4. LSP*

      I agree that there is a systemic issue of many American workers being severely underpaid, but I don’t think most companies would be able to afford to give sudden increases to all their employees during a time of crisis.

      People need to be paid living wages, but companies who have been paying under that need time to figure out how to make that happen, which is why every time the minimum wage goes up (however rarely that happens), there is a notice period so businesses can work that into their budget. There just isn’t time for businesses to rework their budgets in the middle of a global pandemic to reasonable expect them to be able to make up the difference. I think what this letter shows is one of the many problems caused by low wages in this country

    5. Tax princess & sower of chaos*

      Respectfully disagree. These people are making more because of the $600 supplement from the government. LW’s employees wouldn’t ordinarily make more from unemployment benefits without that supplement. I expect that their current wage rates are at market, but without knowing what they’re doing, your flippant comment is probably off base.

    6. ThatGirl*

      Did you read the answer? Presumably $20/hr is fair for the week, it’s just that they like the extra money on top of it. (There might also be some anxiety about returning to work, which I get, but it sounds like there’s plenty of room to distance staff.)

    7. Miss Annie*

      Not that simple, In my state, if you made $15/hour for the last year, you would get $372 from the state.

      If you add in the $600 from the CARES act, you get $972. That comes out to $24 per hour. That’s a 60% raise.

      I don’t know many businesses that can afford to give those kinds of raises.

    8. Flabbergasted*

      Seriously? Small business owner that is currently paying $20 an hour. They don’t say what industry or state they are in but that’s a pretty darn good wage in many places. Maybe you can explain how a small business owner is supposed to pay $30/hour to complete with unemployment? And why should they since that UI benefit will run out at some point. Should they continue to match what UI was paying in these extenuating circumstances? Are you just rooting for small businesses to go under? Because that’s sure what it sounds like.

      As someone else mentioned, this wasn’t meant to be permanent income and people need to think about their long term jobs. If they have the ability to go back to work, they should take it now before the chance is gone. Not to mention that they can lose their UI if they refuse to go back so, there is that to consider.

      1. Wintermute*

        You’re right that it doesn’t last forever, but hazard pay is something. You want people to risk their life by coming to work you have to make it worth their while, closing the gap between enhanced UI and their wage may go a ways towards making it worthwhile for employees.

    9. Ace in the Hole*

      We don’t know what the job is or the local cost of living. In my area $20/hour is decent for most jobs – not something super high-level, but it’s reasonable wages for a mid-level job that doesn’t require a degree. That’s what I earn and I can support myself and my wife comfortably on a single income.

      And that’s not really a solution since the loan has a requirement to maintain the same number of staff as pre-covid. With limited funds, increasing wages (by up to 50%?!) would mean LW has to cut the number of staff. Even if that’s logistically viable, it would result in the same issue regarding repayment.

    10. Koala dreams*

      Given that the company already have taken a loan (although one that can be converted to a grant) to pay for payroll, they might not be able to raise wages that much.

    11. Eeeek*

      It’s not reasonable to say all employers need to pay above $30/hr. That’s 62,000 a year.

    12. Anne Elliot*

      In other news, if you want to lose weight, then just eat less. We’re solving all kinds of problems up in here today.

    13. Jane*

      Or offer an explicitly temporary raise to a smaller number of people, so that your payroll costs are the same. Make sure the employees know it’s temporary, but make it worth their time to come back.

      The folks who didn’t want to come back can legally stay out on unemployment (cause you don’t have jobs for them in the short term) the folks who come back are rewarded for working through a pandemic, and you hit your payroll numbers.

      If business is down enough that you laid them all off you probably don’t need all of them back.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I’m pretty sure the terms of the loan being converted to grant involve headcount requirements, not just % spent on payroll. Hiring back a significantly fewer number of them (and not hiring other replacements) isn’t really an option if the goal is to convert the loan.

    14. Seriously?*

      They need to take a PPP loan to stay afloat and you think they can afford to pay their employees more? If the employees think they’re being underpaid, they could look for a better-paying job in the same field, but they’re choosing to milk the unemployment system. That doesn’t sound like concern that they aren’t paid enough.

  5. Nini*

    If you’re on unemployment and get offered a job and turn it down, you’re required to report that. And if that job was in your field or something then it means the end of unemployment benefits. (For instance, if you’re a computer programmer and get offered a job as a cashier and turn it down, I don’t think that would end your benefits, but I may be wrong, haven’t encountered that before.)

    But am I wrong in thinking that if this employer offered the employees their jobs back and the employees turn the job down, then their benefits end because they’re no longer “fired/furloughed” and their status changes to “quit”?

      1. Cj*

        You mentioned that they need to report it, and if they do their benefits would it end. But you also went on to say that that’s up for the employees to navigate if they get caught. I think you had should have told the letter writer to report them to the unemployment office.

        If I recall correctly, layoffs due to covid-19 I don’t have the unemployment benefits charge to the employer’s account to increase rates in the future. But this is not free money. In one way or another, taxpayers and or employers are going to pay for it.

    1. Lynn*

      I think you’re right — I think there was a letter (yesterday? Early today?) about that for someone who was offered to come back for significantly less money who would still qualify for unemployment if they turned it down. It does probably depend on your state/ country laws also.

      And if I am reading between the lines here — it sounds like in this case the company hasn’t officially offered yet, but did inform their employees about getting the loan, and this is how the employees responded, so it’s all just conversational right now; once the offer is official, if the employee turned it down they would no longer be fired / furloughed.

      1. Just J.*

        The letter yesterday was about coming back at 50% salary. According to Alison yesterday, a 50% pay cut can be turned down as it is not commensurate with your current salary. OP appears to want to bring back staff at their prior salaries.

    2. Amber*

      If the owner reports it absolutely (highly unlikely someone will self report this if they know the law).

  6. wondHRland*

    I would also let the employees know that you’ll be letting the unemployment office know that you recalled them from furlough, and they refused, therefore, they forfeit any UI. You have a busines to run, and should no way encourage or enable their fraud with the unemployement office.

    to the person who said to pay them more, not every job is worth $30/hour.

    1. CoderUnicorn*

      This. Depending on the location $30 an hour for certain jobs is not going to happen.

      1. CupcakeCounter*

        Unheard of in my area for anything other than highly skilled or degree dependent work (accountant, etc…). My husband’s company pays around $20/hour and they always have hundreds of applicants since most of the places in our area are closer to $17.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        Yeah, for sure! I’m a geek with 30+ years of experience, and I’m only getting in the neighborhood of $35/hr. And that’s in a state with a minimum wage of $12/hr!

    2. Amber*

      And it sounds like possibly a more rural area (totally speculating) but $20 an hour is a great rate where I live. Most jobs land in the $12-15 range.

      1. Eeeek*

        I mean I live in downtown Chicago and 20$ isn’t bad. You could easily live on that and I have. Maybe in like the most popular neighborhood in SF it wouldn’t cut it but idk. It’s triple the minimum wage and $5 higher than the minimum wage that people are fighting for

      2. Cj*

        I’m a CPA in rural Minnesota, and my hourly my salary will only translate to an hourly wage of about $34 an hour. I actually consider myself to be very well paid for the area. It’s unheard of to make $20 an hour or more unless you are a professional.

    3. Ice Bear*

      I feel like that’s a really vindictive way to operate and I hope the employer does not do that (unless it’s required by law). The employees are shooting themselves in the foot by focusing on the short-term extra money and not that they will likely still be out of work once the unemployment runs out.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        It’s not vindictive, it’s literally the law. Unemployment is given to help out when you lose your job. You don’t get unemployment if you choose to leave your job. The employees either have to choose to come back to work at their previous pay, or lose their unemployment benefits in addition to no longer having a job. It’s a no-brainer. The extra money is only temporary, and I think it’s pretty shitty of them to put the employer in this position (assuming they’re paid fairly for the work they’re doing).

        1. LQ*

          Yeah completely agree. Suggesting the OP not report it is literally saying that the OP should be complicit in fraud.

          Employers who do this can also be charged with fraud in a lot of states. It’s not at all vindictive to do. It’s a weird thing to suggest that it is.

          1. Chinookwind*

            And, from another angle, this is fraud of taxpayer money. While the money has to be spent, there is going to be a huge deficit as a result. A worker choosing the extra $600 when they could be working for their old wage is literally stealing from the government and costing the taxpayer money. I do not begrudge those who need it, but I will absolutely report those knowingly gaming the system.

            1. Wintermute*

              They’re going to have to pay it back, that’s how “undeserved” UI works. But some people may be making the very rational choice that they’ll take the hit and pay the penalties so they can stay home and live, rather than risking their life and going to work.

              Everyone is entitled to their own decisions about how much risk they’ll accept.

      2. As if*

        How is it vindictive to follow the law? For an employee not to report that he has been recalled is fraud and, by not reporting it either, the employer is encouraging it. It is taking away money that could be used to help people who are truly out of work.

      3. LawLady*

        Employers pay for unemployment insurance, and the more unemployment claims they have, the more they’re charged by their states. There’s discussions right now about not factoring in this spring’s unemployment claims when setting rates, given Corona, but in many states that’s not a decided thing.
        So OP isn’t necessarily required to report her former employees to the unemployment system, but those claims may cost her a lot down the road. And frankly it wouldn’t surprise me if the fix that a lot of states come up with is that unemployment claims still count if you got PPP money. It seems to me that it would be prudent for her to report her ex-employees and/or contest their claims.

      4. Dancing Otter*

        It’s not vindictive; I believe it may even be in the rules that an employer is asked by UI about recalling furloughed workers and has to divulge. Certainly, you can’t expect the employer to lie for the employees’ benefit and their own detriment.
        UI rates charged are based on claims, so the owner has a strong incentive to bring people back if possible, and to inform UI of refusals.

      5. LawLady*

        I’d also argue that it’s a kindness to let employees know that they become ineligible for UI if they turn down suitable jobs. The people who are trying to keep getting UI rather than going back to work run the risk that they’re found out 2 months from now and owe all that money back. The consequences aren’t just that the money gets turned off, but that they end up both unemployed AND owing a ton of money back to the government.

      6. Raea*

        Wait, why should the employer martyr themselves for the their former employees that turned down the offer the return? I’m assuming your comment is made in ignorance of the law. It is not vindictive to chose not to participate in fraud and willingly engage in illegal behavior.

    4. glebers*

      If you knew it was strictly a ploy for an extra $600/wk, sure. But for many, I’m sure it’s part of a broader calculation. Lots of people don’t fall strictly into the categories that allow you to keep collecting UI, such as childcare difficulties or a doctor’s orders. They could be mildly immunocompromised, or live with grandma, or have to take a packed bus or carpool to work, etc… Forcing them to choose between returning to work beyond their risk allowance or zero income… oof

      1. Eeeek*

        50% of the country falls into a risk category themself, not even counting who they live an associate with so I’m not sure UI is going to allow them to collect because they have to take a bus to work.

    5. Specks*

      Wow, that would be cruel and vindictive. If OP hadn’t laid these employees off in the first place, they wouldn’t have this problem. And please don’t give me a sob story about how hard it is running a business. It is hard, my husband does it. He also makes good choices with it and has enough saved up to be able to pay his employees who had to be furloughed for their health and childcare needs out of pocket. His employee morale is high, they trust him to stay in business and provide them with jobs in the future, and no one has made any noise about unemployment paying more. I realize that’s not the reality for many, and don’t blame the OP for not being in that position. But if you don’t put yourself in that position and in effect let down your employees, I would absolutely blame you for then making formal offers and reporting them to unemployment if they aren’t ready to come back. That would just be a dick move.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        That’s good for your husband, but if the OP could literally not have their business open?
        Majority of small businesses survive on very slim margins. I have friends who are not even retail or service (the hardest hit businesses), but in law. The firms are getting no income at all, because their clients aren’t. They have to layoff or furlough people.
        And reporting to the unemployment office is the law.

      2. A*

        1) it’s not vindictive to chose to not engage in illegal activity (if their employees refuse the offer to return at their previous salaries – they no longer qualify for unemployment)

        2) super cute anecdotal story! Thank you for sharing, but it is indeed only your husband’s experience not universal. Gave me a giggle though with your intensity, thanks for that!

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Hey, please be kind. I don’t like their answer, either, but there are better ways to phrase it.

      3. Uranus Wars*

        As someone upthread pointed out it would be an over $1.4million in additional cost to up wages for employees. I am glad your hubby has a cool $1.4 mil laying around that he can toss at employees to keep morale up – honestly – but not all businesses do, small or large.

        Upping salary to $30 for a job that market values at under the $20 they are paid just to do it isn’t really realistic either – and it kind of skews the employees expectations down the road for future opporutnities at other employers. Kind of like getting a shiny new BMW SUV for your 16th birthday. Where do you go from there?

