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Published: Apr 30, 2020 8 min read
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It's been six weeks since Shannon had a normal shift.

A home health care worker, she stopped seeing her patient — an elderly man with lung problems — when the coronavirus outbreak reached her state of Missouri. She's been occasionally running errands for him, buying nonperishable food items to drop off on his porch, but she's struggling financially. Applying for unemployment online took her a month, and her bills are piling up. (Shannon's last name is being withheld for privacy reasons.)

Starting Monday, Missouri is set to reopen. But as desperate for money as she may be, Shannon isn't ready to return to her job. Because her patient is at high risk of contracting the coronavirus, she doesn't think it's wise.

"I refuse to go back to work and put my client in danger," she says. "I don't want to [return] until it's safe, and we won't know if it's safe until we test a lot, lot more."

Though the pandemic isn't over, states like Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee are beginning to resume business as usual. Governors there are allowing restaurants, gyms and hair salons to open their doors for the first time in weeks, which may seem like good news for the millions of unemployed Americans in need of work.

But the states haven't all satisfied the White House's guidelines for reopening, raising questions about whether it's truly safe for employees like Shannon to return to work — and what happens if they don't.

Can you refuse to work out of fear for your own health and others'? Can you still get unemployment if you decline work due to the coronavirus? Here's what we know.