On June 1, 2020 Governor Lamont issued Executive Order 7UU, which creates mandatory COVID-19 testing requirements for staff working at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and modifies the definition of “suitable work” in the State’s unemployment regulations.  Employers should take notice of the potential expansion of the unemployment regulations under this Executive Order.

The current Connecticut unemployment regulations state that an individual will be ineligible for unemployment benefits if he or she fails to apply for or accept “suitable work”. If the work presents a risk to the individual’s health, then it may be considered unsuitable such that the employee will not be required to return to work and forfeit unemployment compensation. Executive Order 7UU recognizes that the current regulations could force certain employees to return to a workplace that would increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 or infecting a family or household member. Therefore, the Order modifies existing regulations to allow the Unemployment Administrator to consider health risks related to COVID-19 in determining whether the work is suitable. Specifically, the Administrator may consider “the individual’s or household member’s health, his or her physical capabilities, the physical and mental requirements of the job, working conditions and the existence of any medical documentation concerning the individual’s limitations.” The Order applies to unemployment claims covering May 17, 2020 through July 25, 2020.

Notably, the Order does not speak to what documentation, if any, an employee must provide to prove an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or infecting a family or household member. Employers can expect to see an increase in the number of employees who refuse to return to work due to fear of infection given their expanded ability to collect unemployment under this Order.  As a result, employers need to conduct an individualized assessment as to whether employees have a legitimate reason for not returning to work, and continue to work with employees to address any concerns they have.

You can read the full text of Executive Order 7UU here: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/Office-of-the-Governor/Executive-Orders/Lamont-Executive-Orders/Executive-Order-No-7UU.pdf?la=en