      4. nep*

        What? Many businesses have had no choice but to close. How were they to avoid layoffs and just keep on paying their employees? Maybe I’m missing something…

      5. The Other Dawn*

        “I realize that’s not the reality for many, and don’t blame the OP for not being in that position.”

        Everything you wrote completely contradicts this sentence.

        “I would absolutely blame you for then making formal offers and reporting them to unemployment if they aren’t ready to come back. That would just be a dick move.”

        No, that’s called not being complicit in UI fraud.

      6. Susie Q*

        So you’re advocating for OP to commit fraud? Great business advice.

        Saying my husband runs a business is like saying I have a “insert race” friend.

    6. These Old Wings*

      I mean, I don’t make $30/hour and I have a college degree and over 10 years experience in my field. I definitely think people need to be paid fairly and in many cases much higher than they are currently making, but in this situation it doesn’t sound like she is undervaluing employees.

      Also worth it to point out that the reason we are in this situation is because state unemployment systems are so archaic, they couldn’t easily figure out a way to replace up to 100% of wages, so the extra $600/week was the best way to make this work.

  7. CatCat*

    My spouse also makes more in UI benefits than he did at his job, but he’s ready to go back the moment his job is offered. Aside from the fact that he loves the work, he knows he eventually will want to move to a higher paying job with benefits that his tiny employer would be unable to offer. Can’t build a track record for success at the work if you’re not doing the work!

    1. Eva*

      Years ago my spouse lost their job during the recession, and was on UI for about three or so months. Because there had been pay cuts and their hours had been cut, and his UI payment was calculated on his previous year’s earnings, he was making more doing that than he’d been for about six months beforehand.

      He still went back to work for the same company the _second_ that he could, because for one they’d proven they would bend over backwards and do everything they could to help their employees for as long as they were able. But also because he just wanted to work again and have the stability and peace of mind from having steady employment.

      I don’t think that’s a universal sentiment really, I know plenty of people who aren’t that way, but I do think that there’s a large number of people right now really torn between a desire to work and a desire to stay safe, even if you put the money part of the equation aside. This isn’t necessarily the letter writer’s issue to wrangle, but I imagine it’s something a lot of employers really need to consider. Not just the safety measures but how to communicate those measures, and how to communicate your feeling of responsibility to the employees for their safety. My job now, I actually believe my boss has my best interests at heart and won’t ask us to come back until he feels it’s safe and I trust his judgement quite a bit. There’s at least three jobs I’ve had where I would not trust my boss in a million years and would quit before I’d set foot back in the building if it was up to them.

  8. Monty & Millie's Mom*

    OP, please know it is also your responsibility to report to your state’s unemployment office that your (former) employees have refused an offer of work. This information will likely make them ineligible for benefits at all. Then they’ll have neither the big bucks of unemployment benefits nor the lesser bucks of working and earning the funds – they’ll have nothing, rather than something.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      Also, the additional funds won’t be there forever – this isn’t meant to be a “vacation from work” for 13 weeks, it’s only if there’s no work available!

      1. desdemona*

        And as someone who’s had a hell of a time even getting on unemployment in the first place (my claim just got processed – 3.5 weeks after I filed! And that’s *fast* in my state!), people who are refusing to go back to work make me so angry. The system is clogged and overwhelmed, and you want to get a paid vacation out of this??
        What about the people in my state who applied mid-March and still haven’t gotten approved because of the backlog?!

        I want to say I also 100% understand people who don’t feel safe returning, especially if they are immunocompromised. But people whose jobs got a loan and can now pay them to WFH? They are lucky, and they don’t realize how lucky they are. I’m going insane without work.

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Out of curiosity, what are the consequences to the employer if they don’t report it? Can they be hit with penalties or anything, too?

      1. CL Cox*

        In most cases, as soon as they turn down the job, they are no longer eligible for unemployment funds. They will usually have to repay any funds that were paid to them between the time they turned down the job and the time that the unemployment office found out. I don’t know if that would include the supplemental amounts or not. Most, if not all, states have penalties on top of that, since it is fraud to falsely claim UI.

        In Maryland, for instance: “If determined to have committed UI fraud, you may be subjected to a $1,000 fine, or imprisoned or both. In addition you will be disqualified from the receipt of future UI benefits for one calendar year. Any overpayment(s) resulting from fraud will be assessed a 15% fraud penalty and a monthly ‘interest’ penalty at the rate of 1.5% monthly (18% per year) on the unpaid overpayment balance.”

      2. goducks*

        Generally, no, employers aren’t required to proactively tell the employment department that a person has turned down work. However, it’s not uncommon for the ED to inquire about specific cases, especially if in the initial request for information at the start of the case the employer indicated that this was expected to be a temporary lay-off. If the ED inquires, of course the employer can’t answer falsely (although they often can just fail to respond, depending on the nature of the inquiry).

      3. LawLady*

        Well, how much the employer pays into the UI system is determined by how many UI claims they have. (That’s why you hear about employers “fighting” unemployment claims. They’re trying to prevent having to pay more money into the system the next year.) Some states are saying they’re not going to hold UI claims from this time period against employers, but many haven’t said anything. So if OP doesn’t report and has a ton of UI claims go through, she could see a real increase in UI cost next year, as the system charges her more.

  9. Carrie Oakie*

    In CA I think the max UI is $450/wk. So, with the $600 on top, I’d be making my current salary while unemployed. The downside is that, once they drop that extra $600, I’d be making significantly less than my current salary. From what I’m seeing, it’s showing more clearly that people are being underpaid and that they’re willing to sacrifice a job to get the extra money. Unfortunately, I wonder what kind of jobs/salary they’ll be able to get once they realize that the UI “bonus” expires. A lot of businesses won’t be able to meet a higher salary or have as many staff if they do try to meet it. That frustrates me more than anything, as someone who has had problems with being underpaid on a regular basis until recently. Even now, my base is low but at least I can get a bonus at some point.

    1. CL Cox*

      The one example was making $20/hr. That’s a good salary for a lot of positions. The federal supplement is meant to help fired/furloughed employees make ends meet during this unusual circumstance. Many employees are not looking at the long-term here. If the employee was getting paid at or close to market rate, no employer is going to offer them enough more to match that extra $600/week. Which means that the employee isn’t going to be seriously looking until that supplement ends at the end of July. And they’re going to be doing it in a market that is suddenly flooded with other job seekers who did the same thing as them. Depending on the type of work, they could end up losing money in the long run within a couple of months.

      Also, their benefits end when they are no longer furloughed.

    2. hbc*

      “When the government throws $600 on top of UI, I make more money” is not an indication of being underpaid. I mean, it’s an indication that you’re not *highly* paid, but a lot of people who make a fair wage come out better in the short term here.

      1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

        All it indicates is that the extra unemployment stimulus was poorly designed, and created perverse incentives. Especially when combined with the PPP loan program.

      2. LJay*


        I make a decent wage – just about $60k a year.

        I just checked the numbers with the regular unemployement I would be paid plus the extra $600, I would be making only $9 less per week on unemployment vs working.

        I wouldn’t be better off in the short term, but it would be pretty damn close. And I would consider myself to be making more than a fair wage.

  10. M. Albertine*

    It would also be worth communicating to your employees what your plan is to maintain social distancing, cleaning, and other safety measures to mitigate the risk of exposure, so that they know you are taking their safety seriously and that they aren’t taking on undue risk returning to work.

    1. Blueberry*

      This, very much. There can be more than one reason for not wanting to return, for many people.

    2. Emelle*

      Yup, my employer is talking about us going back midMay and they haven’t announced anything about how they are going to implement safety measures. One group has pretty strict licensing rules, and the staff there has pretty much thrown their hands up that they cannot comply without significant changes…. It doesn’t build confidence when you are getting zero feedback about concerns.

    3. Safetykats*

      This. I am so suspicious of employers who want people to come back to clearly unsafe conditions, or without clearly defined protections, blaming people not wanting to come back on the money alone. I think most people will absolutely return to their jobs, if they liked their jobs at all and feel any loyalty to their employer, once they feel it’s safe to do so. It’s really not safe now in most places, and I hear from a lot of people whose employers are doing almost nothing to make it safe.

      I do think that employers have an obligation to lay out what kind of protections will be provided. And realistically, employers will have a better time of this is they get employees involved in helping to decide what protections are adequate. It would be interesting to see whether OP would have better success if they were able to get employee input on what would make them feel safe to return. With only 45 employees, that’s not an unreasonable task to interface with most or all of them about safety. Because it’s not all about square footage and separation from other employees. It’s also about masks, and gloves, and separation from things other employees have touched. It’s about separation from the public. It’s about making sure other employees aren’t reporting to work sick. If I worked for the OP, I would want to see more of a plan than 4000 ft3 per 2 workers.

  11. MRK*

    I’m going to be real that yes, I am making more on unemployment than I did working. And yet I can not WAIT until I can go back to work. I would much rather be working but I understand why my work needs me to be on furlough. I’d like to hope a lot of people are in the same camp and while the extra $600 a week has been an unexpected benefit, I’d trade it happily to back working. I’m taking this extra money as incentive pay to stay home, not deciding it’s my new “hourly rate.”

    1. nep*

      That’s part of the design–encouraging people to stay home so we can all help to lower the number of cases.

  12. Kat*

    Have you considered bringing part of the staff back at a higher rate and letting them know it’s a temporary raise to match (or ideally surpass) their unemployment benefits? You can run at partial capacity, some of your workforce will get unemployment, some will get a well-deserved higher salary temporarily while they risk their well-being to profit your business, everyone wins.

      1. CL Cox*

        Yes, you do, it’s the average number of employees from the previous year. So, if they’ve always had around 45 people, then it has to be 45 people. Plus, it’s probably not going to save anything to hire only some of those people back on a temporarily higher salary. Especially if you’re asking them to do the work of 45 people. On the other hand, there are probably a number of people looking for work right now, so it may not be that hard to fill the positions. Even more so if these are not highly skilled jobs.

  13. Anony*

    This for sure.

    Especially because them continuing to be on UI will also impact your business costs as well (as the UI tax rate is partially based on your, the employer’s, record for how many of your employees have had to file for UI). You definitely don’t want to let it slide/hire some other workers to enable them to continue to get UI and then also get hit hard in the future for your UI taxes due to not reporting them or if you have any PPP difficulties/challenges in getting it forgiven due to staff not coming back.

    1. Hillary*

      Depends on the state – some states aren’t counting this against future UI tax calculations.

  14. Alice*

    If the employees are thoughtful, they’ll realize that a stable job is a bird in the hand, while unemployment payments are the metaphorical two in the bush — because the topped-up payments will end soon, and there are time limits to receiving unemployment at all, and they could lose it and have to make repayments if you inform the UI office that they’ve declined to return to work.
    If the employees understand that and are still reluctant to come in, I think something else might be going on.
    – Do they know about your modifications to support social distancing and infection prevention while working? About your PPE supplies?
    – Do they think that your business is at risk of closing? I’m sorry to bring it up, but if the employees think that the business will go under soon, it’s not really a permanent job in the calculus of stable job vs time-limited UI.
    – Do they have responsibilities in personal life, like caring for children home from school or elderly/disabled family home from congregate facilities?
    – Do they perceive a higher risk than you? Either because they/intimates are in high-risk groups, or because they don’t trust that the public health surveillance system in your region is able to identify cases…
    Sadly, there’s not a lot you can do about some of these non-monetary factors.

    Question: do you think you’ll be able to hire replacement workers at the same wages?

    1. Harvey JobGetter*

      This metaphor doesn’t work. Currently, they have the two birds in their hand. When the employer offers them their jobs back (a different bird), both of the birds they did have fly away.

      OP has total control here. If he makes the job offer, they lose their unemployment. It is then up to them whether they want to have a job or not.

      1. Alice*

        You don’t think so? A bird in the hand — a sure thing, but one that’s not as attractive as the more-attractive-but-risky alternative. I think the job with OP is the sure thing, and hoping that no one tells the UI office about the opportunity to return to work is the more-attractive-but-risky alternative.

        1. Harvey JobGetter*

          I don’t think “hoping no one tells the UI office about the opportunity to return to work” is a real thing. That’s like hoping your employer will just choose to pay you an extra $50/day. UI benefits incur charges against employer accounts; no even modestly competent employer will allow that to happen.

      2. Wintermute*

        Well there is the caveat that some of those employees may already have, or be able to easily get, a waiver for “medical advice” because people under a doctor’s orders to strictly quarantine are exempt from losing their UI for doing so.

        We have two people like that at work right now, one was given WFH immediately but the other is taking a while due to equipment issues and there’s about to be some real trouble because of it.

