Refusing Work While on Unemployment

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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Refusing a job while receiving unemployment benefits may have a negative effect on receiving benefits, depending on the job and depending on where the unemployment recipient lives. Each state has its own eligibility rules on receiving unemployment benefits while unemployed or between jobs. Typically, the individual must be ready and able to work and actively seeking a job. So if an individual is offered work and chooses to decline, the person faces the threat of losing benefits, unless there is a valid reason why the individual opted against accepting the offer of employment.

Declining a Job and Receiving Unemployment Benefits

Though the rules of eligibility vary with each state, in general, an individual who is collecting unemployment benefits must be willing to take a job that he is qualified for if one is offered. The job typically needs to pay a reasonable wage and the salary or wages need to be close to what the unemployed individual was making in a previous position. However, the longer an individual is on unemployment, the more he may be expected to compromise as far as salary when determining whether to take a job.

In the state of New York, for instance, anyone collecting unemployment benefits is required to look for and accept a job that pays the prevailing wage even if the wage is less than what was earned in previous positions. Once thirteen weeks of benefits have been received, individuals collecting unemployment may be required to accept an offered job if they are capable of performing the work, if it pays at least 80 percent of their previous base salary, and if it pays the prevailing wage for that type of work.

For instance, someone who was a chef in a gourmet restaurant would not be obligated to work at a fast food restaurant that paid 50 percent of what he had earned previously, but he would be obligated to work at a mid-price restaurant that paid 85 percent of his previous earnings, as long as the salary offered by the mid-price restaurant was in line with what other chefs in similar restaurants were earning.

In other states, there is typically a general rule that refusing work can lead to a denial of benefits. However, there may be some differences in requirements. For example, in the state of California, California Unemployment Insurance Code, Section 1257(b) indicates that an individual is disqualified from receiving benefits if he refuses to accept suitable employment when offered without good cause. A failure to apply for suitable employment when notified of job availability by a public employment office can also result in a disqualification of unemployment.

Suitable employment in California refers to work in the usual occupation of the individual or work for which the individual is reasonably qualified. An actual opening must exist and the offer must be genuine in order for the work to be considered suitable.

Good cause is defined by Section 1253(c)-1(c)(4) of the California Unemployment Insurance Code as a compelling reason that would influence any reasonable individual in the same position not to take a job. Refusing to take a job because of fear that certain job skills would be lost has been considered to be “good cause” for refusal. When the new job pays significantly less than prior earnings, this can also constitute “good cause” for refusal.

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Determining Whether to Refuse a Job When on Unemployment

The criteria in California and New York are two examples of the many different regulations that exist in unemployment laws from state-to-state. In general, however, anyone who turns down a job that pays reasonably close to what he or she was making may lose their benefits, if the individual is capable of performing that job.

Individuals receiving unemployment are typically required to report any job offers (and refusals) to the department of unemployment in their state. It is important to comply with these reporting requirements. It is also important to document all reasons for refusal of any job offer in order to argue against disqualification if the unemployment division in the state considers suspending benefits on the basis of a job denial.

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