Challenges for restaurant owners continue as employees trade their wage for unemployment checks

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — As restaurants ramp up service, owners are discovering it’s difficult to find servers.

Employees are choosing to trade their wage for unemployment checks, leaving business owners in a pinch.

Barrett Hobbs is the Operating Partner at Bootleggers Inn on Broadway, in addition to several other restaurants and bars.

He said he’s paying record-level payroll because business, for him, is down 1,200 percent.

“We have to pay them a really high hourly rate so they [employees] don’t want to go back on unemployment,” he said.

Tennesseans out of work are currently making up to $875 a week on unemployment, $600 dollars is from the CARES Act, or “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.”

As of 2015, Tennessee’s maximum allowable benefit was $275 dollars per week.

Right now, anybody who receives benefits from a work share program also automatically becomes eligible for the CARES Act’s full $600 dollar-per-week federal unemployment benefit. That bonus will continue until July 31 for those registered as unemployed.

“They were making more at home than they were able to do now,” Hobbs said, adding that tips aren’t what they used to be.

Even so, he needs workers to get his businesses booming again and right now, it’s a race against the clock.

“We’re moving at a turtle pace right now,” he said.

Hasen Lott, owner of Live Oak on Demonbreun agreed, adding that he hired six people last week and only three showed up. He says nobody wants to give up unemployment.

“At some point we will have to consider putting help wanted signs out there if we cant get everyone back but we wont see that until everyone has been given a full warning and chance​,” Christian Spears said, Founder of Tennessee Brew Works.

The federal CARES Act provides provisions for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for state unemployment benefits, but those provisions do not apply to employees apprehensive about returning to work because of health concerns.

Not returning to work when there is available employment may be considered a “refusal of work” and could potentially disqualify claimants from receiving TUC benefits.

The following are the COVID-19 eligibility requirements to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance provided through the federal CARES Act.

  • Are diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking diagnosis;
  • Have a member of the household who is diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Are providing care for a family or household member diagnosed with COVID-19;
  • Are the primary caregiver for a child whose school or care facility closed, due to COVID-19;
  • Are unable to reach their place of employment due to an imposed quarantine, or because advised by a medical provider to self-quarantine, due to COVID-19;
  • Were scheduled to start new employment and cannot reach the workplace as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Became the major breadwinner because the head of household died from COVID-19;
  • Quit their job as a direct result of COVID-19;
  • Had their place of employment closed as a direct result of COVID-19; or
  • Meet any additional criteria specified by U.S. Secretary of Labor

Employees and employers can find answers to commonly asked questions about returning to work on the Department’s website.

Employers will also find a “Refusal to Work Form” on the website. They can use this form to notify the Department of an employee’s refusal to return the work. The Department will investigate the claim to determine if the employee is no longer eligible for unemployment benefits because they are able and available to earn income.

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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