    2. nep*

      As far as I know, if someone becomes full-time caregiver to a child as a direct result of COVID-19, that person remains eligible for unemployment benefits. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  15. Jedi Squirrel*

    I am amazed that so many people don’t know about the $600 federal government supplement to UI. Maybe I spend too much time here?

    1. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I think some people are burnt out on the news right now and avoiding it when they can. It can be super depressing. Although yesterday I found out my dad had never heard of or seen one of those blow up T-rex costumes and I was astonished.

        1. CupcakeCounter*

          My boss delivered pizza to his in-laws wearing one as his “PPE”. His wife was wearing a full face snorkeling mask.

        2. Monty & Millie's Mom*

          they are super-fun – my husband got one 2nd hand and I wore it for Halloween! Also won’t take your whole stimulus check, even if you get a brand-new one, so probably a good use of the funds!

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Lots of people don’t know or understand much of what’s going on right now.

      I’ve seen so many of those salty memes about how Canada is doing 2000 a month “stimulus” for 4 months, verses our paltry 1200. But that’s not true at all. That 2000 a month is the Canadian version of our $600 extra unemployment, so we’re actually doing that plus giving money back to people who are still working or not upset with the crisis [because it’s a STIMULUS and those are meant to stimulate the economy, not pay our bills, like unemployment is.]

      The misinformation is thick and real, it’s soupy AF tbh. I am shocked by nothing at this stage in life and unfolding events.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I’ve had to explain this to my Canadian friends as well, they think we’re savages until I tell them what’s really up then they’re like “Oh shit, okay I get it now.” [And I don’t expect them to get it, they don’t even go here!]

          Along with the whole “You can’t just move to Canada…just like they can’t just move here…” conversations LOL.

      1. Hiring Mgr*

        I hear you, but I think it’s more about the general sense that Canada (and some European countries) believe there should be a safety net, not just now but overall… And I’d say they’re not wrong

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I hands down agree with you there. I know Canadians aren’t waiting for their GD unemployment payments to come through like the US is right now. That’s proof to me their system is much more robust!

          I grunted the other day, Kate Brown, Oregon’s Governor “apologized” for the system being broke-ass. And had to acknowledge the information that came out that in 2009, the state had money allocated to the unemployment system to bring it up to date…they failed to do that. Now ELEVEN YEARS LATER when a global crisis hit, it’s jammed up and taking over a month to get payments out for people very much eligible for it. Other countries are worlds ahead there.

          But with the “emergency aid” packages, it’s a different ball of wax. We’re actually fine there. So they’re really finding the wrong tidbits to use in their arguments and that taints their ability to reach their end goals.

          1. nonegiven*

            I heard some states are trying to lure elderly COBOL programmers out of retirement. That’s how old their unemployment systems are.

  16. ghostforest*

    The employer sees a major benefit to the government paying wages during the PPP time, so why not offer temporary hazard pay in order to get more workers back? The workers are subjecting themselves to increased risk even with distancing measures in place. They may also have to pay for childcare given children are out of school. The hazard pay doesn’t need to be permanent and seems like the minimum the employer could extend to workers given that the workers returning means that the business receives a significant windfall of free money.

    1. CL Cox*

      How do you see it as free money? 75% of it has to be for 8 weeks of payroll, which only leaves 25% for other costs during those 8 weeks. Which have increased for pretty much everyone, due to supply shortages, increased transportation costs, increased cleaning/sanitation costs, and keeping employees stocked with PPE. If they furloughed/laid off employees, it did so because they would be losing money to keep them. Which usually means they have little to no income coming in. And I don’t know of any economic experts who are reasonably expecting the financial situation to improve inside of 8 weeks. Most are projecting in terms of when in 2021 the economy will start recovering.

      1. ghostforest*

        It’s free money because as long as they meet the payroll spend requirements, they never have to pay back the loan. I understand that it’s not an easy situation overall, but the employees are subjecting themselves to far more risk by returning to work right now. In my state, unemployment benefits do not pay your full wage. It pays a fraction (usually 60%) and that extra $600 brings it closer to a full wage in many cases. I think characterizing the employees as not wanting to return to work because they’re making too much on the dole isn’t fair. There’s a deadly pandemic happening and many people are also now at home caring for kids who aren’t in school, so childcare becomes complicated as well. So, there are a multitude of reasons why people might not be eager to return. Acknowledging this and paying hazard pay would probably incentivize them and also would allow the employer to not have to pay back the PPP loan. The solution to this issue will hurt everyone a bit, the employer and the employees. Why not try to meet in the middle? The employer is hurting, clearly, but with 45 employees, they may also have options to dip into past saved revenue, take out another loan, and find a way to make this work. Rehiring that many people when the clock is ticking on the loan is unwise. Better to find a way to get the employees back, even if it hurts a bit, and save your business (a huge asset to you, personally, as an owner).

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      The reality is the employer most likely can not afford that. Just about all businesses are seeing declines in sales (ie, income) so it isn’t possible to increase your expenses when you are making less money.

    3. Someone On-Line*

      Yeah, my STBX got the PPP grant/loan. He’s not seeing this as a windfall. He’s seeing this as, “Oh good, I think I get to eat this month.”

      1. Amy Sly*

        I work for a small company. Our owner is seeing the PPP as a way of freeing up funds he can use to offer financing to our customers so that they can still afford maintenance on their office and apartment buildings while their tenants can’t pay their rent.

  17. Harvey JobGetter*

    It’s probably not a BAD idea to start looking for replacements, but these people are likely mostly going to come back to work when you tell them they have to. Otherwise, they are going to lose their unemployment benefits (unless, perhaps, you are acting unreasonably in reopening).

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It sounds like he has told them they need to come back to work and are already refusing. Hence, the letter to AAM.

    2. Annony*

      Odds are that some will have childcare issues that allow them to continue to collect unemployment.

      1. Susie Q*

        But they didn’t say that. They said they aren’t coming back to work because they make more on unemployment. It’s literally there in the letter.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Right, if most of them were telling the OP about health concerns, childcare logistics, or other completely reasonable challenges, then the OP wouldn’t have written to AAM in the first place. We have to assume that the OP is correct to think they employees are focusing on the current money they’re receiving.

  18. always a nurse*

    In CA, the maximum UI plus $600 is $26.25 per hour. I am assuming that California is one of the more generous states, so I think OP’s employee’s report of $30/hr is rounded up. The basic UI rate is a percentage of your previous income, with a max of $450, so a $20/hr employee probably gets $12/hr as UI, and an additional $15/hr as the “Covid bonus.” I think that is reasonable, in this particular time, because there are a lot of higher salaried people out of work, and expecting that $450 a week ($11.25 per hour) is enough to help everyone is silly.

    1. CAA*

      CA is actually not that generous with UI benefits. Last time I looked, which has been a couple of years, they were maybe 20th out of the 50 states.

      1. Cj*

        Last time I collected UI IN MN pause back in 2009. At the time I got the max alone, which was $585 a week. I’m not positive, but I think it’s something like $640 now. Or 50% of your wages, whichever is less.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Our maximum payment is $790 a week, I had higher expectations for California! Woah.

  19. Ashley*

    I don’t know what the LW has done about health insurance for their employees but that is another factor in getting people to come back to work.

  20. Paralegal Part Deux*

    I wonder if the employees know LW will have to report their refusal to return to work to the unemployment office. It’s iffy at best to play chicken with losing unemployment benefits just because you make more on UI than at your job. UI isn’t meant to be a permanent salary replacement.

  21. Lunchy*

    I’ve been making $15/hr for 5 years. $20/hr makes me envision Scrooge McDuck swimming in his pool of money.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Good grief, I used to love that comic when I was a little kid!

      Ironically, we could very rarely afford them.

      Considering what we know about what the OP is paying employees, $20 is a really good rate for them!

    2. A*

      This is not a commentary on the letter / OP etc and it’s been established it’s a fair wage in their area for that line of work…. but…. in many areas … I hate to break it to you, that pool is a kiddie pool haha. Definitely sounds like more than it is!

  22. meridian*star*

    What if the employer can only offer part time work to furloughed (previously full-time) staff? Are they obligated to return or lose Unemployment benefits?

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would assume that bringing them back only working half of their previous hours would not be considered “suitable”, which would allow them to refuse to return and retain the benefits.

    2. CL Cox*

      No, the offer has to be at a pay close to what they were making before. However, there is an option right now for an employee whose pay was cut to file for UI to help cover the gap. So, it may be worth it in the short-term if the employee was confident that they’d be able to get more money down the road.

    3. CAA*

      Yes, they have to return, but they don’t lose their unemployment benefits. Normally if they were working 40 hrs per week prior to a furlough and you can only bring them back for 20 hrs per week, they still get to collect about half the unemployment pay (this varies due to rules on max allowed earnings in some states).

      I believe they do still get the full $600 extra. I’m going by a friend-of-a-friend on FB claiming that he’s getting it even though he’s only partially furloughed, so I can’t 100% vouch for that info, but a quick look at CA’s unemployment page makes me think it’s correct.

      1. meridian*star*

        (I think the $600 is still in play, for part- time also). So if they refuse the part-time hours in this instance and it’s not child care related, it potentially invalidates the UI benefit?

      2. That'll happen*

        I’ll say that it really depends based on how much a state offers in unemployment benefits. In my state, unemployment is 57.5% of your average weekly wage, so if you’re brought back half-time, your pay could be more than your unemployment benefit. You don’t get the extra 600 unless you are receiving at least $1 in unemployment benefits.

    4. wondHRland*

      I think, under most UI offices, they’re eligible for the portion of their normal wage that they lost (so if they’re hours are reduced from 40/week to 20/week, they’d get 1/2 of the UI they’d normally get.

  23. OP*

    OP Here- Our state has a new law that allows people to refuse to return to work because of childcare and health issues stemming from COVID.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — that’s nationwide! If that’s why they’re declining to return, that’s perfectly legal. Go ahead and rehire for those spots though because you have to.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Do you get regular correspondence with the state asking you about their status? Or was it just the initial “These folk work for you? Do you agree that they were laid off?” paperwork?

      If you aren’t getting regular contact, you don’t even have to really reach out and contest their unemployment if they do refuse to return. I worked places where we never contested unemployment because it’s not worth the hassle, even if we could have had them refused. That’s okay to do, it will effect your ratings but to be honest, it’s rarely enough to be bothered to deprive someone of the money they’re getting to survive on. And right now, we’re all going to see unemployment rates rise even though we’re not all laying people off, it’s a necessary business expense increase that you can just expect!

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      So, how does it work for furloughed employees that would be eligible for the new sick leave policies? Do you tell them to come back to work, but they immediately turn around and take paid time off? (That should solve the PPP issue, but not the getting the work done issue.)

      1. NGA*

        It won’t solve the PPP issue — the paid leave policies are covered by the federal government and aren’t eligible payroll expenses for PPP.

  24. Elizabeth West*

    Given that I’ve been seeing projections of Depression-era unemployment numbers, the employees might want to rethink this. If I had a job right now and had been furloughed, I’d sock that extra unemployment money away and go back to work. A job in the hand is worth all the ones you won’t be able to get later.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Honestly, I think it’s so hard to figure out. You could return to work and be laid off again when the PPP loan runs out, and at that point maybe the federal $600/week supplement is over, and you come out behind. So I’m sympathetic to these workers. It’s hard.

      Ultimately, though, unemployment is there if you lose your job; it’s not supposed to be there so you can turn down work. So ultimately what they’re doing really is fraud (if they do it).

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        But returning to work vs refusing and attempting to commit fraud – is that really that difficult a position to be in? Not trying to be snarky, and maybe the employees don’t realize that they’ll lose the benefits entirely if they don’t accept a return to work, but I would hope most people wouldn’t choose to commit fraud. If the employees are aware of the rules of unemployment, I think it’s kind of crappy to force the OP into this situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’m sure they’re counting on not being caught — but yes, you shouldn’t commit fraud (and if you’re caught can end up in a very bad financial situation).

        2. Koala dreams*

          In this situation, it’s choosing between different unethical things. If you return to work, you risk catching or spreading a dangerous disease. If you turn down work, you risk your income and won’t be able to support yourself. I also hope most people won’t consider fraud as a choice, but I can see how it’s tempting. People will have to pick what they think is the lesser evil, no matter which. I’m on the side of choosing the work, and have an income for the next 8 weeks (and hopefully longer), but some people are taking a much harder view on going to work during the pandemic. It sounds like this is a job that can’t be done at home, and some people need to take the bus to work. It’s enough to go back a bit and read the comments on some other pandemic-related blog posts to see very black-and-white comments.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It IS hard, but what if that doesn’t happen? Then they’re out of a job regardless and can’t get any more UI money.

        I wish I could kick the virus’s ass like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Elizabeth the Microbe Slayer. *pow*

        1. The Rural Juror*

          I just had an image of you shrinking down to size like Ant-Man and fighting microbes :)

  25. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Just hire new people. This is a battle you can’t win, you’re going to look “bad” to some people and fine to others.

