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As businesses reopen, many of the 40 million people who lost jobs in the past three months could soon face a dilemma: return to work and risk their safety or lose their job and income.
The US Labor Department Friday said employers unexpectedly added 2.5 million jobs last month, after a devastating decline in April. Economists expect more jobs to come back as officials in more places ease lockdown orders aimed at suppressing the coronavirus.
Laws vary by state, but for most workers, refusing a call to return to work would bar them from receiving unemployment benefits, even if they don’t feel safe. Worker advocates have asked the federal government for a singular definition of a safe workplace, but President Trump has said repeatedly that states should make decisions around safety.
“I have considered not returning to work, but what options do I really have?” asks Dustin Schaffer, an IT worker in Pottsville, Pennsylvania. Schaffer was furloughed on March 20. On April 27, he returned to work remotely. Schuylkill County, where he lives and works, has entered its “yellow phase” of Pennsylvania’s reopening plan, and Schaffer expects to soon be asked to return to his office. He’s raised concerns with his employer, but has not heard specifics of how the company plans to keep IT workers safe.
“Being a small office building it is impossible not to come in contact or pass by at least 10 to 20 other employees in a day,” he says. “Sanitizing definitely was not a priority or even thought about when it came to IT equipment being passed from employee to employee, location to location.”
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