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Let’s Talk About Fear and Cheating and Billions Stolen

There’s a troubling trend I’m seeing in Georgia, and also in California, but in California it’s much worse due to the proliferation of unions. Fear of working in a coronavirus world has blue-collar, typically lower-wage workers staying home. Coupled with massive unemployment claims that have overwhelmed (at least Georgia) Department of Labor staff, this has led to massive cheating on claims, and likely payment of billions in fraudulent claims in the U.S.

I’ve known about the cheating for a while, given my day job. (No, I can’t say what that job is.) We see it as word spreads in certain immigrant communities “if you quit, you can claim unemployment and get $600 a week!” These employees then claim they have been exposed to coronavirus, or come up with bogus/vague medical direction to quarantine. Of course, we don’t want people at work who might have been exposed, so we keep them home.

Some of these employees qualify for Family First Emergency Paid Sick Leave (FF-EPSL), and some don’t. But employers have a problem in that if we examine claims too closely, we could end up not approving someone who actually was exposed, or be accused of failing to protect workers who are coming in by telling someone who wants to quarantine they won’t get paid, leading them to come in and spread the virus at work.

It’s a Catch-22.

Georgia has paid out unemployment benefits of over $1 billion in just 5 days, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told Channel 2 Action News.

He also said that the DOL is slowing down a bit on claims processing, so they can go back and examine claims where former employees wrote “laid off” or “not enough work” on applications, but the employers have said the employees quit or abandoned their jobs.

“If it’s an individual claim where they’re saying they were laid off, we also have to verify that with the employer because unemployment is not a guaranteed benefit,” Butler said. “It’s there for people who are laid off and lose their job through no fault of their own, which obviously there’s been a lot of people that’s happened to during this pandemic.”

I work at an essential business, and I know for a fact we haven’t laid off production workers for lack of work because of COVID-19. Yet we have a literal stack of claims saying these workers were laid off, and most of them have been approved. Some are getting checks, and haven’t worked for us for months, from way before coronavirus.

Others have told us straight up they are scared to come in, and when we told them they really need to be at work, they quit. Then they file.

As a business, we do everything possible to prevent coronavirus from getting in our company. We have masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, extra cleaning, posters, signs, mandatory temperature checks, and we’re locked down from visitors–and certainly the public is banned. I have no idea how Disney workers, food service workers, or retail workers cope with the public all day long (bless them!), but in our business, it’s just us, locked in.

But people are still scared. And they’re cheating. This is a statewide problem in Georgia, and it’s likely a huge problem in other states like Oregon.

Now look at California.

Disneyland workers are well represented by unions, who have lobbied Gov. Gavin Newsom that it’s unsafe to open the park July 17, leading Disney to delay the opening. The union claimed Disney was “overconfident and not realizing what it means to open a business where people could die.” Drama.

Housekeepers, retail workers, and thousands of other who should be happy to go back to work in California are staying home out of fear. Even essential workers.

The economy can’t begin to open when workers won’t work. And the government can’t continue to pay workers to stay home forever. So many cheat. In California, it’s not really cheating when your union can lobby the governor, and your employer is forced to cough up cash while you stay home.

The fear is real, and in many jobs, the risk is real. But the cheating is a problem we will have to deal with.

Watch the media pounce on stories about people who legitimately filed and can’t get benefits. Or the millions of gig-workers who can’t file. That’s a problem, to be sure. But the bigger problem is the billions stolen by people afraid to work, and how they are cheating when they should be working. And employers who are caught in the middle.

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