FILE - Virginia unemployment

(The Center Square) – The Virginia Employment Commission (VEC) revealed Friday it is investigating more than 12,000 cases of unemployment claimants refusing to go back to work as the state begins to lift COVID-19 restrictions placed on businesses.

Meanwhile, Virginia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell 1.8 percentage points in May to 9.4 percent, VEC reported. The labor force expanded by 5,783 people to 4,319,833 in May, and the number of unemployed Virginians dropped by 78,144. 

In the past 13 weeks, VEC has received 849,486 initial unemployment claims and has paid more than $4.2 billion in benefits. In the most recent filing week, which ended June 13, continued weeks claims were 386,893, down 9,163 from the previous week.

"With all of Virginia in Phase 2 of reopening, business activity has continued to increase," VEC said in a news release. "As employers have resumed operations, many have attempted to recall furloughed or laid-off employees to work. While certain circumstances, such as health, child care or other caregiver responsibilities, may warrant continued payments of unemployment benefits to a claimant who has refused to return to work, the payments will be paused pending the outcome of an administrative review."

VEC said more than 79,000 cases are pending administrative review, and many of the cases involve circumstances where an applicant reported being out of work for a reason other than a layoff or furlough, or an employer disputed an applicant’s reason for being out of work.

Employees who are called back to work by their employer generally must go back to work, VEC said. An employer is not required to keep an open position for an employee who refuses to return to work or voluntarily quit. A person who receives overpayment of benefits will be required to pay them back, VEC said.

A report released this week by the personal finance website WalletHub said Virginia's workforce was among the slowest in the U.S. in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

WalletHub compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across three metrics: change in the number of initial unemployment claims in the latest week versus last year, change in the number of initial unemployment claims in the latest week versus the start of 2020, and change in the number of initial unemployment claims since the start of the COVID-19 crisis versus last year.

Virginia ranked 46th in recovered most since the start of the pandemic and 44th in recovered most in the latest week, which ended June 8.

Regional Editor

Jason Schaumburg is an award-winning, veteran editor who has been a journalist for more than 20 years. He spent a decade as the top editor in three northern Illinois newsrooms for Shaw Media and Pioneer Press.