Unemployment – Duty To Accept A Suitable Job Offer

Posted by: Dec 12, 2022By Brian Stutheit

An unemployed person who wishes to receive unemployment benefits has a duty to look for new work.

However, the person is not required to accept just any job that is available. The following is a quotation for Colorado’s unemployment benefits statute.  Some words have been trimmed out.

“(5) Disqualification.

(a)  An individual who refuses to accept suitable work or refuses a referral to suitable work shall be disqualified from receiving benefits for a period of twenty weeks beginning with the week in which the refusal occurred, and his total benefits shall be reduced by an amount equal to the number of weeks of disqualification multiplied by his weekly benefit amount. The determination of whether or not an individual has refused to accept suitable work or refused to accept a referral to suitable work shall be the responsibility of the division. (This is the Colorado Department of Labor’s Division of Unemployment).

(b) The division shall consider the refusal of suitable work or refusal of referral to suitable work at any time after the last separation from employment that occurred prior to the time of filing the initial claim in determining the direct and proximate cause of the separation. In determining whether or not any work is suitable for an individual, the division shall consider the degree of risk involved to the individual’s health, safety, and morals, the individual’s physical fitness and prior training, the individual’s experience and prior earnings, the individual’s length of unemployment and prospects for securing work in the individual’s customary occupation, and the distance of the available local work from the individual’s residence… the division shall not deem work to be suitable and shall not deny benefits to any otherwise eligible individual for refusing to accept new work under any of the following conditions:

(I) If the position offered is vacant due directly to a strike, lockout, or other labor dispute;

(II) If the wages, hours, or other conditions of the work offered are substantially less favorable to the individual than those prevailing for similar work in the locality;

(III) If as a condition of being employed the individual would be required to join a company union or to resign from or refrain from joining any bona fide labor organization;

(IV) The employer requires the individual to work in an environment that is not in compliance with:

(A) Federal centers for disease control and prevention guidelines applicable to the employer’s business and workplace at the time of the determination;

(B) State or federal laws, rules, and regulations concerning disease mitigation and workplace safety;

(C) An executive order issued by the governor requiring the employer to close the business or modify the operation of the business; and

(D) Any public health order issued by the department of public health and environment or a local government to close the business or modify the operation of the business;

(V) The individual is the primary caretaker of:

(A) A child enrolled in a school that is closed due to a public health emergency; or

(B) A family member or household member who is quarantined due to an illness during a public health emergency; or

(VI) The employee is immunocompromised and more susceptible to illness or disease during a public health emergency as evidenced by the employee’s health-care provider.

(c) An award shall not be denied to an individual more than once for failure to apply for or to accept the same or a similar position with the same employer.”

Note subsections (b) (IV), and (V) which result from the COVID pandemic. 

Also note subsection (c), which says there is no duty to take back the old job with the old employer right away. 

Colorado courts have had a hard time defining this duty to accept “suitable” new employment.  Here are a few summaries of court opinions on the duty:

*Unemployment benefit claimants are entitled to a “reasonable period” in which to find a permanent job commensurate with their skill level and prior earnings, but jobs which are unsuitable when unemployment begins may become suitable given the length of time a person is unemployed and the prospects for obtaining new work at the prior earning level. 

* Another court decision said that work at a substantially lower wage should not be deemed suitable unless a claimant has had a reasonable period to find new work at the prior earning level. 

*  The distance of the available work from the claimant’s residence is relevant in assessing whether a new job is suitable. 

*  What constitutes a reasonable time in these cases is not a matter to be answered by rigid formulas. Rather, it must initially be determined as a question of fact under the circumstances of each individual case.

Because there is no rigid formula to decide whether or not to accept a new job, unemployment claimants might find it useful to consult with an attorney about the facts before they turn down that new job.