    The people you hire, will become your employees and either form solid employer/employee relationships or they won’t.

    Your former employees get to make their decisions

    Right now, they’re opting to make $30 of inflated wages for 4 months. In 4 months, when that runs out, they’re going to be scrambling to get a job and be lucky if they get their former wages. That’s on them, that’s their choice to make. I always wonder if these people are saving that extra cash or if they’re upping their standards of living, which is a dangerous dangerous dangerous trap.

    This is about saving your business. Your livelihood. Even if you are underpaying employees, that’s a thing that happens. They can turn your offer down, you can in turn replace them. Don’t let this become so emotional on you, all business decisions are hard AF without those extra emotions.

    Lots of people are looking for work. The people who are going to take those jobs, may be a million times better in the end. You’ll bond with them, you’ll care about them just as much as you care about your staff now. Just act like they resigned tbh, don’t grovel, don’t negotiate. Just move on.

    1. jahjahjahaha*

      Completely agree.

      I get wanting to support employees of 10+ years, but refusing to come back because UI is more profitable makes me question their integrity and thus not feel quite so bad letting them go in favor of someone who wants to work. Childcare and healthcare are valid reasons, making more $$ is not.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I wouldn’t bother questioning their integrity or anything, these are uncharted waters after all.

        Many people are simply not able to wrap their minds around what’s going on or income structures on a good day, let alone during a worldwide crisis!

        I’ve had people walk over much less hourly differences, so I’m not shocked at all that people are doing this at all. This is why we have financial “experts” and “advisors” among us, so many people don’t understand and it’s okay to not understand.

        It’s one of those “It’s not personal, it’s business” moments. If they wanted to come back later, if they had a spot open, I’d hire them back personally *shrugs* But I sure wouldn’t build my business around them, they are replaceable, they’ve always been replaceable. But you usually only replace something/a position if it’s broken or in this case, missing.

        1. Specks*

          Thank you for being so plain about it. Businesses do consider employees replaceable and only keep them around as long as it makes business sense, as Allison often repeats. That’s why the OP laid his/her workers off as soon as they didn’t have work for them or couldn’t pay. If we don’t consider that a moral failure on their part, why is it immoral or disloyal to not want to trade higher unemployment for lower and possibly much more temporary PPP-supported wages?

          Same goes for “unemployment isn’t there to pay for your vacation”… The government has let us down in a billion different ways; the PPP is just a way to pay (less) unemployment through employers instead of through state agencies, while giving money to banks for processing the loans. Why are individuals held to some impossibly high standards?

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            In the end, we can only depend on ourselves and it’s all about survival.

            I’ve seen plenty of businesses make bad decisions, I’ve lived long enough to know that the government is just one big business in the end. Banks and insurance are awful to the core but the ultimate “necessary evil” in the end.

            But I live in a city with homelessness and the other side of things in my face on a daily basis. I refuse to lose my humanity in the mix. I can’t turn a blind eye or refuse to think about things in the perspective of the people actively in a situation. I can’t fault a human for wanting to survive and pray to get ahead one day. I escaped the lower middle class, I’m not fighting anyone who’s trying to get out the same way I did.

              1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

                Banks, they regularly take advantage of the financially uneducated and financially insecure. Did you live through the Great Recession? The housing bubble burst so spectacularly and people were foreclosed on because they gave loans to people who had no business having loans, let alone a balloon payment that was coming up due.

                They regularly charge fees for simply existing. Yet we cannot live without them because so many employers will insist on doing direct deposit because it directly benefits them so greatly.

                They reject small business loans because the big businesses sucked up the funds. They suck up their “Fees” while slashing interest rates to next to 0%, when they were paying peanuts in the first place.

                The idea of banks is that they’re making money off your money, that’s why they pay you interest. But even with hundreds of thousands of dollars in some accounts, you make pennies, while they use your money to loan out to other places and rake in those fees that they survive on.

                They pay their bottom tier employees next to nothing, despite their revenue.

                We could go way back and think of their entire history as well, where it’s all about “I’ll keep your money “safe” for you, don’t you fear.” and then they end up closing and before the FDIC came along, you couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

                Insurance is built to not pay you and to stuff as much cost back at you that they can get away with. This is why we have lawyers who specialize in certain types. This is why we have to call a lawyer to go to bat for us and knows their shenanigans if we get hurt at work or in a car accident at no fault of our own. Wanna hear stories about people getting screwed and destitute over workers comp claims being denied because of shady crap, I’ve got them for days.

                1. MBK*

                  I agree with you 100% about the large banking conglomerates. Smaller local banks (preferably, but not necessarily, co-op) and credit unions deserve a big shout-out here. They can’t always offer the same interest rates or loan terms as the big banks (because… well, they’re smaller), but they more than make up for it in actually caring about the financial wellbeing of their customers and communities.

                2. Diahann Carroll*

                  Your blanket statement about insurance is not true (probably moreso for health insurance, but there are other sectors within the industry that aren’t nearly as broken). There are many insurance companies that pay people what they owe on legitimate claims and are happy to do so. As a former claims adjuster, I loved to pay claims because it got the shit off my overloaded desk! Anything I could close with a payment took less time out of my day than drafting a denial letter, which freed me up to do more complex investigations.

    2. some dude*

      The only thing that I’d consider is the safety and childcare angle – if someone is having to care for kids all day because schools are closed, that might make a difference in whether they can return to work. Or if they are at risk or have loved ones at risk, they may not want to go back to work until it is safer to do so. But ultimately, OP needs to have employees, and if their employees don’t want to go back and it isn’t because they are caring for a loved one or have legitimate safety concerns, that’s on them.

  26. CAA*

    OP – have you investigated bringing people back part-time? I believe this will maximize their income because they get their regular hourly pay for every hour worked + regular state unemployment for hours not worked up to 40 + $600/week from the feds.

    1. That'll happen*

      This really depends on the state. I know in my state, if you’re working part time, you get the difference between your pay and the amount of unemployment that’s been awarded to you. It’s possible part-time wages could be more than the employee’s UI benefit, which would mean they would lose out on that extra $600 a week.

    2. CL Cox*

      The terms of the PPP redquire them to have number of employees (full time and part time) equal to the average they had in the previous year. So, if they usually have 45 full-time employees, they have to have the equivalent of that.

  27. HR Exec Popping In*

    These are such difficult times. I completely understand wanting to protect your employees. But the reality is you need to staff up and if they are not willing to work, you need to move on and hire replacements. AAM’s advice is spot on. Tell them you are recalling them, give them a deadline and explain what happens if they don’t return. They then get to decide what is best for themselves. You need to do what is best for your business. Good luck and thank you for trying to bring your workers back onboard.

    1. Specks*

      Not to be mean about it, but why are we now thanking business owners for bringing back employees with state-covered wages (to get a low interest loan), after laying them off in the first place? Where is the heroism in that?

      1. A*

        Because they are TRYING. There are so many businesses that either threw in the towel right off the bat, or are hunkering down living off savings and disinterested in pursuing a PPP. At least this employer is trying to provide gainful employment to their former employees.

      2. MistOrMister*

        And a lot of these are small businesses who didn’t have the money to keep people on the payroll while not being open. I liken it to someobe living paycheck to paycheck. Lose your job in that situation and suddenly you maybe can’t pay your rent or have to choose between rent and utilities, etc. That seems to be the position a lot of these smaller businesses are in and unfortunately, a big way to save money is by putting wages on hold. It stinks for the employees, but I don’t think any employer is sitting around rubbing their hands in greed over how they now,have an excuse to send their employees home and stop paying them. A lot of these people are genuinely aggrieved,over having to do layoffs/furloughs but have no choice and this,helps everyone.

      3. Susie Q*

        You act like all business owners are swimming in pools of money. A lot of businesses like a lot of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. No revenue, means no funds to business operations. It isn’t rocket science.

  28. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Are you willing to play hardball?

    You said that you have an option to “hire new staff” so I’m assuming there isn’t any great institutional knowledge or other “unquantifiable” things that these people bring.

    What they’ve overlooked is that the unemployment payment may be more than they are earning right now, but won’t last forever.

    You might want to take the compassionate approach and explain that right now, in the short term, they could perhaps ‘earn’ more from unemployment, but where does that leave them in the future?

    Would you take them back?

    Personally I’d balk at an employee, even with 10 years tenure, who refused to come back into employment because they wanted to “sit out” their own personal financial gain at the expense of the company. Why would you hire them back?

    That employee has already demonstrated a “I’m only looking out for myself” attitude, and as such the only reasonable response from the company is to be “only looking out for itself” in refusing to re-hire them!

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      And also, as an afterthought… it has just given you insight into these people that they are “short term” thinkers and don’t seem to see the bigger picture. I don’t know if the job requires anything other than small-world thinking but if it does… they have probably just inadvertently shown their hand about that.

    2. CL Cox*

      What the employees don’t seem to realize is that the unemployment ends as soon as they turn down the jobs.

    3. Specks*

      Who says the OP will keep them employed for any longer than unemployment, and won’t instead, say, lay them off right after the PPP runs out (long before July) and then at some point reduce staffing so much that they won’t be re-hired after months of being furloughed? If you find out the business you work for has to lay everyone off immediately because they don’t have enough capital, the same lack of capital will make it hard for them to survive the pandemic and recession, and I think it’s short-sighted to assume you will have a job with them come summer. It’s more short-sighted to endanger yourself by coming to work while saving up less for the tough period ahead than you’d be saving from unemployment.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Well, for most decisions there’s a trade-off.

        There isn’t really a health implication to this one (as clarified above, so “endanger yourself” is a false enemy here); it is purely that the furloughed employees are making more with the unemployment subsidy than they would be back at work, so (understandably, at some level) they don’t want to go back before they have to!

        True, those employees also have to consider that the OP may not be able to keep them employed, or reduce staffing or etc.

        It’s ultimately a trade-off of risk. The business not surviving the summer, vs ‘whatever your risk is’ .
        My philosophy is “always be able to give an account”.

        Why you made that decision (even if it’s a contrarian decision), etc.

        In the future — and keeping in mind that there are many years in the future when people have forgotten about the pandemic — how would you account for this gap in employment when asked about it? Oh, yeah, I had the option to go back but I was extracting more from the government so I decided I didn’t want to work after all! (is how it will be perceived).

        I’m sorry to be harsh but even in a pandemic, people still have to take responsibility for themselves, and be willing to give an account that is more than just “sorry not sorry I just took whatever gave me the most money at the time”.

        1. Blueberry*

          “there really isn’t a health implication” — aside of that leaving one’s home increases one’s risk of contracting a potentially deadly disease?

          “when people have forgotten about the pandemic” — may I live to see the day.

          1. A*

            I agree with you on your points – except, make no mistake, there will be a day where people forget about the pandemic / it fades into the background.

        2. mrs__peel*

          “There isn’t really a health implication to this one”

          Nobody right now can truly be sure that COVID is not in their area, or that it’s safe for them to go back to work outside the home. Very few people are actually being tested for it (particularly in rural areas), and many carriers are asymptomatic when they spread it around. Asking people to come back to work anywhere in the US right now is asking them to assume a higher degree of risk. It’s very natural (and reasonable) for people to be nervous about returning to work, regardless of where they live.

      2. A*

        Sure… but you lose unemployment after turning down the offer to return. How is zero benefits better than pay that is less than what your UI was prior to the offer to return???

        Or are you just assuming the employees won’t be reported / get caught?

      3. Uranus Wars*

        But what if they are able to bring them back and change their model of business to be sustainable? I have seen a number of small businesses in my town adapt their business models quickly, and on the fly. They are adding new services, creating unique opportunities for dining/delivery/experiences that have them making close to what they were before COVID. A lot of it is on the creative of the owner, but with a staff & help they might have the bandwidth to do try new things to make them profitable.

  29. NYCProf*

    I am surprised by the punitive tone of the comments here. The letter-writer is in a tight spot and it sounds like they are trying to do the right thing, but these employees now face the prospect of financial ruin or risking a life-threatening and life-altering disease. Social distancing at work is certainly helpful, but the risks are still there, just lower; people will still have to get to work and interact with that one other co-worker. It’s perfectly reasonable that employees would prefer to delay incurring this risk as long as possible, and would perhaps like to build up a bit of a nest egg in case they get sick later or simply to compensate them for the greater risk.

    They are being asked to go back to a very different job than the one they left–even if the duties are the same, the risk is higher. UI may not have been intended to serve as ‘income replacement while we ride out a pandemic,’ but that is how the government has chosen to support individuals during this time. (Instead of, say, a universal basic income that would allow people to prioritize their health.) The fault here lies with state governments, not the letter-writer or the employees.

