TN Democrats say protect employees and merchants who feel it’s unsafe to return to work

State Sen. Brenda Gilmore

The Tennessee House Democratic Caucus says people who feel now is not the time to reopen businesses and return to work should be protected. According to recent media reports, the Department of Labor is saying that workers that refuse to return to work out of safety concerns could lose their CARES Act unemployment benefits.

According to the federal Department of Labor website, “Voluntarily deciding to quit your job out of a general concern about COVID19 does not make you eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance.”

In Tennessee, despite saying in an earlier press conference: “Tennesseans can still collect unemployment if they are afraid to return to work”, (Commissioner Jeff McCord, Governor Lee press conference—4/22/20)…Department of Labor Commissioner McCord confirmed in Tuesday’s afternoon press briefing that benefits would not be protected because of “some sort of worry about going back to employment. If you are offered a job and if your employer opens back up, then you stand a chance of losing those benefits if you don’t have a clear (health) reason not to go back.” In terms of state benefits, NO clear guidelines have been given issued as of today.

Similarly, business owners who do not reopen for health reasons after the state is “open for business” could also face the loss of their assistance. Any concerns that small business owners may have about potential exposure for themselves, their employees and their customers may have to be laid aside.

Again, there have been no clear guidelines issued about assistance for them.

Caucus leaders say Democrats will always keep Tennessee lives at the forefront and will continue to fight for all working class citizens, small business owners and the Tennesseans who are now being asked to choose between physical health and financial stability. These are very trying and traumatic times for all. At a time when the state is seeing its biggest jump in cases, Governor Lee is asking people to return to work. Democratic leaders believe there are solutions that can preserve both without creating additional difficulties in the lives of our citizens.

The House Democratic Caucus held a press conferences across the state to discuss what can be done to help working Tennesseans and if the real reason that the state is re-opening so quickly is to reduce the amount of assistance it has to pay out. Governor Lee has pledged a transparency in his administration’s response to the Coronavirus, however questions continue to swirl on important issues like providing aid to needy Tennessee workers and business owners.

The press conferences was held on Wednesday, April 29th in the three grand divisions of the state on ZOOM at 11:00am Eastern and Central times. ZOOM invitations for each of the three press conferences in the state’s three grand divisions will sent out in a follow-up email.

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