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Unemployed Workers Forced to Choose Between Safety and Money as States Reopen

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  • As some states start reopening their economies, laid-off and furloughed workers are being asked to return.
  • Many are worried that their workplaces do not have sufficient safety measures in place to protect them; however, states like Iowa and Texas have warned that refusing to work out of fear of contracting the coronavirus will make them ineligible for unemployment benefits. 
  • There are a few expectations, like for those who have the virus or are caring for someone who does, and states like Colorado are taking additional steps to keep people on unemployment if their workplaces are unsafe. 
  • Fears about returning to work come just as the Department of labor recorded 3.8 new unemployment claims last week, bringing the total of claims to 30 million in six weeks.

States Reopening Creates Dilemma for Workers

Several states across the country have already started to reopen their economies, while others are laying out plans to do so in the next few weeks and months. This means many laid-off and furloughed Americans are having to decide whether or not they feel comfortable enough to return to the workforce.

But they might not really have a choice. If they refuse an offer to return to work out of fear for their health, federal guidelines say that they could lose the unemployment aid that many have only just started to receive, as noted by Politico.

There are a few exceptions under a program called Pandemic Unenmplyement Assistance, approved under the CARE act. That program extends unemployment benefits to people who can’t return to work if they are sick with the virus or taking care of a family member who is, among a few other specific criteria. 

Still, millions of workers feat that their workplace’s safety precautions won’t be sufficient enough to keep them from getting sick. Public health experts and labor advocates have been calling for the Trump administration to layout some mandatory regulations and science-based guidelines to protect workers and inform businesses on how to reopen. 

The administration, however, has only advised employers to follow best practices like social distancing and wearing protective gear. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump signaled that it was up to states to enact those measures, saying, “We want the governors to call those shots,” at a roundtable with industry executives at the White House.

On top of that, Republicans have been pushing to expand liability protections for businesses to shield them form coronavirus related lawsuits. Many believe such protections could give employers less incentive to care for their workers’ health. 

The calls for mandatory safety precautions became even louder this week after the president ordered meat plants to stay open despite massive outbreaks in several facilities that, in some cases, spread to the community.  

Because of federal standards around “prevailing conditions of work,” a person seeking unemployment benefits could theoretically argue their working conditions are unsafe due to the outbreak. But it might be a hard case to make in some states, and many workers might not even have the time or resources to take on that kind of battle. 

Some states, like Colorado, are trying to find a way to allow workers to remain on unemployment if their workplaces are in fact unsafe. This week, the state started allowing some businesses to reopen, but “vulnerable individuals,” including senior citizens or those with certain health conditions, cannot be compelled to return if they have to work near others. 

The state’s labor department also said the vulnerable may continue to be eligible for benefits if returning to work is a risk to their health or the health of someone they live with. “If you’ve been offered a job and refused that job for health reasons or Covid reasons, be sure and put that into the form so that we can look at that, assess that and determine if you may be eligible to continue to receive benefits,” said Joe Barela, the department’s executive director.

Fear Alone Is Not Enough, Some States Say

But other states have made it clear that fear of catching the virus is not enough of a reason to refuse to return to work. 

“If you’re an employer and you offer to bring your employee back to work and they decide not to, that’s a voluntary quit,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said Friday. “Therefore, they would not be eligible for the unemployment money.”

On Monday, the governor announced that she was loosening social distancing restrictions in 77 of Iowa’s 99 counties, effective May 1. Under her order, retail stores, gyms, restaurants, and other businesses will be allowed to open. Reynolds also said employers who have workers that refuse to return should file a report with Iowa Workforce Development. 

Laid-off workers are facing a similar dilemma in Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) gave the go-ahead for retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and malls to reopen on Friday. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, to qualify for unemployment benefits in the state, a worker must be “willing and able to work all the days and hours required for the type of work you are seeking.”

Cisco Gamez, a Texas Workforce Commission spokesman, told the Texas Tribune that employees who choose not to return to work will become ineligible for unemployment benefits.

South Carolina and Tennessee have messages on their websites noting that workers refusing to return will lose unemployment aid the same week they turn down an offer. 

New Unemployment Numbers 

The concerns for some heading back to work come just at the Department of Labor released its weekly report on unemployment claims, recording 3.8 million more Americans filing for benefits during the week ending on April 25. 

The data brings the total number of people applying for benefits over the last six weeks to more than 30 million. 

Unemployment claims have hit unprecedented levels as the coronavirus keeps business across the nation closed. However, as far as weeks go, this new report shows a decline in claims. In late March, the department registered 3.3 million claims in a single week. In the weeks since that first spike, the department recorded 6.9 million, 6.6 million, 5.2 million, and then 4.4 million claims. 

Still, even if the peak of layoffs is behind us, the country is in uncharted waters with these incredibly high numbers. Before the virus outbreaks, the highest number of new unemployment claims in a week was about 700,000 back in 1982. 