    1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

      I wouldn’t say that the state government is any more at fault than the letter-write or the employees. I think it’s just an unprecedented situation with no good answer that everyone will be comfortable with. It might be easy or trendy to blame government, and it certainly has its faults and limitations, but I can assure you that government is made up of a lot of people who truly want to help people, not just the “faces” of government.

      1. HelloHello*

        I think it’s more than fair to question whether some segments of the government actually wants to help people….

        But even if everyone in the government were working in good faith, it’s also fair to use the current situation to take stock if our social security nets are working as well as they could, and if we should implement new or different policies to better support citizens in the face of this or future emergencies.

      2. CL Cox*

        Not to mention, UI is funded with the expectation that it will cover only a percentage of the income. And employers pay into the fund based on that reduced amount. And employees have a certain percentage withdrawn from their pay based on that reduced amount as well. If people expect UI to pay more, they will need to be willing to have more withdrawn from their paychecks. Or pay more in state taxes.

    2. Blueberry*

      I totally agree with you, and I really wish UBI were something anyone in US government at any level would even begin to consider. You’re probably going to get more than one comment laughing at the very idea, so I wanted to make sure to agree with you. There’s so much more I could say in vociferous agreement but I will hold off.

    3. JJ*

      Punitive is the perfect word. I’m also shocked by how many people are implying these employees are lazy or shortsighted. I am back at work with PPP and am well aware that if nothing new comes up in eight weeks, I will again be furloughed. As someone who works at a nonprofit, I’m happy to be at work and be able to help the community. If I was simply back at work to receive trickle down salary that boosts a private employers profit, I’d probably feel differently, ESPECIALLY if being back at work meant being on-site, which despite social distancing will still carry risks.

      Even if the risks at the job can be minimized, not knowing the location, there may be people relying on public transport to even get to work.

      Lots of things to think about, not trying to demonize the employer, but there’s no reason to look down on these workers this way.

      1. Pine Sol Stew*

        I think if we take the employees at their word, that their biggest priority right now is the higher payments they are earning with unemployment, they do seem shortsighted. There is massive unemployment that will likely continue long after states begin to reopen. Prioritizing a payment that will end in a couple months over steady employment is not looking at the long term.

        However, it’s entirely possible that while they’re citing the increased pay as their motivation, it’s more complex than that. If they had health concerns as well, children to take care of who are out of school, or other concerns, that’s obviously a different situation than just wanting a higher paycheck.

    4. Happy waitress*

      Here, here. It’s a tough situation for everyone. I love what I do, but I’m literally terrified to go back to work because of the close person-to-person nature of the duties pertaining to my job.

      I do not make more on unemployment (I make about 2/3rds) and would love to go back to work and making my normal wages, but having major health issues specifically pertaining to my lungs has me worried sick about returning. I don’t know what that world of work will even look like for me, and due to the nature of the business I’m wary of proper protections being put in place so that I’m as safe as the customers.

    5. mrs__peel*

      I agree completely. People are generally just trying to do their best in a very confusing and unprecedented situation.

      If I was in this situation (being asked to return to the workplace and increase my risk of contracting COVID), a big part of my financial calculation would involve my potential health care costs. I have a health plan with a high deductible and high out-of-pocket maximum (not uncommon for many Americans). If I did contract it and ended up in the hospital, I could easily end up owing $10,000. I’d have a lot of thinking to do about my finances and various risks.

    6. Specks*

      Thank you, NYCProf, for the best comment here. I’d just add the the federal government (and by that I mean the policy-makers and the lobbyists – no one is looking to demonize federal employees) is more to blame than state ones, but otherwise you’re spot on.

    7. pamplemousse*

      Thank you. My area still has stay at home orders, so I’m having trouble wrapping my head around a nonessential business trying to force people back to work under any circumstances. It’s an incredibly tough situation for everyone, but one reason the unemployment supplement is generous is that we as a society WANT people to be able to stay home and slow the spread, care for children, etc, vs. rushing back out into the world to spread the virus.

  30. Jedi Squirrel*

    For folks wondering if they can just bring back some workers at a higher rate, or bring people back part time, there are some pretty strict requirements from the federal government if you want this loan to turn into a grant, which is what OP is also concerned about.

    Link to follow. Please look at page 3.

    1. CAA*

      Ah, good to know. I suggested investigating part-time above, but didn’t know there might be requirements in the loan conditions that would prevent that.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I mean, it might be an option if OP were willing to pay back part of the loan, but we don’t know if they are in a position to do that.

  31. AaronK123*

    Unfortunately, this will backfire on the employee.
    By declining to go back to “work”, they will no longer be eligible for unemployment.
    My wife is in the same predicament. With the extra $600 a week, her UI was pretty much double her normal pay. Her employer is closed by state order until the end of June. Her employer got a PPP loan, so she is now back on payroll.
    It is what it is.

  32. Bookworm*

    I feel both sides. I’m lucky to be still employed and will continued to be employed barring the worst but I can see why they’d stay on unemployment given the general uncertainty and I understand why you obviously need to have them back or some other workforce in place and everything.

    It sounds like temporary hires might be the way to go, but as Alison says, that could still leave you without any employees in the end (plus the logistics and pure hassle that comes with bringing on new people).

    Good luck in however you choose to move forward!

  33. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

    Alternative solution: Call their bluff. Lay them all off (with any severance payments); after all it sounds like you don’t have any work for them at the mo. There is a federal (?) job funding scheme but they are having such a great time earning more on that, that they don’t want to go back to work! … I’m afraid these things go both ways.

    1. JJ*

      Such an aggressive comment against the workers. This is not an ordinary situation of someone just not wanting to work. Many people have health issues, or if not themselves have small children, or ill family members they help with. This is not a case of people simply being lazy.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Yes, because I was responding to the surface question: they don’t want to come back because they are ‘earning’ more from unemployment. OP said that “most of my furloughed employees are making more on unemployment than they did when they were at work (because of the $600/week supplement from the federal government on top of regular benefits) , and now don’t want to come back to work before their unemployment runs out.”

        To me that says it’s just a financial motive and not a health one.

        1. Specks*

          So you’re reading into one word (of the OP’s perspective — how exactly would they know about the complex calculations of their workers) to make your ungenerous conclusions about employee motivations? In another post, the OP noted that employees are allowed to not come back if they have childcare reasons, which suggests many are actually motivated by that. So stop with your gleeful moralizing.

          1. A*

            OP noted that because it is a national update, and relevant. There is nothing to indicate that the employees are motivated for reasons other than financial, which is at least spoken to in the letter. Even if (and I assume there are) there are employees that are impacted by the things you mentioned, it certainly wouldn’t account for all.

            Point being, OP has made it clear – in a direct manner – they have reason to believe *at least* some of the employees are motivated by the finances. Nothing has been communicated to speak to other factors, so we comment on what is known as per the rules of the site.

            Also, the last sentence in your comment undermined your whole comment. Ridiculous.

          2. Cj*

            I’m a CPA, and I’ve had eight small business clients call me with this same problem, and employees have been extremely up front. That’s exactly why they don’t want to come back. They’re making more money unemployment on unemployment and I’m just one CPA among 30 at our firm. Open messages on Microsoft teams going back and forth about this regarding other clients with the same problem.

            I’ve also had clients who are employees all me and tell me that they don’t want to go back to work because they’re making more unemployment, and what other reasons are there don’t have to go back they might actually fit into one of the categories, like lack of childcare, but their main reason is because they’re making more money in unemployment, and they’re trying to find the legit reason to decline to go back to work.

      2. Astro*

        OP stated the employees don’t want to come back to work because they are making more money on UC, not because they’re concerned about their health. When OP mentions that they’ll have to report their refusal to work and they’d lose their UC, their true motivation will likely show.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Agree with JJ; this is very harsh.

      The employer got a PPP loan to reopen his business, so apparently OP has work for them to do. It sounds like the OP is trying to reopen their business to avoid going out of business, thereby preserving these people’s job (which, they’ve said elsewhere, pay 20% than the national average for this type of job).

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Yeah, I understand why you guys are saying “lay them all off!” is overly harsh but the fact is, from the information posted in the Q… yes, there are jobs for them to do. Yes, OP is ready to re-open their business when they can, and re-employ these people. BUT…. in the meantime, they are refusing to come back to jobs that the OP already has available for them right now, because they are getting more money on unemployment than they would be while in normal employment by the OP… so they are hoping to ‘wait out’ and maximise the money they can get from unemployment, before they agree to go back.

        I can understand this from their perspective! But from the employer’s point of view what should they do? Wait for those people to take full advantage of a government scheme? Or let them know that they (OPs company) are ready to take them back now, but if they insist on waiting it out for a month or whatever that they can’t wait that long and will need to employ someone else in their place?

  34. JF*

    Yeah I have to agree here – this isn’t a job that can be done from home, so employees returning are risking their health and their family’s health and probably aren’t feeling a ton of loyalty due to being laid off. I’m assuming a good portion of people are in the childcare or health situation, so I hope if they are and they are officially called back, they can continue to get those benefits through those provisions.

    1. CL Cox*

      I’m not sure the company can afford to pay benefits to the new hires and the former employees.

  35. Dorothy*

    Unfortunately, some employees are not thinking long-term. A while back I had a labor helper at $13/hr who did a good job and wanted to raise his pay to $16/hr. His trajectory from there would have been a promotion and an even bigger pay, because we were growing like crazy. He refused the raise and shortly after quit and went to work at a local grocery store. Why? If he was on a lower wage, he qualified for subsidy to rent a new apartment that he wanted to live in. Btw, he had a wife who didn’t work and two small kids.

    1. That'll happen*

      I feel that’s a bit of an uncharitable way to look at it. There’s a concept called the benefits cliff – where a raise can lead to a net loss of income based on loss of eligibility for benefits. My guess is that subsidy was more than his raise, and it’s possible he could’ve lost other benefits as well – SNAP, WIC, low income subsidies for heating, and more. I might agree that it was a bit short-sighted, but he was doing what he thought was best for his situation at the time and he might not have been able to live off of a net loss while waiting for a promotion that possibly wouldn’t come.

      1. MissBliss*

        Sometimes you simply can’t afford to make decisions that will benefit you in the long term, especially when the “long term” is undefined and not promised. Maybe he would’ve gone on to quickly be promoted and making a great salary, or maybe your business would’ve stalled due to unforeseen circumstances (like the ones we’re in now!). You can’t bank on the future, and some people don’t have safety nets to fall back on if their calculated risks don’t pan out like they had hoped.

        1. Annony*

          Yes. Being “on track” for a promotion simply isn’t good enough if you can’t afford your bills and have two small children. When you are single it is much easier to gamble that the short term instability will pay off. It is very hard to make that decision with a family to support and no time frame for when you will actually get the raise or savings to make it through until then.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Yeah, I once gave up the equivalent of a year’s salary in cash (well, into my bank account, not literal cash in my hand) as part of a layoff with agreed severance etc by resigning for another job (outside the company) when we were in an extended notice layoffs period.

          Why? — because I needed an ongoing steady income, for a mortgage application, more than I needed a lump sum in the bank of a year’s salary at that point.

          It was another job down the line and another lump sum before I was finally able to get a mortgage but that’s another story!

          Just saying my decisions would probably have been perceived as ‘crazy’ by others outside the situation without insight into it. “Why oh why would you give up a $60000 lump sum payment into your bank account!”

      2. Jedi Squirrel*

        I’ve never heard of it called a “benefits cliff”—that’s interesting.

        The middle class equivalent would be where you get just enough of a raise that you’re bumped up into a higher tax bracket and actually end up with less take-home pay, but that’s probably pretty rare. I’ve seen a lot of people in my life run into the benefits cliff.

        1. That'll happen*

          I suppose it’s possible that if you get a raise they increase your witholding and your take home is lower, but you’re not actually making less money. Only the wages in the higher tax bracket are taxed at the higher rate.

        2. Alice*

          Because the higher marginal tax rate only applies to the income in the higher tax bracket, I don’t see how this can happen.

          There are good cartoon illustrating this at

          (As you can see from the URL the link discusses politics — if you don’t want to have that on your site then of course you’ll just delete the post. The pocket metaphor and graphics are a great explanation of tax brackets though)

        3. Another worker bee*

          That shouldn’t happen at all since tax brackets are progressive. I.e. if you are married and your AGI is 190k, only the amount above 168,401 is taxed at 24% and the rest is taxed at 22% down to the 12% cliff, where it’s taxed at 12%, and so on.

          You might get tax penalties from getting married or possibly making too much money to be able to use certain deductions, but it’s definitely not from the tax brackets.

        4. mrs__peel*

          At my company, once you hit a certain salary level, you have to pay a higher percentage of your health care premiums.

