|DATE:||April 7, 2022|
|SUBJECT:||Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – COVID-19 Voluntary Quit and Good Cause Policy Clarification|
|TO:||All State Agencies
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
This memorandum provides guidance to state agencies on how to determine if an individual has good cause for not meeting the general work requirement in situations related to COVID-19 workplace safeguards and vaccination requirements. 1 State agencies must ensure that good cause determinations for not meeting the general work requirement are in line with federal law.
The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 requires physically and mentally fit individuals ages 16 through 59 who receive SNAP to meet certain work requirements unless they qualify for an exemption. Individuals subject to these requirements cannot quit voluntarily or reduce their work to fewer than 30 hours per week without good cause while participating in SNAP. Good cause for not meeting these requirements includes circumstances beyond the individual’s control, such as illness or lack of adequate childcare. State agencies determine if individuals have good cause for failing to meet these work requirements. Individuals who are determined to have voluntarily quit without good cause will be disqualified according to the state agency’s established minimum mandatory sanction schedule. If a SNAP recipient is disqualified from SNAP, the individual may be re-eligible at the end of the disqualification period. For SNAP applicants that have voluntarily quit a job, they may be eligible after the look back period, which may be between 30 and 60 days under 7 CFR 273.7(j)(1).
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in changes to most workplaces, resulting in several inquiries from state agencies on how to handle situations in which SNAP recipients quit their jobs because their place of employment lacks sufficient safety protocols or due to COVID-19 vaccination requirements. As a result of these inquiries, FNS is providing general guidance to inform state agency determinations for good cause when SNAP participants voluntarily quit a job due to COVID-19 safety measures or as a reaction to an employer’s vaccination requirement.
In either type of situation, the state agency must take into account the facts on a case-by-case basis, including any information submitted by the employer and household member involved, in determining whether the circumstances fall under any of the potential good cause scenarios described in 7 CFR 273.7(i). State agencies must provide caseworkers with reasonable guidelines and training to make objective decisions related to good cause determinations, so there is consistency within a project area.
If an individual voluntarily quits a job citing concerns about the sufficiency of COVID-19 safeguards in the workplace, the state agency may evaluate the situation in light of 7 CFR 273.7(i)(3) and (h)(2), which provides that good cause includes circumstances where employment becomes unsuitable with respect to health and safety. Because COVID-19 is a communicable virus, it is also important that states consider an individual’s concern for the safety of their household members as well as themselves.
In deciding whether employment has become unsuitable with respect to health and safety, a state agency may rely on state or local law and guidelines. State agencies are encouraged to also consider the Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recommendations for employers to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. OSHA’s guidance contains important recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces, including recommendations for facilitating worker vaccinations (the CDC provides the following information on the benefits and safety of vaccinations); keeping infected and symptomatic workers out of the workplace; implementing physical distancing; using face coverings and personal protective equipment; and maintaining ventilation systems.
OSHA’s Workers' Rights and Protections entitle workers to the right to refuse dangerous work under certain circumstances. If a worker believes working conditions are unsafe or unhealthful, OSHA recommends that they bring the conditions to their employer's attention and file a complaint with OSHA. However, they should not leave the worksite merely because they have filed a complaint. If the condition clearly presents a risk of death or serious physical harm, there is not sufficient time for OSHA to inspect, and, where possible, they have brought the condition to the attention of their employer, they may have a legal right to refuse to work in a situation in which they would be exposed to the hazard.
If an individual voluntarily quits employment in response to a vaccination requirement (related to vaccination or testing), again, a state agency must evaluate the specific circumstances and determine whether good cause is met under 7 CFR 273.7(h) and (i). For example, if an employer did not offer an accommodation for an individual with a medical or religious reason for not complying with the vaccination requirement, the state agency should consider whether such circumstances warrant good cause under 7 CFR 273.7(i)(3)(i) or 7 CFR 273.7(h)(2)(v). 2
The state agency may also look to other good cause factors, such as whether the circumstances were beyond the individual’s control as provided under 7 CFR 273.7(i)(2). Such circumstances typically are, but are not limited to, illness, illness of another household member requiring the presence of the member, a household emergency, the unavailability of transportation, or the lack of adequate childcare for children who have reached age six but are under age 12.
It is not possible for the Department to enumerate each individual situation that should or should not be considered good cause. State agencies must consider the facts and circumstances, including any information submitted by the employer and by the household member involved, in determining whether good cause exists.
State agencies with questions should contact their respective regional office representatives.
Program Development Division
2 If an employee requested an accommodation for medical or religious reasons, and the accommodation was denied because it would be an undue hardship on the employer, that would also be good cause. All but the smallest of employers (those with fewer than 15 employees) are subject to Title 1 of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, so most employers are legally obligated to at least consider employees’ requests for accommodations.