While unemployment claims skyrocket, some business owners are running into a unique problem – they’ve received grant money and can hire their employees back.

But some employees don’t want to return to work.

Natalie Cioffi, owner of CDJ Genie Services, a cleaning company based in Frederick, made the hard decision of furloughing some of her cleaners when the pandemic started.

“I had to let go pretty much half of my staff prior to receiving the [Paycheck Protection Program] loan, just because business slowed down dramatically even though we were still essential,” Cioffi said. “So obviously that was very stressful for us and very stressful for them.”

But since then, work has picked up again. With construction sites having to follow more strict cleaning guidelines, Cioffi has gotten more business from the construction sector. Plus, she secured funding from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, and can therefore afford to pay all of her employees again.

She said that about 95 percent of the employees she laid off have come back. But a few said they would rather not – their unemployment insurance has been coming in, and they don’t feel safe returning to work. For many, the enhanced unemployment insurance is more than they would be making at work.

“I can definitely understand their concerns about having that money now, especially since they went without pay for X [amount of time] because unemployment didn’t come right away either,” Cioffi said.

Ken Tucker, owner of Tucker Air Conditioning, heating and Plumbing is in a somewhat similar position. He didn’t lay off or furlough any of his employees when the pandemic hit. While business has been down, plumbing and HVAC are considered essential businesses, so he could stay open.

He kept all of his employees on and guaranteed them at least 35 hours of work a week. He started a program called Tucker Academy where he held workshops and lessons for his employees about different skills so that even if they didn’t have work to do, they could still come in and get paid.

A few employees decided to take an extended leave, Tucker said. While he hadn’t laid them off, they left on their own accord because they didn’t feel safe.

Tucker understands — while he has put strict personal protective equipment and disinfecting guidelines in place for all of his employees, he knows that working in people’s homes can be nerve-wracking, especially for those who have immunocompromised family members at home.

He thought, however, that they could apply for wage replacement through the Family Extended Leave Act, which would mean that they were still getting paid by Tucker, through a payroll tax break. But they filed for unemployment the same day they announced they were leaving, and filed as if they had been laid off.

Rick Weldon, chief executive officer of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, explained that the Maryland Department of Labor is allowing people who left work on their own accord because they do not feel safe to file for unemployment.

“And that was never true before, it’s only been true because of COVID-19,” Weldon said.

Tucker is preparing for an increase in business come June, when things might open up a bit and more people will need maintenance on their air conditioning systems. But he worries he doesn’t currently have the staff to sustain it.

“I’m not trying to complain about people not working,” Tucker said. “But we are in a scenario where I have work, I need them, I need to bring somebody in, and we’re always looking to hire.”

Both Tucker and Cioffi are now both in a tough spot – do they wait on their employees who are not returning to work to come back? Or do they fill their spot before they see a surge in business demand?

Weldon has heard from a few different concerned businesses in Frederick County about this very issue. When he contacted the Department of Labor, he found out that businesses who furloughed employees – or had employees leave on their own – do not have to wait for those employees to come back if they have rejected their return offer. They can hire somebody else in their place.

“If I knew they were coming back to work in two weeks as an example … then I can look at it one way,” Tucker said. “If they’re wanting to take advantage of unemployment all the way to the middle of July as an example, then I need to go out and bring in employees.”

Weldon has spoken to a variety of businesses in Frederick County, and said most business owners are confused about why unemployment is paying so much more now than before.

“It just seems totally illogical that we’re paying employees more than they were making when they were working … because why would you go back to work in that situation?” Weldon said.

Cioffi pays her cleaning crew between $17 and $25 an hour, but she can’t compete with the rate that the employees who are staying on unemployment are receiving.

“And it just puts us in a horrible situation again, because of the emotional situation with this whole thing. I don’t know what the right answer is for this.... I can see why [enhanced unemployment] seemed like a good thing,” Cioffi said. “But for small business owners, it’s very tough.”

Follow Erika Riley on Twitter: @ej_riley

(27) comments

HAMA

I live in Florida. I work for a cleaning company, they pay me 9 per hr. from our team of 6 people they just kept working only 2 (me and somebody else). the first week after the virus situation we were working every other day and 6 hrs for day only,( one week 3 days next week 4 days). This days we are working 2 days a week and 3 days next week, only 6 hrs per day. and they asked us to take 1 hr break to eat but

not paid. while the rest of the employees are getting some unemployeiment (in Florida the max you can get is 270 a week but if you add the 600 is gonna be at least 800 dollars a week. If them were working they would be making no more than 160 before taxes a week. In my case I'm making this week 108 before taxes. So I finally started getting my 600 hundred from the care act, so no one can image how happy I am, I was thinking that finally Im gonna have some money to go to see the dentist I also was thinking to buy a new bathroom door that I really need, I already saw one in Lows that I love and it cost only 300 dollars, is beautiful, a glass door, But I guess I got to happy... My manager today told me because they got the PPP thing they are going to star paying us our "full" salaries so we cannot ask for parcial unemployement neither get the 600 dollars from the care act. This is really sad... They are doing this to me (us) after y expose my life this past 2 months to clean and desinfect essencial business that have been open during the crisis. Im just feeling bad...

Southern girl

I absolutely think they should lose the unemployment. Unless they can provide a note from their Dr stating they are high risk. Quiting your job so you can suck down our economy even more should not be tolerated. Im scared during flu season. What about that?

It will be flu season again before you know it and they will just stay on extended unemployment.

The Dems want people dependant on the government.

As an employer i would look at this time off on their resume and verify it. I would never hire someone who didn't go back because the wanted free money.