        5. nonegiven*

          It’s the same with the advance premium tax credit. Mine is $1k/month unless our income is $1 too much, then it’s $0.
          That is one heck of a cliff.

    2. Retail not Retail*

      Yeah, I had a coworker in retail craziness who found himself in that position a lot. Section 8 vouchers are retroactive, so in january he got 40 hour weeks and they adjusted it accordingly for February where he got 20 hours. Not that stark, but that was the gist.

      The benefits cliff, the ratio of your pay to the benefits, it’s terrifying.

  36. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The OP just sent me this, which I’ll also add to the note at the top of the page:

    “As for wages, on average we pay 120% over the national average for the service industry we are in. We do not require college education from employees and often hire people without work experience.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      And she’s in a rural area. No Covid cases in last 3-1/2 weeks. And won’t be engaging further in comments here because of the assumptions some people were making.

      1. Monty & Millie's Mom*

        She’s probably right to not engage. It’s hard to not make assumptions based on one’s own experiences/understanding, and it’s a hot button topic right now, but I’m sorry we as commenters were not more supportive and helpful.

      2. James*

        Imagine that. For not being willing to violate federal law or tank her company she’s been subject to what would, in any other situation, be considered harassment and abuse. I know comments sections are the dregs of the internet, but in the past few weeks the comments here have gone downhill.

        1. Susie Q*

          Agreed. So many people hear business owner and think “Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of money”. Which is further from the truth in many cases.

  37. Lora*

    OP, one more thought: given that some employees are afraid to come back to work, is there anything you can do beyond social distancing to help with their concerns?

    My employer is doing the following for people who must be on site:
    -Fabric masks provided for people to use in the office, surgical masks provided in the manufacturing area
    -Extra cleaning and sanitization of work spaces several times daily
    -Break room tables spread out to enable social distancing
    -Additional disinfectant wipes and Purell dispensers provided at key locations where you have to touch stuff, like next to restroom doors and staircase handrails; doors that can be propped open are open so nobody has to touch doorknobs
    -Temperatures checked in the parking lot as people come in, and anyone with a temperature sent home pending test results or 14 days PTO whichever comes first
    -Employees encouraged to eat at their socially-distant desks; some cafeteria food has also been made free for everyone (mostly snacks) which can be ordered via the company intranet and picked up so you don’t actually have to enter the cafeteria
    -Daily communications and stress-reducing guided meditation via Zoom
    -Hallways and entry/exit traffic re-routed to ensure that people don’t cross paths in the hallways
    -Employees document any contacts they have during the day and contact tracing is performed if management is notified of any symptoms requiring quarantine (doesn’t have to be confirmed with testing as testing is not available at every site). Employee names are not shared, it’s just a notification that you were in contact with someone who has shown respiratory infection symptoms, please see your doctor and get testing if possible.

    Would any of that be feasible and help allay your employees’ concerns?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      It wasn’t stated anywhere that they are “afraid to come back to work” other than the OPs assumption. Afraid of losing enhanced unemployment payments perhaps…! OP said they understand (in the sense of ‘hear’ or ‘are aware’?) that some are afraid to come back, but in one of the comments wasn’t it a relatively unaffected place and there were no immediate health concerns?

      1. Lora*

        I think it doesn’t matter so much what the actual risk is, it’s more how the risk is perceived, and that goes both ways: even when we’re not talking about a pandemic novel virus that is still relatively uncharacterized scientifically, even if we’re talking about say, the need for people to wear safety glasses in a room where things fly at your face by accident: some people will keep those safety glasses on the live-long day, and some will perch them on their foreheads until you yell at them every 10 minutes to put their safety glasses on PROPERLY. If there’s something you can afford to do about the *perceived* risk and communicate that you are being thoughtful of them and grateful for them accepting this risk to work for you (whether it’s a real risk or not, doesn’t matter) then it is helpful to do that if you want people to continue working for you when they have an immediate financial incentive not to.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I think it’s safe to assume that the vast majority of people have *some* level of fear of infection, anxiety, etc., during a global pandemic. Everyone I know is certainly anxious.

        A lot of people are more comfortable discussing their economic concerns than the private details of their mental health, especially with their employer.

  38. blink14*

    My family’s small business is dealing with the same thing. Most of the employees were laid off (both skilled and unskilled labor) and the unemployment benefits are more than they make on a regular salary. The business has been running on a skeleton crew to make essential medical products and is gearing back up to now run PPE, but most of the employees do not want to return, and there simply isn’t the money to pay them at the same rate as the unemployment. Most small businesses operate on a very thin margin, they aren’t rolling cash.

    But down the line when the benefits stop, they will all be looking for a job, could be out of work for extended periods of time. It’s a short term way of thinking, and unfortunately its happening a lot.

  39. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Isn’t there a cost to the employer when his employees collect UI?

    Does his UI cost go up?

    1. Phteven with a ph*

      Not really. You have a reserve that gets drawn on, and your UI insurance premiums may go up a little but generally the cost to the employer is very small

      1. LQ*

        The cost to employers can normally be really high actually, especially for small employers. It depends on the state and the industry and how much you pay staff. But if you are in a low wage industry and normally have a low turn over rate (or most folks who leave, leave for a new job) and have a small workforce then you can be signficiantly impacted.

        That said some of those fees are being waived for some programs and paid by the feds. (Waiting week, extensions, the disaster program and the $600 are all covered by the feds.) So that should be a little less of an impact right now. It’s also why employers (along with being required to do it) will (and should) notify unemployment if someone declines to return to work.

        They may continue to be eligible, but on a different program as well. (Like they may be inelgibile for regular benefits paid by the employer, but eligible for the diaster benefits paid by the feds.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      A couple claims aren’t that big of deal, it’s really about your “history”.

      If you have high turn over and constantly paying people unemployment, that’s going to hit you harder than this kind of crisis moment and for a few months.

      All our rates are going to increase in the end given the system being hit so hard. So I would just buckle in and accept it’ll happen and not take it into consideration at this point.

    3. eepeep*

      Phtephen is mistaken. Yes, a single claim causes the experience rating and cost of UI to go WAY up for the employer. Like over time, more money than you’d spend still employing them. Especially for a small (<20) business, a single claim has a huge impact.
      This is not a reason not to file, but it does make me scratch my head over why this employer would even consider this.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*


        I’ve been doing HR/payroll functions for businesses less than 50, often less than 20 people for almost twenty years and in both states I’ve resided in, it does not go “way up” for a single claim.

        Are you directly in a role that handles UI or is your employer telling you this? I’m not being snarky, I’m curious. I’ve seen owners/business people lie about the increase they foresee happening and employees taking them for their word. Just like I’ve seen owners lie about not taking a salary/money out of the business when they very much are taking money out of the business.

  40. Wilhelmina Window Washer*

    To some employees this feels like people living hand to mouth losing the only windfall they’ve ever gotten. The stimulus held people over till unemployment kicked in, and now some people are in a good place. Keep in mind most childcare and schools are still closed so many people can’t return.

    What about some kind of middle ground? Have your employees return to work in 4 weeks. That way they get some of the benefit still. You can give them all temporary raises, end date clear, to ensure you’re still spending 75% on payroll.

    Employers and employees have never had an obstacle like this before, so everyone coming together with some general goodwill will go a long way.

    1. CL Cox*

      The company probably can’t afford that. They’re paying people for 8 weeks for only 4 weeks of work. I’m sure they’d have no income coming in until, at the very least, after the employees are back at work. The grant/loan is intended to enable small business owners to get their businesses started immediately and be running for at least 8 weeks.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Also, this loan would no longer convert to a grant and employer would have to pay it back.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      To maximize loan forgiveness, you have to maintain headcount at pre-COVID-19 numbers AND spend 75% on payroll. Doubling payroll for 4 weeks doesn’t address the headcount requirement.

  41. HelloHello*

    It’s a sucky situation all around, and it makes sense you need to staff up right now. Destroying your business by failing to fulfill the terms of the loan won’t help anyone. That said, I really hope you don’t proactively report on any workers who chose not to come back and might be risking collecting unemployement still. The calculation they’re making at the moment isn’t as simple as ‘go to work or try to defraud the government.’ They’re facing an uncertain economy and tremendous risk to their health and the health of their families, and might be making a calculated risk because they don’t know if you’ll be able to still pay them after your PPP loan runs out, or if they don’t technically qualify to not return based on risk factors but still have to care for an immunocompromised family member or have a condition themselves that they’re unable to get a doctor’s note about. There are a number of people here saying this reflects very badly on your employees, but I’d urge you to have compassion and (as long as it doesn’t put you into legal hot water yourself) not act punitively towards them.

    1. HelloHello*

      Oh, and I’d also make sure they know about the carved out exceptions for folks who don’t have to return to work even if offered a job. Make sure any of your employees who don’t want to return and can do so completely above-board are able to do so.

    2. CL Cox*

      The employer is required to report at least quarterly, including names of employees paid and amounts withheld. Failing to do so can and will put employers in a lot of hot water.

    3. eepeep*

      Yeah, you can’t choose not to follow the law just because it’s a “sucky situation all around.” And you HAVE to report any unemployment fraud you’re aware of (like turning down a job offer and continuing to receive benefits) because they have a lot of checks and balances in place to prevent this type of fraud, and it will be super easy for unemployment offices to see what happened once they have time to operate at full capacity. Once they’re found out, they’ll have to return all the money and still be jobless. Plus, they’ll be in huge trouble. The employer wouldn’t be helping them to keep this under wraps. And employers have to follow laws too – one of which is that you MUST report fraud you’re aware of. They ARE liable so they MUST report.

  42. On a Break*

    Cut ‘me loose and hire people who want to work. There should not be a shortage of people who would love a $20/hr job right now. And absolutely contact your labor office to let them know your former employees have turned down the job offers.

  43. Quinalla*

    Yes, I know a restaurant owner whose employees were saying the same thing when he told them he’d be offering them their jobs back soon and he is even going to have them work less hours, but keep their weekly pay the same at first since they are only open for carryout. I definitely get why someone would prefer to make more money, but once their job is offered back, the employer is supposed to report that so they can’t keep getting that unemployment money with another allowable reason during this time to not go back to work.

  44. CBH*

    I’m just curious if the employees refuse to come back, wouldn’t they loose unemployment because they turned down a job offer?

    1. eepeep*

      Yes. As soon as they are offered their job back, they’re no longer eligible for unemployment. If they keep receiving payments, they will have to pay it all back as soon as the state notices, which may not be right away because of all the chaos right now, but it will be soon after.

      1. CBH*

        It sounds like in the long run with an unstable economy upon us, it would be better to accept the job; but I suppose that is for everyone to decide on their own. Maybe the employees don’t realize this?

        1. Cj*

          I don’t see how they did not realize this because every week when you apply for benefits, you have to say if you refuse to offer of employment. It’s very clear if you do oh, you are entitled to benefits. When, not if, they get caught, they will have to pay back not only the benefits that word entitled to, penalties as well and I woke garnish your wages and take any tax refunds they have until the debt is paid.

          1. CBH*

            I feel like there is going to be some disgruntled employees when they come back. Perhaps they didn’t realize all the issues that arise if employer or employee lied. While I believe OP is handling things 110%+ correctly, I bet the employees are going to feel like they were forced to comeback. They are lucky that their employer was able to get the funding.

  45. ReadyPlayer3*

    I guess I’m still stuck on the fact that I thought the extra money was to help pay for health insurance and build up a bit of a savings cushion. Also, aren’t ‘we’ as a society trying to keep people at home to prevent the spread. I feel like that’s getting lost in this discussion. You can’t have a livelihood if you don’t have a life.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      The fact is, unemployment just doesn’t come anywhere close to your regular pay rate. And you’re supposed to be actively job hunting while collecting it.

      The extra $600 was so that people wouldn’t be impacted too severely by being laid off or furloughed, and to keep the economy rolling. You’re absolutely right—we are trying to keep people at home with this extra $600.

    2. Always Mute The Zoom Meeting*

      Let’s also not forget all of the essential workers out there making FAR less than those collecting unemployment who have been putting their lives on the line without pause. They brave all of the fear and uncertainty because if they quit, they don’t get unemployment. I am getting tired of people raging about being afraid to go back when we have been asking out essential workers to do that this entire time. At some point, the burden is too much to bear and they will break.

  46. Retail not Retail*

    This is a fraud related question possibly. I know at least one other coworker has taken a sick day during this period, so I know I’m not alone.

    Since we closed, we’ve gotten our standard pay no matter what hours we worked. My manager wanted us doing 40 hours but by the third week someone had made him cut us to 25.

    Is it fraud unethical whatever? to claim “i’m nervous about corona” and stay home for other ailments? I’d usually work through my sinus drama with heavy meds and sleeping the weekend away and my anxiety with just repression. Instead I’m taking advantage of something unprecedented.

