As businesses reopen, many Americans being called back to work say they don’t feel safe — especially those who work in restaurants, hair salons or other high-contact jobs.
“With people eating food, not having masks on, with servers having to touch their plates and their silverware, there’s just absolutely no way to keep the servers safe,” says Lindsey, a waitress in Iowa.
She has been out of work for two months. But this week, the pub-style restaurant she works at is reopening.
“I don’t feel comfortable going back yet. I don’t feel comfortable at all,” she says. Lindsey wants only her first name used because she’s worried about losing her job.
She says her restaurant is setting up rules for increased hand-washing and disinfecting and is spacing tables 6 feet apart. But even with that, she thinks it’s too soon to be reopening.
“I believe that restaurants are one of the most unsafe places,” Lindsey says. “If we can do delivery and takeout, that’s totally fine.” But she says serving people dinner isn’t an essential task right now and it feels too risky.
Still, if your employer offers you your job back and you refuse it, generally speaking, you’re not supposed to be able to keep collecting unemployment benefits.
But there are strategies and special protections that workers should know about — in particular people with health conditions and parents whose children’s school, day care or summer camp is shut down.
1. Talk to your employer.
Andrew Stettner, a worker-protection expert at the Century Foundation, a progressive think tank, says people in Lindsey’s situation should start by talking to their employer.
“And say, ‘You know what, I don’t feel comfortable coming back right now. But maybe in two weeks I might feel comfortable,’ ” Stettner says. ” ‘Can I wait?’ ”
He says you might say you want to wait, talk to co-workers and hear how the safety measures are going as things get rolling again. He says your employer might not be able to hire everybody back right away anyway and so might agree not to call you back to work yet. “And as long as they say that’s OK,” Stettner says, “your unemployment benefits won’t stop.”
That’s something any worker can try.