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Fear going back to work when your company opens up again? Don't count on state jobless benefits


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne) -- A state labor official has walked back earlier assurances that employees who fear returning to work because of coronavirus will continue to receive jobless benefits.


On April 22, Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord told reporters guidance he had from federal officials was that workers who feared returning to work once their employer called them back would continue receiving benefits.


"Right now we have federal guidance that tells us that, yes, that job refusal if somebody's afraid to go to work they can still collect the unemployment benefits as they go - at least the federal piece."


However, during a press briefing six days later, Commissioner McCord stated emphatically that employees will not be eligible for jobless benefits if they refuse to return to work once their company resumes operations.


"If you're offered a job, if your employer opens back up, then you stand a chance of losing those benefits if you don't have a clear reason not to go back."


The change in direction came in the same week Gov. Bill Lee launched his effort to restart the pandemic stalled Tennessee economy. Lee allowed restaurants to begin serving in-house patrons again Monday. Retail stores were allowed to open on Wednesday. The governor will permit his Safer-at-Home order to expire on Thursday.


Nearly 400,000 Tennesseans have applied for jobless benefits over the past five weeks as the health crisis shuttered businesses statewide. Although the Department of Labor has struggled to respond to the surge in applicants, the state has begun paying up to $275 a week in state jobless aid, along with $600 a week in federal unemployment benefits approved by Congress.


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