    My mom is legit high risk (seizures), sinus infections probably aren’t safe, and we have truly truly trained essential staff we don’t need getting sick.

    Am I like abusing PTO in some way? My boss hasn’t given me any pushback and I want to look good when we return to getting paid for what we work.

    Is this on par with “don’t hire me back I’m making more on unemployment”

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      Let me see if I’ve got my facts straight:

      1) You are working from home. Just fewer hours.

      2) You are still being paid your regular rate of pay.

      If that’s the case, then no, using a day’s PTO and not working is not fraud. If you need a day off because you’re having a physical health or mental health issue, and you’re entitled to take it, then you should take it.

      And if you’re not working from home, and going in to work, you’re still entitled to the PTO. Everybody needs a break every once in a while.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Oh! No, I work on location. Working from home is not an option.

        And we’re not touching PTO by taking time off. But we’re getting paid 40 for 25 hours.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Using PTO that is given to you, in any way you see fit, is not fraud. It is not misuse of PTO. That’s YOURS to use, you don’t need a “Good reason” you need zero reasons.

      You shouldn’t be working through your sicknesses, there’s no reason to be miserable and then use your “recoup days” of the weekends to recharge. No. weekends are to recharge you from a standard work week, not from being sick throughout that work week. That’s what PTO/Sick pay is for.

      What would be unethical is to say you’re working and claim “time worked” and not doing it.

      You can call in to say you’re going to do cartwheels in your back yard today and it’s a-okay.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          So if you don’t work 25 hours, they still pay you 40 hours and don’t take anything out of your PTO bank for the time you missed? Is that’s what’s going on?

          This sounds like they essentially, in their minds, moved you from formally “Hourly” workers to “Salaried”. So they give you work that they have and then pay you out at the base rate of your 40hr week. If you think of it like that, it’s no different than someone with unlimited PTO and salaried taking a day off here and there for minor issues.

          I really don’t think you need to worry about it unless your boss has an issue. I really think you were pushing yourself too hard in the first place and I know that’s a thing that happens with years of working in retail, where you go to work unless you’re unable to stand up out of bed. That’s not normal. It’s not healthy. And reasonable people don’t operate like that.

          If there’s anything respiratory going on right now, I say it’s fair to say that you want to be extra cautious. Sure, it’s probably your season sinus dripping but at the same time, that on top of the virus can lead you to a respirator. It’s not that far fetched.

          Try to take the idea of “taking advantage” of a system out of your head here. You really aren’t. We’re all extra tired. We’re all extra nervous. We’re all extra over-thinking. Your manager should be thinking about your working and the ethic surrounding that in “normal” circumstances and not during a world-wide crisis.

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      On the surface of it, even if it’s not fraud in the technical sense, if you ” claim “i’m nervous about corona” and stay home for other ailments” that you would normally just work through, you are definitely lying to your employer and that is unethical in itself.

      You stated yourself that you are “taking advantage”. I think you have your answer already.

      I believe “fraud” is a criminal (rather than civil) violation in most places and this probably wouldn’t meet that test, but it could definitely get you fired if they were to find out.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        My supervisor said he “called in sick” last weekend and I know that he didn’t use sick time because that’s not how our time is being calculated right now.

        Another coworker who made a big deal about how wrong it was to get paid not to work took a “sick day” this week for a migraine. (Most managers are not having their teams work every day or even every week because their job is not necessary and having extra bodies around is dangerous.)

        I got to work on Tuesday morning and felt fine, took pictures of some crazy deer, stood around at the morning meeting and got so nauseous I was like, “well I have to go, nice talking to you, I can’t push a mower or use a weedeater in fact driving is terrifying me, peace!”

        People are coming and going. We have a team of 10 but we don’t have enough essential work for 10 people to do. My boss would find enough work for us (digging out contaminated soil and leaving a tree and its soil in the middle) but those higher than him have stopped that.

    4. Princess Zelda*

      So you’re working 25 hours/week and nervous about calling in sick with something that isn’t corona? I think that as long as you’re honest about it you’re probably fine. Just call and say “I need to stay home sick, no it’s not corona, see you later.” It’s definitely not abusing your PTO policy or your workplace, especially since they don’t have enough work for you to do anyway! Feel better soon.

    5. Koala dreams*

      No, it’s not fraud to call in sick when you are actually sick. If you risk exposing other people to infections at work, it’s a very good idea to stay at home until the infection is over. In fact, where I live authorities recommend people to stay at home with any symptoms of corona, flu or common cold, and two extra days after the symptoms disappear. This is for two reasons: firstly, there aren’t enough corona tests for people, and secondly, even common illnesses like a flu or a cold can be dangerous for vulnerable people.
      Of course, even if your illness doesn’t spread, for example depression, or if you are working from home, you can still call in sick for it. It’s enough reason that you are sick and need to recover.

  47. Elizabeth*

    Speaking for myself, and many friends in my field who are both underpaid and laid off, $20 an hour is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you’re in a low cost of living are. If the letter writer needs new employees, I am ready and willing to relocate.

  48. Sara M*

    This is slightly rhetorical, but why do so many people fail to see that cost of living differs dramatically across the nation?

    $600/wk in San Francisco is COMPLETELY different from $600/wk in southeastern Iowa.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Ever seen the New Yorker cover “View of the World from 9th Avenue”?

      It’s not much of an exaggeration.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        It’s on Wikipedia! And fairly accurate.

        It reminds of the point of view that the north of England starts at Tottenham Court Road. Dude, you ain’t even out of London yet.

        1. Amy Sly*

          It always amazes me how many London street names I know because of “Cats.” Though he did get offended when he told me his parents live a block away from one of the roads mentioned, and I guessed every one *except* Victoria Grove.

    2. James*

      The worst part is, this has been known for a long, long time. Read “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and you’ll see a fantastic discussion of exactly this. This is like not knowing that the Earth revolves around the Sun.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s all about experiences and also just the fact people often see only dollar amounts.

      Everyone tells me Washington is “so expensive” and having lived in Oregon and Washington, I smile at them. It’s really not any different for me. I was making high end of market rate in Oregon, I am making high end of market rate in Washington. Given my occupation, I lived fine both places but I could get a helluva lot more home for my money back there! Nobody really grasps that until they come to visit and having seen my house back home, lol. “You downsized!” “Yeah…a place the size of my Oregon place would be literally 5x what I was paying in Oregon, so…”

      I know a lot of people who haven’t actually been to a city larger than 25,000 people. I also know people who have never visited a farm and think we’re a bunch of yokels, so it’s really about personal experience and perspective. It’s not easy to be “worldly” and understand differences, we’re creatures of our own pastures.

      1. Amy Sly*

        One of my favorite film critics has a rant about how much he despises New York. Perhaps my favorite bit: “A New Yorker called me provincial. I grew up in Amsterdam and live in DC!”

        The size of the place one is from has little to do with how “in a bubble” one is about other people’s lifestyles.

        1. Blueberry*

          If he hates New York he must be having a great time reading the news right now. But yes, people from any size place can be insular if they don’t challenge themselves to not be.

          1. Amy Sly*

            He lives in New York now. He just had a hard time dealing with his neighbors.

            Another part of the rant:

            Is there a single square inch of New York City that doesn’t have a song written about it? Like, is this something you New Yorkers do? Like, they wake up in the city that never sleeps, and so they say goodbye to their Coney Island babies and take the A train to find a rose in Spanish Harlem or see those dancing feet on 42nd Street, but they get no offers, just the come-ons from the whores on 7th Avenue?

            1. Blueberry*

              Having a hard time dealing with one’s neighbors is a NYC tradition! And this paragraph made me laugh aloud. I think I performed half those songs in high school and college. Maybe I should write a song about the neighborhood where I grew up. (No I should not.)

  49. Some2*

    I feel for the OP here. $20/hour in a rural area goes FAR. I moved back to a metro area out of a rural area in the heartland 2 years ago and am still shocked at times by prices I see for housing, groceries, even gas.

    But I also get that for some of these people its a chance to get ahead, even for a bit. If I was OP I’d offer everyone their job and whoever didn’t come would be eligible for rehire later but I’d fill their spot to stay compliant with the PPP.

    That said, this is a REALLY unusual situation because in far, far too many states the standard UI benefit is a colossal joke. In my state its around $300/week. Maybe you can get by in a rural area but in a metro/suburban/exurban area you’ll likely barely cover your housing with your entire month’s UI, unless you live in a substandard apartment or ramshackle house. Our UI computer system is from the 60s and has really been struggling to keep up and make the federal benefit changes. We’ve turned UI into a shaming device and use lowering it like a cudgel/virtue signal in our politics and its sick. At one point I think they tried changing the UI duration to something like 12 weeks but the courts tossed it out. I know in my field your odds of being hired within 12 weeks are very, very slim.

    1. A*

      *Some* rural areas. In mine, absolutely not. Our cost of living is comparable to the metropolitan cities ~2 hours away in each direction. We are almost all farm land, rural areas etc., hill towns of 500+ ppl etc. … but $20/hr won’t get you far.

  50. Mme de Poppadom*

    Those ppl who got the supplement but don’t understand its terms makes me think of the headache Jan went through trying to coach Michael Scott into getting the raise he was negotiating:
    Jan: Okay, Michael. I can offer you a 12% raise, but you have got to ask for 15.
    Michael: Well that’s ridiculous I’m not gonna make—
    Jan: No, just… I just need you to ask for it, so I can record that you asked for it. Okay?
    Michael: Ah, so… All right, Levinson. Here’s the rub. I would like a 15% raise.
    Jan: No. But we can offer you 12.
    Michael: But you just said 15.

  51. J.B.*

    I have kids. I’m not trying to work at a grocery store because noway nohow is it worth it until kids are back in school. Even if child care were available. I’m not sure I will qualify for unemployment when my current contract ends in a couple of weeks. If OPs employees have a reason like health or child care I get why in my bones. If not I don’t think they are making the best long term decision. As long as he tried, he should move on and hire others.

  52. Phil*

    So people are choosing a temporarily increased rate over consistent long term employment, and the money they’re getting now is at OP’s expense (via taxes)? OP should tell them to GTFO.

  53. Mother Trucker*

    I’m not sure if this differs state-to-state, but at least in IN if your employer calls you back from layoff and you refuse, then you are no longer qualified for unemployment. Also, the extra $600 is only given through August, so if you refuse to come back and your position is filled in the meantime, you will only hurt yourself in the long run.

  54. New Jack Karyn*

    After going through the comments, I have to say that you must hire new staff as soon as may be. Advise all your non-returning staff that only people in X and Y situations are legally allowed to have their UI extended. Let the state know if and when they require you to report that they did not return after being offered comparable work.

    Some of the people you spoke with may have indicated that it’s the money, when actually they’re worried about the virus. Maybe they didn’t want to admit their fears, or disclose a medical condition, or any number of other reasons. So you can walk a line about not making a moral judgment about them, while also not beating yourself up for not being able to retain all of your crew.

  55. What the What*

    Businesses never should have been put in a position to compete with the federal government on this. They can’t afford it. Especially not now. I’m in the accounting profession and my professional community was shocked when we found out the extra federal benefits weren’t going to cap at 100% of the worker’s normal wages. The results have been predictable. Now people don’t want to go back to work. The government appears to have failed to predict the consequences of their policy. I doubt very much that it was their intention to keep people out of the workforce and make it even harder for businesses to resume, but they’ve done it.

    Throw in PPP headcount requirement and you’ve got all of these businesses trying to hire from a limited pool of workers who are willing to work, all at the exact same time. The point of PPP, the employee retention credit, and paid family/sick leave was to keep employees ON the payroll. Then the federal government sabotaged everything it was trying to do by offering an extra $600/week bonus to anyone who stays on the unemployment rolls.

    It’s not realistic for businesses to increase pay to match this. Sorry to break it to people who think business owners roll around in piles in dollar bills, laughing about how they robbed their workers and giving themselves caviar facials. That’s not reality. In reality, trying to offer a significant increase in wages will bankrupt a business that is likely already on the verge of bankruptcy.

  56. Granger*

    Doesn’t unemployment get “audited” pretty regularly? I know there are multiples of millions of claims right now, but isn’t this likely to come to light anyway (at some point – and states don’t hesitate to require full re-payment)?

  57. Granath*

    Hire replacements and report these deadbeats as ineligible for unemployment if they refuse to return. They’re trying to game the system and are no different than companies that passed themselves off as small businesses to get the PPP loans. In a time where we should all be working together, they want to suckle off the taxpayers tit and sit at home.

    I have zero sympathy for these types when about 30 million have lost their jobs.

    1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      So, let me get this straight: you’re saying it’s immoral for ordinary workers to “suckle off the taxpayers” but it’s fine for the LW to be saying “you have to come back to work, because otherwise the federal government isn’t going to give me free money. The sanction for not hiring enough people is that the business will have to pay back the money the taxpayers are lending them.

