The House of Delegates passed a bill meant to protect employees from losing unemployment benefits for some employees who can’t work due to COVID-19. It includes a key provision that provides unemployment benefits for people who don’t go to work because they believe their employer is not following COVID-19 safety standards.
According to a newsletter, HB 2037, sponsored by Delegate Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), would “allow unemployed Virginians to keep their unemployment benefits and not have to return to work if they have a COVID-19 diagnosis, are caring for a family member with COVID-19, or believe their workplace is not complying with Virginia’s COVID-19 workplace safety standards.”
In a Tuesday vote, the bill passed 56 to 42, with most Republicans voting against the bill.
Delegate Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) told The Virginia Star that the big problem with the bill was the clause that extends unemployment to those who believe their workplace is unsafe. Freitas said state agencies will likely determine if applicants meet the standard and if a workplace was legitimately unsafe.
One clause of the bill extends unemployment benefits “[i]f the individual has a reasonable belief, based on satisfactory evidence, that the workplace is unsafe because it does not meet governmental-mandated COVID-19 health and safety standards for the workplace.”
“They have to have a reasonable belief based on satisfactory evidence that the place of work is not following government mandated standards, et cetera,” Freitas said. “The question is how will this be effectively enforced. Or will they just hand out benefits?”
He said, “How do you go about determining whether or not they had a reasonable fear based on satisfactory evidence? Do you do a spot inspection of the business and if it turns out that they’re not implementing policies, do you automatically award it?”
Freitas also said the bill was an extra burden on employers that could result in fewer jobs, since employers have to pay increasing unemployment tax rates the more their employees claim unemployment. “It’s one more liability on employers,” Freitas said.
“This is something that our Democratic colleagues don’t seem to ever understand is that there’s three general questions that every employer asks to hire someone: can they do the job, can I afford to hire them, what sort of liabilities are associated with hiring them?
Freitas said, “The more they keep piling on these additional requirements, on employers, whether its paid sick leave or a new category of paying for unemployment or things like that, it basically discourages hiring.”
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