During the current COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Labor encourages flexibility to effectively comply with government social distancing recommendations and to mitigate the spread of the virus. In response, the Department of Unemployment Assistance enacted emergency regulations, that, among other things, altered the definition of suitable work.

The regulations, which are effective from March 16 to June 14, 2020, state at 403 CMR 22.05:

“In determining whether work is suitable, the department will consider whether a claimant has a condition that prevents the claimant from performing the essential functions of the job without substantial risk to the claimant’s health and safety. For purposes of this section, “condition” means a request from an employer, a medical professional, a local health official, or any civil authority that the claimant or a member of the claimant’s immediate family or household member be isolated or quarantined as a consequence of COVID-19, even if the claimant or the claimant’s immediate family or household member has not been actually diagnosed with COVID-19.”

However, if suitable work is available, the claimant has an obligation to properly apply for or accept offered work. Indeed, recent guidelines promulgated by the United States Department of Labor provide that refusing suitable work will likely result in a loss of unemployment benefits. A claimant may not refuse work because unemployment benefits are higher than the amount the claimant would earn from employment.

Here are Frequently Asked Questions for employers and employees.