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Can I still collect unemployment if it's not safe to go back to work? What if I'm at high-risk or have to care for someone at home?
If you have been collecting unemployment benefits and your former employer asks you to return to work or you receive another offer, you cannot refuse "suitable work" and still collect benefits in most cases.
However, if the work puts your health and safety at high-risk, you may be able to refuse the "unsuitable work" and continue to collect benefits. It's important to note, these determinations are highly fact-specific and are determined on a case-by-case basis. If you are found to be ineligible for unemployment benefits, you must return any benefits you received after receiving the offer of suitable work.
If you are worried about returning to work because you are a "high-risk" individual with underlying medical conditions or have been advised by a health care professional to self-quarantine, you may be eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
You may also be eligible for PUA if you cannot return to work because you are caring for a family member with COVID-19 or are the primary caregiver for a child or family member who cannot attend school or other facility closed because of COVID-19. For a full list of reasons that qualify you for PUA, refer to the NJ Department of Labor's guide to benefits during COVID-19.
If you are experiencing one of the qualifying COVID-19 reasons and you refuse to return to work, inform your employer of your plan to receive unemployment assistance for a PUA reason, continue weekly certification and follow the COVID-19 certification guide.
If eligible, your claim will be transitioned to PUA. Please note that if your employer reports your refusal to work, your benefits may be put on hold while it is adjudicated. Adjudication currently takes four to six weeks due to unprecedented volume.
For more information about your rights and the benefits available to you, the NJ Department of Labor has created a guide to returning to work amid COVID-19.