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.