Iowa tells workers to return to their jobs or lose unemployment benefits, despite warnings that reopening could lead to a second wave of infections

Iowa tells workers to return to their jobs or lose unemployment benefits, despite warnings that reopening could lead to a second wave of infections
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks during a news conference about an update on the state's response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
  • Iowa is preparing to partially reopen 77 counties on Friday.
  • The state has warned furloughed employees who refuse to return to work that they will lose their unemployment benefits — and Gov. Kim Reynolds said it could disqualify them from future unemployment benefits.
  • However, a group of experts advised the governor last week not to loosen restrictions, and that the state has not reached its peak of infection and mortality rates.
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As Iowa prepares to partially reopen on Friday, the state has warned furloughed workers that they will lose their unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to work.

The Des Moines Register reports that businesses like restaurants, bars, retail stores, and fitness centers will be allowed to reopen at half capacity starting on May 1. Gov. Kim Reynolds said that the 77 reopening counties either have no cases or are on a downward trend.

Iowa Workforce Development (IWD), a state agency that provides employment services for individual workers, said employees across the state who don't return to work out of fear will be considered a "voluntary quit" — which means they can no longer receive unemployment benefits.

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Ryan West, the deputy director of IWD, told Radio Iowa that there are some exceptions, such as a worker being diagnosed with COVID-19.

The IWD website prompts employers to fill out what it calls a Job Offer Decline Form for employees who refuse to return to work. The governor has said that opting not to go back to work could disqualify employees from future unemployment benefits.


Business Insider's Andy Kiersz reported that 232,913 Iowans filed for unemployment between March 15 and April 18, which is 13.5% of the state's labor force.

Last week, seven epidemiology and biostatistics professors from the University of Iowa advised the governor not to loosen social-distancing restrictions, KWWL reported. They wrote a research paper for the governor after being commissioned by the Iowa Department of Public Health.

"We observe a huge range of possible outcomes, from relatively low fatalities to catastrophic loss of life," the paper said.

The scientists noted that there is still "considerable uncertainty" over how many deaths the state may eventually have; the projections range from 150 to over 10,000 deaths.

"We have found evidence of a slowdown in infection and mortality rates due to social distancing policies, but not that a peak has been reached," the paper stated. The professors said this does not mean measures should be eased: "Therefore, prevention measures should remain in place. Without such measures being continued, a second wave of infections is likely."

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