They are not driven, reliable or trustworthy.

Roofstarr

This article would be a lot more informative if FNP had bothered to interview the workers to get their perspective on it. But a little quick math: she's paying $17 - $25 x 40 hrs = 680 - $1000 per week. That's far and beyond what people are getting through unemployment.

User1

You seemed to have forgotten the Dimocrats extra $600 per week ON TOP OF their normal unemployment amount from the state. That’s $2400 per month PLUS state payment. People making more sitting at home than they would be working. I say once you are asked to return to work and you refuse your unemployment “pay” should be terminated.

neo-gnostic

$17-$25/hr, 👀 super skeptical hippo eyes. Looks like the price of an employee just went up. If you can't pay a living wage, you can't compete with unemployment benefits at this time. #Catch22

MD1756

“I had to let go pretty much half of my staff prior to receiving the [Paycheck Protection Program] loan, just because business slowed down dramatically even though we were still essential,” Cioffi said.

If most of your business is cleaning homes, are you really essential especially if people are staying home and now don't have much of an excuse for hiring someone else to clean their home? If your business was cleaning offices, again one should expect the need to drop as more employees are teleworking and I always thought our offices at the EPA were over cleaned.

But since then, work has picked up again. With construction sites having to follow more strict cleaning guidelines, Cioffi has gotten more business from the construction sector.

Do these employees really know how to properly disinfect to prevent the spread of the virus or are they just going through the motions? To minimize risk, I'd use someone certified in cleaning to disinfect the work areas otherwise you risk lawsuits from employees that contract the virus.

Bosco must have missed the following: "Rick Weldon, chief executive officer of the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce, explained that the Maryland Department of Labor is allowing people who left work on their own accord because they do not feel safe to file for unemployment. “And that was never true before, it’s only been true because of COVID-19,” Weldon said."

What I don't understand and think they should have done a better job explaining is the statement "Cioffi pays her cleaning crew between $17 and $25 an hour, but she can’t compete with the rate that the employees who are staying on unemployment are receiving."

I though unemployment payments were based on a percentage of your wages and did not exceed your wages. So, are they really earning more on unemployment or is it that they like the amount of money they are getting while not working?

bosco

MD1756...I caught that remark, but still don't understand how it works. I was never unemployed from the time I was 14 until I retired - although I got laid off from a factory job but was called back to another department two days later so I never missed a paycheck.

motheroftheyear

Employees are receiving an additional $600 per month on top of their unemployment benefits because of Covid-19. If you are an hourly wage earner, it means you will most likely receive more money if you quit....

User1

If you “quit” you shouldn’t be getting unemployment. It was your choice. If you were furloughed then you are eligible.

Southern girl

Correct. Cut them off. At least stop the extra $600. Im sure there are other people who need it that actually DON'T have work at this time.

User1

For the exact same reason that schools are sclosed, children at home and parents are at home BUT they still “need” the free school meals? If everyone is at home just make your kids meals. Maybe because it’s “free” so you need it.

Southern girl

Replace them now. They will be gone again as soon as the flu season hits. Im thinking of taking a 2nd job right now. Im going to retire much sooner than planned. Before they have to take all those benefits out in taxes from my paycheck.

I know several people who have decided to quit working earlier after this.

Piedmontgardener

Very well written article. Thanks.

bosco

How can you draw unemployment if your previous employer offers your job back?

ma23464

Simple. You don’t tell unemployment you got offered a job

User1

Your employer has to notify them. It’s a condition for the loan forgiveness. If the employees aren’t paid or rehired then the government loan has to be paid back. But yea, some people don’t have morals and would lie, ain’t that right “Ma”?

jayel86

I would not want to clean houses right now either, and 17/hr for a 40 hour week is 680 gross so they aren't really making anything extra. I wouldn't judge such a hard working group so harshly. I doubt any of you would set foot in a strangers home right now.

Alice Jones

They fly their hypocrisy flag high and proud.

Crab0721

If they don't feel comfortable with coming back or have family members who have health problems then they shouldn't be getting unemployment benefits they should be getting FMLA instead because they shouldn't be allowed to make more than what they were making before

Alice Jones

Such heartless and thoughtless comments from some. It's sadly funny how they think everyone else is on the dole yet there they are, justifying taking a government handout. The hypocrisy, is well, not unexpected from that crowd.

Brookhawk

The extra money is temporary. If that's what's keeping people from working, they'll be back pretty soon. If it's fear of getting sick, then the COVID is going to drive the decision.

User1

I believe it’s the extra $2400 a month that driving the decision.

KMRD1

Move on and hire people if the old employees don’t won’t to come back to work. Come July when their insurance runs out, they wish they would have

francesca_easa

My same thoughts KMRD1. MD Unemployment generally does not pay if your employer offered regular work and you refused it. But I guess these are exceptional times we are living in now. With the $1200 federal checks and a number of other charitable programs and deferred payment options, folks are able to get financial assistance and food help in ways that they have never been able to access before. They should be in a much better economic situation, even if they are working. Employers will certainly remember who their loyal employees are. And when they try to get their jobs back, they can't expect their employers to have their jobs still available for them.

steelersfan2005

Once their position reopens, the $600 additional per week should go away, that'll make them get off their lazy behinds and get back to work.

User1

Doesn’t anyone remember reading the FNP article last week about workers who were not laid off due to seniority upset about about their colleagues that were furloughed making more than they are working? Never should have added the extra $600/wk to their unemployment payment. The Dimocrats got their “universal” pay after all!

DickD

User, you too could be a Dimocrat, instead of a Repugnant.

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