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What do you do if you feel unsafe going back to work?

Some people are nervous about going back to work and are worried they could be exposed to the virus. Colorado's governor had a response.

DENVER — Between the evolving stay-at-home orders at a county level coupled with the statewide safer-at-home order, which went into effect on Monday, there has been confusion about what happens next. 

Come May 4, in some counties, offices can allow up to 50 percent of their workforce to return, and Polis said it's about prioritizing who those people are based on their health conditions. But some people are nervous about going back to work and have said they are worried about being exposed to the virus.

Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) has said people in the state's vulnerable populations -- that includes people who are 65 and older, or who have preexisting conditions like moderate to severe asthma and hypertension -- should stay at home whenever possible and only leave for essential activities. 

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"The 50 percent who are telecommuting, or not going in -- that should be prioritized for those who have preexisting conditions or older Coloradans still in the workforce," Polis said in a news conference last week.

The governor has also addressed balance as Colorado moves forward. 

"'Thinking what risks you want to take on yourself, you have to balance that with 'can I afford to not make a living for six months?' Some people can," Polis said Friday. "Maybe you're 68, get some social security, are on a small pension, but you work because you want the additional money ... maybe you can forgo it for six months. 

"If you can that's a very, very, very good decision, a good decision to keep yourself safe. But there are others who have to put food on the table for their family, make their rent and need to work. And we wanted more opportunities to do that in a safe as way as possible."

THE ORDER

Gov. Polis' order explains:

While we have seen indications that our efforts to “flatten the curve” are working, transmission of the virus continues to threaten Coloradans’ way of life and livelihoods. As we take steps to return Coloradans to work, we must continue to practice social distancing at a high level and implement other measures, such as limiting our social interactions, taking extra precautions for Vulnerable Individuals and wearing non-medical masks while in public, to facilitate a step towards reopening the economy while protecting public health. While this is a first step toward resuming our daily lives, the State is monitoring the spread of COVID-19 and additional precautions may be necessary in the future.

>>You can read the order here.

RELATED: Polis: 'Safer-at-home' period a more sustainable way of living

RELATED: Colorado's 'Safer at Home' executive order in effect Monday

RELATED: Here's the full text of Governor Polis' 'Safer at Home' executive order

HIGHLIGHTS

  • While students will not return for this school year, students and staff may work inside school buildings for various needs including internet access and professional development.
  • Vulnerable people (65-years-old and older, people with lung disease or asthma, people with heart conditions, people who are immunocompromised, pregnant women and people deemed high-risk by a healthcare provider) should stay home except when necessary.
  • Workplaces should accommodate people without childcare and who live in a home with a vulnerable person, either with a flexible schedule or remote working.
  • Tele-commuting is still encouraged.
  • Social distancing measures and masks are still encouraged.
  • Sick leave for COVID-19: "I direct the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) to promulgate and issue temporary emergency rules to amend the Colorado Health Emergency Leave with Pay Rules found in 7 CCR 1103-10 to cover individuals returning to work under this Executive Order and to extend paid sick leave coverage to up to two-thirds pay for fourteen (14) days if a worker has tested positive for COVID-19, has COVID-like symptoms, or has been directed to quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 concerns."

DATES

April 27: Retail businesses can open for curbside delivery. Real estate home showings can resume. 

May 1: Retail businesses can phase-in a public opening if they are implementing best practices. Personal services (salons, for example, with restrictions) can open if they are implementing best practices.

May 4: Offices can reopen at 50% reduced in-person staffing capacity, if best practices are being implemented to protect the health and safety of employees. Child care facilities can also expand or reopen if they are following best practices. 

WHAT IF YOU'RE AFRAID TO GO BACK TO WORK?

Many of the current guidelines regarding exemptions for returning to work apply to people who are considered "vulnerable." Per the governor's order, vulnerable people cannot be forced back to work, and they may be eligible for unemployment benefits:

"If you refuse to return to work, are fired or quit due to unsatisfactory or hazardous working conditions, you may be eligible for unemployment to the degree of risk involved to your health," according to the Frequently Asked Questions page related to the order. "If an employer requires work from an employee entitled to paid leave (due to illness or a quarantine/isolation order) under the Colorado HELP Rules, that would be unlawful under those rules, and should be reported."

"If the workplace is particularly unsafe -- e.g., if it had an outbreak -- unemployment benefits might be available, depending on the facts, and OSHA safety rules might limit requirements to return," the FAQ also said.

In an email last week, the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE) said this about others who may be scared to return to work:

"Based on the specific facts regarding refusing a job, an individual may be determined still eligible for benefits or may be determined ineligible for continuing benefits, which currently includes the additional payment of $600 per week.  If you refuse employment offered to you, you are required to report that refusal of employment.  Employers also have the ability and responsibility to report job refusals." 

"Individuals could be denied unemployment, which means the additional $600 is also denied, and in some cases may prevent them from collecting on any of the available programs.  Various factors are considered in making a determination as to whether work is suitable, including the degree of risk to an individual's health or safety."

The CDLE said if people feel unsafe about work conditions, they can contact their local public health agency or law enforcement to report their concerns. 

People can also file their concerns with the Attorney General's office at covid19@coag.gov.

HOW ARE BUSINESSES PREPARING?

Denver has not yet transitioned to the governor's plan, as several metro-area counties will remain under a stay-home order until May 8.

But Denver, like other places in the state, is preparing. Tami Door with the Downtown Denver Partnership said industries and businesses are working on tailored plans for best practices on how to safely open, both honoring what health experts and government officials are asking and what is best for their employees. 

"When the time is right, when our health care experts and our governments, our individual companies have looked at factors facing their businesses and they have done everything they can to set up both a safe environment and an environment perceived to be safe and felt to be safe then it is time to open the doors and it is time to get back to work," she said, "That is going to be harder for some than others because we all deal with this differently."

Door said one thing that is certain is that there are a lot of unanswered questions. 

"There is one thing that is certain in all of this,100% certain, no one has all the answers and it will continue to change," Door said. 

WHAT IF SOMEONE BRINGS IN MORE MONEY WITH UNEMPLOYMENT FUNDS?

CDLE said they've heard from employers some employees aren't coming back to work, since they are bringing in more money through unemployment plus the extra $600 through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. 

In an e-mail the department said: 

"When work is offered to and turned down by an individual on unemployment, our staff are required by Colorado law to review each individual situation to determine the suitability of the job offer and if the individual can continue to collect unemployment. A claimant is required to report any refusal of work offered.  Employers also have the ability and responsibility to report job refusals." 

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