      The LW needs to hire people, yes. But if he doesn’t, it won’t be considered fraud, and all that happens is that he doesn’t get free money from the government.

      It wouldn’t be wrong of the LW to hire different people. But he and this furloughed employees are both trying to maximize their government grants.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Thats not what the LW is saying at all. She’s saying she’s not sure if it’s ethical to move forward with hiring other people because it means she won’t have spots still open for her old staff if they eventually want them. There’s nothing in her letter about trying to force people to return.

        (Also, it’s weird how many people are assuming this LW is a man. She’s a woman.)

        1. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          The LW isn’t saying that, I know. It looked as though Granath was using this letter to say that.

  58. professor*

    won’t they immediately lose unemployment since the job is equivalent to the one they were furloughed from? Unlike the case in a previous letter where they were offered back the job at half pay?

  59. What the What*

    To the OP – You’re not alone. But there are still a lot of people who were not in the workforce before who are available now. High school kids are basically out of school early and may be open to a full time job, especially high school seniors who want to sock away some cash before college. There are also a lot of college kids who have had internships cancelled who would love to get something on their resume. You might consider contacting the local university’s career services and see if you can get the word out. Also ask around Facebook for kids and spouses who might be willing to take on a job, and look at posting on any local community Nextdoor and Facebook groups.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Yes. I have quite a few students who have been working full time since we sent everyone away from campus. It’s heartbreaking how many have to do so because mom/dad is furloughed or laid off, while trying to complete their classes and take final exams.

  60. All Hail Queen Sally*

    This very topic was just discussed on the national news this evening! States are considering having employers report those individuals who are refusing to return making it likely they would lose their benefits even if they were afraid of getting sick!

      1. Phil*

        I’ve seen the issue being discussed in a few different sources. Not specifically this letter/Alison’s response, but that’s probably why you think you saw it elsewhere.

  61. Jane*

    Why not offer a COVID bonus/hazard pay to a smaller set of your employees?

    That way you can hit your payroll target, the folks who want to stay out (whether cause of the $600 bonus or cause of the risk) can continue being eligible for unemployment, and you are rewarding the people who come back for their added risk and commitment to the business?

    If you laid them all off due to reduced business I imagine you could make it with a smaller staff, and the ones who stayed on unemployment would still be an easy pool to hire back when and if you need to.

    You’d need to be super clear about the temporary bonus nature of the extra money. Tell them exactly how many months it would last, based on the terms of the loan.

    1. Princess Zelda*

      Assuming that this arrangement complies with the terms of the PPP loan, I think it’s reasonable! Especially if OP has some staff members who are going stir-crazy stuck at home and some staff who have an elevated need to continue to stay home (at-risk population, caring for kids, etc).

      OP could also try scheduling some of her staff hours where they still can collect the bonus UI money. In my state, you get the full $600 if you qualify for $1 of unemployment. If she is able to bring back some staff for Y hours to pay them a gross of UIcap-$5, then that might be a good option for some of their staff that might want to come back but don’t think they can afford it.

    2. Bella*

      the payroll target isn’t a $ #, it’s a percentage of workforce (I think 75% – and most people aren’t going to cut it right at 75% in case someone quits)

  62. gsa*

    I found two useful links regarding UI benefits and how to apply for them. They match.

    The below includes the Federal $600/wk.

    In my state maximum benefit is $350/wk.

    I person that makes minimum wage receive $191/wk. about 150% of the salary.

    I person that makes my wage would receive about 75% of their salary.

    I ran the numbers. If I were receiving state and federal benefit

    I will reply to myself so Alison can vet them.

    My question, what is the reporting process?

    If a business owner receives a PPP loan and calls back the and they don’t return, Doss the business owner report this? Is it on the employee to self report? Do this receiving benefits understand the terms of said benefits?

    Anyways… the matrix is growing. Hopefully people are paying attention. Me, I’m trying…

  63. Swamp Rabbit*

    From a public health perspective, the extra $600 per week is a beneficial tool to discourage people from feeling compelled to find a new source of income *right now,* and therefore expose themselves and their loved ones to the virus. I’m on a furlough until likely mid-summer. My state’s unemployment rate is 50% of your income, so if that’s all I was getting, I’d be busting my butt to make up for the lost money. I have what would be considered a middle-class job pay-wise, albeit on the lower end. Slash my pay in half, and I fall below the poverty line. In many states, the UI proportion of your income is even worse, or may have an extremely low monthly cap. If the extra $600 wasn’t available, I would need to find a temp position or at the very least gig work to avoid bills going into collections. Looking at what companies are hiring in my immediate area, many of these aren’t critical businesses like hospitals or grocery stores, but cube-farm type places that have found a way to lobby the state government to stay physically open because “well, two years ago we had a client who was in healthcare!” If my car was at risk of repossession or a debt collection agency called me about a labwork bill, I might have no choice but to apply for dodgy employers like this. The extra $600 encourages unemployed people to stay safely at home, rather than getting a job at all costs that could lead them to contract the virus and pass it along to others. It also means that people are less likely to jump into the gig economy, which likewise would pose a public health risk. Arguably grocery delivery service could be an important service for some people, particularly for those who are immune-compromised and don’t feel safe going into stores themselves. But taking a housecleaning gig on TaskRabbit or helping someone hang new wallpaper in their living room? Gigs like this don’t have a critical function during a pandemic and are just putting financially desperate people at risk of getting sick. People who may have lost their health insurance coverage due to lay-offs should not have to put themselves into dangerous situations like this that raise their risk of requiring costly medical services. If people are unable to afford prompt medical care, they could become vectors of the virus. The extra $600 helps keep unemployed people safe, as well as their families and employees at essential businesses they may come into contact with.

    For me personally, the extra “$600” will be a game changer…once the state finally finishes processing my unemployment application. For my particular situation, it will work out to be roughly an extra $1,800 a month until July 31st, assuming my employer keeps me furloughed until then. I’ve avoided the dentist for the past five years because of the expense. Due to costly medical issues which were more emergent in nature, this was something I unfortunately had to keep pushing off. Once my state opens up again, getting a dental cleaning and any necessary work on my teeth will be first on my list! For months my car has been making a weird noise, and I have been rather concerned that it might break down in the middle of a highway. The mechanics I spoke with believe it will require a repair that is typically $800-1000. Pre-COVID, I was doing the math and anticipating I likely would not be able to afford to get this addressed until September. Now I should be able to get this repair done in May! The extra $600 helps people take care of basic things to keep their bodies healthy and the roads safe. It also gives me the confidence that I will eventually be able to start putting aside some money in the event my employer would change the furlough into a permanent layoff. I intend on calling my senator to inform him of the tangible ways this extra $600 is making a difference in my life, and the lives of other people who were barely getting by. It’s completely understandable that many people who are still employed are frustrated that they are showing up to work everyday and aren’t able to reap the benefits of the extra $600. We’re all on the same team – come fall, I could be in your position of having to come into work, or you could be in my position and find yourself unemployed. I encourage people who feel angry about the $600 unemployment supplement to channel that frustration constructively – let’s encourage our elected officials to mandate hazard pay for all those who are working right now and keeping our country afloat.

    During the last recession, the taxes on my supermarket cashier paychecks went to help bail out the big banks – and I wasn’t even old enough to vote. I am fortunate that I was *just barely* able to cobble together grants and loans needed to get a college degree, so that I could get a better paying job (albeit one still makes less annually, adjusted for inflation, then older relatives were able to make at my age without a college degree). But the people working at that supermarket? New employees there are making the same exact pay they did during the last financial crisis: $7.25 an hour. Most of the folks who have stayed around the past decade and weren’t able to get management jobs haven’t even gotten enough in raises to crack $8.00 an hour. For many of us, the recovery from the last recession was truly a recovery in name only. Now it’s our turn to get back a small portion of the economic progress from the last decade that never trickled down to us. Nope, we’re not going to run out and buy houses now. But once I finally get the extra $600, I will be able to tackle late fees and the interest that have accrued since the layoff :)

    1. Perpal*

      I’m glad that you’re anticipating getting the support you need to get through this.
      In regards to the OP and their employees situation though, fraud is still fraud, no matter how nice or needed the extra money is. If people stay home and don’t work strictly to collect extra money as OP implied, it’s going to strain the UI resources even more.
      As COVID risk stabilizes, more and more people are going to have to go back to work, or the burden will fall increasingly on “essential employees” to support everyone else, or I guess we’ll just have economic collapse.
      The OP’s question isn’t whether the extra $600 is helpful to their employees, it’s what to do about employees that don’t want to go back to work, per OP mostly because of the extra money they get on UI. Continuing to collect UI when your job is available again at the same income level is fraud. Most people who commit fraud have reasons why they want the money, but it’s still not the right way to get it.

      1. Swamp Rabbit*

        I agree fraud is certainly a concern. Employees who aren’t willing to go back to their original position (unless there is an outstanding circumstance, like a health condition that puts them at high risk or childcare issues), contributes to public support for the $600 supplement becoming undermined. Employers and UI offices do need to be vigilant in addressing fraud so taxpayer dollars aren’t being misused.

        I would caution employers to take into consideration that some employees may still feel unsafe returning to work. The “Not many cases” cited by the OP could mean there are only five cases across someone’s tri-county area. Other people might define “not many cases” as “only a couple hundred,” depending on their perspective. Truth be told, even a couple of cases still means there is a possibility for community spread, depending on if the affected are practicing adequate social distancing. Some regions are still struggling with inadequate testing, so cases could be significantly undercounted, particularly if you need to be over 65 or a healthcare worker to get access to a test. When I saw “no new cases recently,” my first thought was how recently? If there have been no new cases in a couple weeks, that could potentially be a signal it’s safe to start reopening. But if there have just been a few days of no new cases, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Drive-through testing locations close in poor weather, or testing sites may temporarily experience a shortage of tests while they are waiting for new shipments and have to put a pause on testing. For counties with only a couple of testing sites, this could lead to data that creates the false impression COVID in their region is under control. I commend the OP for posing this question on AAM, but do ask that employers in their position consider whether the decrease in cases has been longstanding enough for staff to feel safe to return.

  64. Big Biscuit*

    Alison’s response was spot on. I’m having the exact conversation with some of my furloughed employees. We paid healthcare benefits for the first month and a half also, but now it’s time to get on the bus or decline. The industry I’m in is starting back up. Some will make slightly more on unemployment but that is a short-sighted view in my opinion. I think in our state we are required to report an employee who declines an offer to come back to work and we are letting them know that as they make their decisions. Also, the job market may be dramatically different in three months, maybe 20% real unemployment. Do they want to face that?

  65. Pay It Back*

    It may also be possible for you to just not spend all of the PPP loan (by not rehiring people) and then once your forgiveness has been calculated based on the as-yet-kinda-vague criteria, repay the remaining part of the loan with the money you did not spend. What is not forgiven is a 2-year loan at 1%.

    Obviously if you have work that needs to be done, you need to hire people, but putting people on payroll just to spend the PPP money doesn’t appear to make much sense.

  66. agnes*

    This is a real and growing concern. We have a number of part time employees who are making significantly more from unemployment than they were when they were working. I think it is a loophole in the law that ought to be addressed. Making more than 100% of your working salary–using money the federal government is having to borrow to give you—doesn’t seem right.

    1. Astro*

      I don’t think it’s a loophole. It is addressed in that you can’t receive UC if you’re offered your job and turn it down. Employees and employers need to remember that and report when people are milking the system.

  67. Janet*

    If you offer a laid off staff person their job back (at the same salary/wage they made prior to the layoff) and they turn it down – I don’t believe that they would remain eligible for Unemployments. To qualify for unemployment you have to be willing and able to work. Turning down the same work at the same, removes the “willing”. This should be clarified in the Media and by the Employer. Also, if the laid off employees remain on unemployment, the business owner’s UI insurance premium can (and most likely will) increase in the coming quarters/year.

    1. a nonnie nonnie non*

      I don’t know for sure but I think this is also the case if you are “furloughed”. If you don’t go back to your original place of employment you would loose benefits. I don’t know for sure though.

  68. Holly*

    OP, have you looked into whether your state DOL has a shared work program? Your employees would be able to work part time and collect partial unemployment (with the same $600 bonus) – it’s intended to be a reduction in work hours across all employees as opposed to replacement for layoffs, though, and it seems like that happened already. I would inquire with your state DOL.

  69. Chatterby*

    Reporting them to the unemployment office is unlikely to get you happy workers back, BUT, you should point out that you’re now going to consider them as having quit, instead of being furloughed, and end their health insurance benefits. You could likewise use the incentive of healthcare insurance to entice the ones you laid off-laid off back.

Comments are closed.