Economists have noted that part of why claims are so high is because more people, like gig workers and independent contractors, are not covered for benefits under the CARES act. But experts also warned that there could be even more without work who have yet to be recorded in the system because unemployment offices all over the country are so overwhelmed with cases. 

Preliminary numbers for the full month of April are scheduled to be released Friday, May 8. That report is expected to have some staggering numbers that could help better understand the extent of the damage this pandemic has had on the American workforce. 

See what others are saying: (Newsweek) (Vox) (Politico

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“Cyberpunk 2077” Developer Agrees To Settle Lawsuit for $1.85M

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If approved, CD Projekt Red would pay just a small fraction of the $316 million it reportedly spent developing the game.


CDPR Agrees To Settle

Game developer CD Projekt Red (CDPR) has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit related to its buggy launch of “Cyberpunk 2077” for $1.85 million, The Verge reported Thursday.

The lawsuit itself is actually a conglomeration of four different suits brought by shareholders who alleged that they were misled about the company’s financial performance. Since the game’s release, CD Projekt Red’s share price has fallen 54%.

The settlement must now be approved in court, but overall, it appears to be a small amount compared to the game’s $316 million budget. In fact, the game reportedly made $563 million in sales and only spent around $2.2 million on a refund campaign, though the developer’s overall refund cost for 2020 could have been as much as $51 million.

“Perhaps the plaintiffs didn’t have much of a case?” The Verge writer Sean Hollister speculated on why “it sounds like the lead plaintiffs and their lawyers negotiated for a fairly tiny sum here in exchange for ‘relinquish[ing] any and all claims against the Company and members of its Management Board.’”

“As expressly stated in the Term Sheet, execution of the Term Sheet does not imply admission of any responsibility on the part of the Company or any of the other defendants named in the case,” the negotiated settlement reads.

“Cyberpunk’s” Botched Launch

“Cyberpunk” was first announced in 2012, and for years, it was the subject of widespread fan anticipation. Seven years later, a release date of April 16, 2020, was given; however, that date was pushed back several times much to the ire of fans, some of whom even sent CDPR staff death threats.

The game was ultimately released amid fan pressure on Dec. 10, 2020, but it was so riddled with glitches that Sony infamously pulled “Cyberpunk” from its Playstation Store a week later, offering full refunds to all players who had purchased a digital copy. In June this year, “Cyberpunk” finally made its way back onto the Playstation Store following multiple patches and hotfixes from CDPR.

Despite “Cyberpunk” surpassing a massive 8 million pre-orders before launch, Bloomberg reported last week that “Where analysts had originally expected Cyberpunk sales of 30 million units in the year after the game’s release, they now expect 17.3 million copies to have been sold in that time.”

In October, CDPR delayed planned next-gen updates for both “Cyberpunk” and “The Witcher 3” until the first and second quarters of 2022, respectively.

“Apologies for the extended wait, but we want to make it right,” the developer said.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Engadget) (Video Games Chronicle)

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E.U. Court Rules That All Member Nations Must Recognize Same-Sex Parents

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The decision comes after a child named Sara was left without a country to call home because she had two mothers.


The Child With No Citizenship

The European Court of Justice, the European Union’s highest court, ruled Tuesday that all 27 of its member states must recognize same-sex parents and their children as a family.

The ruling stems from a case involving two women and their newborn daughter, whose status as a family originally varied between member nations. As a result, the couple’s daughter was left without citizenship in any country.

The two women, Bulgarian citizen Kalina Ivanova and Gibraltar-born British citizen Jane Jones, found themselves unable to take their newborn child Sara out of Spain after she was born in the country. Because Spain recognizes same-sex marriage, both Ivanova and Jones were registered as the girl’s legal mothers on her Spanish birth certificate.

However, under Spanish law, Sara was unable to gain citizenship in the country since neither of her parents were Spanish citizens. On top of that, she was denied British citizenship because Jones “was born in Gibraltar of British descent, and under the British Nationality Act (1981), [Jones] cannot transfer citizenship to her daughter,” the LGBTQ+ advocacy group ILGA-Europe said in a press release.

That left the couple with one other option: register Sara as a Bulgarian citizen. Still, the Bulgarian government refused to issue Sara a legally-recognized birth certificate, arguing that she is ineligible to have two mothers. Officially, Bulgaria does not recognize either same-sex marriages or same-sex registered partnerships. 

“Currently, the child has no personal documents and cannot leave Spain, the country of the family’s habitual residence,” lLGA-Europe said. “The lack of documents restrict Sara’s access to education, healthcare, and social security in Spain.”

EU Ruling

In its Tuesday decision, the European Court of Justice ruled that children in the EU have a legal right to freely move between countries given that such a right is afforded to all EU citizens. Because of this, all countries are now required to uniformly recognize the child’s parents, even if they are of the same sex. 

