Some business owners have expressed concerns that a provision of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act could persuade employees who were laid off to accept only limited hours if asked to come back to work.

The federal legislation passed last month offers individuals who have lost their jobs due to the novel coronavirus pandemic $500 a week in addition to the unemployment insurance they receive from their respective states. New York typically provides compensation of no more than 50 percent of a person’s wages.

For many of those who have lost their jobs, the extra $500 combined with what they receive from their state will cover their full weekly pay. The intent of the CARES Act is to stimulate the economy and help people whose employers cannot pay them.

But employees may not return to their full work schedule even if it’s offered to them, at least not right away. Madison Anderson, communications director for U.S. Rep. Elise M. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, said that people would continue receiving their $500 a week from the federal government until July 31 if they work fewer than four days a week.

Scott A. Gray, who owns Gray’s Flower Shop with locations in Carthage and Watertown, is worried this may impede his ability to bring employees back to work. For a period of time, people could earn their full weekly wages by working less of the time.

Mr. Gray, who also serves as chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, raises a legitimate issue. This setup potentially creates an incentive for individuals to refuse to return to work or take on fewer hours than offered. And this could result in problems for employers who need to increase their operations once the state’s lockdown regulations are loosened.

One way to address this in any future federal legislation would be to develop a mechanism for employers to document how many weekly hours that workers have been offered. If employees are given the opportunity to return to their full work schedule, the funds from Washington would be cut off. The amount of this money also should be adjusted to maintain someone’s weekly wages based on how many hours they can work.

If the businesses are allowed to operate and generate revenue, they can pay their employees. So these individuals should not be double-dipping on unemployment insurance and their salary.

But while this phenomenon may play itself out to some extent, we don’t believe it will be widespread. First of all, most people take pride in providing for themselves and their families through an honest day’s work. They don’t want to become dependent upon the government to earn a living.

And a key factor in this is that when many people lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance. Weekly stipends from the federal government through July 31 aren’t going to replace this essential benefit. Regaining the ability to pay for medical expenses without going broke offers a strong impetus for employees to go back to work.

And employers have some leverage against enduring this problem. They are within their rights to let workers know that jobs are available to those who wish to accept their full weekly schedules.

The federal funds are only good until July 31, so employees should be willing to take on their previous hours if they want to return to work at all.

Making it through this health care crisis requires weighing everyone’s interests. Help from the federal government is appropriate as long as it preserves the rights of both workers and employers.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(1) comment


When the ban is lifted on flower shops, Scott Gray wants his workers back to pick up where they left off. The glitch he sees is that, between unemployment and CARES Act benefits, his workers make as much or more than they earned pre-pandemic.

He fears his workers will stay at home (if they do, they're character-flawed and government leeches) or work fewer hours (if they do, they're double-dippers) in order to retain their benefits. Both "bad-worker" generated scenarios would imperil operations at the flower shops.

The WDT provides a way to address the problem in future federal legislation. Let's develop a mechanism for employers to "tell" on workers who refuse their return-to-work offers. Let's empower employers to make workers work the number of hours they say... or else. Take that, workers!

What a farce.

Leave it to Scott Gray and the WDT to sit in their ivory towers and manufacture through their privileged, detached from the worker, power to the employer, neoliberal, lenses THE WRONG PROBLEM.

Here's your problem, Scott Gray, it's HUGE, and it totally eclipses the problem you think you have.

Your problem is that you want your workers back to pick up where they left off.

However, the last time "left off" entered the minds of your workers was when they left off.

Although it may go against the grain of your employer-being, Scott Gray, for once it would be wise to peer into your workers' minds and explore the content. Here's the "stuff" that occupies, loudly and relentlessly, every square inch of them:

Returning to work will consist of wearing latex gloves, donning a mask that will likely impair my normal breathing and irritate my face in time, and running back and forth between arranging flowers, washing my hands, refilling the hand sanitizer container, wiping down surfaces with Clorox wipes, dealing with customers' anxieties and special pandemic-associated requests of a critical nature, maintaining a 6-foot distance between myself, co-workers and customers, seeing every human being I come in contact with as vectors for disease, worrying endlessly about my exposure to COVID, especially because it inflicts an inordinate number of service/retail workers, fearing I'll expose family members at home to disease, wondering when a second wave will hit, wishing I qualified for a diagnostic or antibodies test, wishing I had a hazmat suit to wear, and expending tons of emotional labor on top of my physical labor.

Add to that "stuff," "stuff" like this: My childcare expenses, because my children are not in school, eat up my pay check. I can't meet the expectation that I be their teacher when I'm at work. I've never had to buy$ more food in my entire life. It's been months since I've seen the faces of my friends and extended family members who normally support me... and so on ad infinitum.

If you want your workers back, Scott Gray, you'll let go of "left off," embrace "new-and-hardly-normal," and transition from strictly being an employer to being an employer, public health expert, psychologist, social worker, work-community and work-culture builder, problem-solver, compromiser, listener, friend, etc., and you'll become empathetic, benevolent, generous, accommodating, and charitable.

And you thought your workers' unemployment benefits were the problem.

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