“That refusal could make it more difficult for a Bulgarian identity document to be issued and, therefore, hinder the child’s exercise of the right of free movement and thus full enjoyment of her rights as a Union citizen,” the court said

Despite some member states like Bulgaria not legally recognizing same-sex couples, the court stressed that its ruling “does not undermine the national identity or pose a threat to the public policy” of those nations.

That’s because while Bulgaria doesn’t have to issue its own birth certificate for Sara, it does have to recognize the Spanish birth certificate and issue its own identity card or passport for Sara.

“We are thrilled about the decision and cannot wait to get Sara her documentation and finally be able to see our families after more than two years,” Sara’s parents said according to the ILGA-Europe release. “It is important for us to be a family, not only in Spain but in any country in Europe and finally it might happen. This is a long-awaited step ahead for us but also a huge step for all LGBT families in Bulgaria and Europe.”

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Insider) (Politico)

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GoFundMe Campaign Raises $8,700 for Waitress Who Was Fired After Not Sharing $4,400 Tip With Co-Workers

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The waitress said this was the only time management had ever tried to force her to pool a tip in her three-and-a-half years working at the restaurant.


Waitress Gets Fired After Receiving Massive Tip

An Arkansas waitress has received over $8,700 in donations online after she was fired from her job for refusing to split her half of a $4,400 dollar tip with the rest of the restaurant’s crew.

That waitress, Ryan Brandt, told local Nexstar outlet KNWA last week that she and another server received the tip after waiting on a group of more than 40 people at the Oven & Tap restaurant in Bentonville.

“It was an incredible thing to do and to see her reaction was awesome, to see what that meant to her, the impact that it’s had on her life already,” Grant Wise, who was part of the party Brandt served, told the outlet.

According to KNWA, Wise called the restaurant before his large party arrived and asked about its tipping policy since they intentionally planned to donate $100 each as part of a way to thank restaurant workers. At the time of his call, Wise said he was told the money would go directly to his party’s servers. 

“We knew servers were really hit hard through COVID, and it was something that we had come up with to help give back,” Wise told KFSM.

The outcome, however, was much different. After receiving the tip, Brandt and the other server were allegedly told by a manager that they needed to pool the tip with the rest of the workers on duty. Brandt told KNWA she had never once been asked to pool her tips in her three-and-a-half years at the restaurant prior to this.

Complying meant Brant would take home just 20% of her half of the tip.

At some point before leaving, Brandt informed Wise that her tip would be pooled with the rest of the staff. Wise, who had intended the money to only go to his servers, then asked management to return his tip, which he gave to Brandt directly outside the restaurant. The following day, Brandt said she was fired over the phone.

“It was devastating,” Brandt told local outlets. “I borrowed a significant amount for student loans. Most of them were turned off because of the pandemic but they’re turning back on in January and that’s a harsh reality.”

Oven & Tap did not speak on Brandt’s firing in its initial statement. Instead, it only said, “After dining, this large group of guests requested that their gratuity be given to two particular servers. We fully honored their request. Out of respect for our highly valued team members, we do not discuss the details surrounding the termination of an employee.”

In a follow-up statement, Oven & Tap owners Mollie Mullis and Luke Wetzel said, “The server who was terminated several days after the group dined with us was not let go because she chose to keep the tip money.”

“We recognize and regret that a recent incident in our restaurant could have been handled differently by reminding our team how we would be splitting any tips prior to the event, however, our policy has always been to participate in a tip pool/share with the staff. Tip sharing is a common restaurant industry practice that we follow to ensure all of our team members are adequately compensated for their hard work.”

Oven & Tap has still not specifically commented on why it fired Brandt, but Brandt told KNWA she believes it’s because she violated company policy by telling Wise that his party’s tip was going to be pooled. 

Online Fundraising Campaigns for Brandt

After learning of Brandt’s firing, Wise created a GoFundMe, which ultimately raised $8,732 for Brandt.

“[Brandt] is, from what I can tell, a very kind woman that was working two jobs to get by through the pandemic,” he said in his initial post. “She has incredible aspirations to grow her own business and I can tell has a servants-heart.”

Wise provided an update Tuesday saying that instead of closing the GoFundMe, he will keep the campaign open to raise additional money to “pay it forward” to a future group of restaurant staff who will wait on his party.

In January, we are going to host another $100 Dinner Club and I have invited [Brandt] to be our ‘Guest of Honor’!” he said. “Any dollar amount raised over the $8,732 that has already been raised and is being paid out to [Brandt] will be given directly to the staff of the restaurant we decide to eat at.”

“We will be working to ensure through this that all staff in the restaurant are tipped so everyone feels blessed by our dinner.”

As of Tuesday morning, the GoFundMe page has raised over $9,100.

See what others are saying: (KNWA) (Insider) (KFSM)

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