Tesla told workers who don’t return to work — now that they are reopening the Fremont factory — that they might lose their unemployment benefits.

Yesterday, Elon Musk announced that Tesla was restarting production at its Fremont factory despite contrary orders from Alameda County, which is still working to approve a plan to safely reopen the factory.

Ever since the pandemic first started in the US and Tesla attempted to keep its operations going, Musk has been telling employees that if they are not comfortable going to work, they will be able to stay home without fear for their jobs.

However, some employees have expressed fear of losing unemployment benefits and even losing their jobs.

Now that Tesla is restarting production despite the local order, it is again telling employees not to come if they “don’t feel comfortable,” but they are also telling employees that they might lose their unemployment.

Tesla wrote in an email to employees (via the Guardian):

If you do not feel comfortable coming into work, you can stay home and will be on unpaid leave. Choosing not to report to work may eliminate or reduce your eligibility for unemployment depending on your state’s unemployment agency.

Some Tesla employees are uncomfortable going back to work without the official approval of the county.

One employee told the Guardian:

They’re trying intimidation and threatening tactics, saying if you don’t show up there’s no more unemployment. I will not be there, as well as a number of other people, because it’s still shelter-in-place. Until Alameda county health officer Dr. Erica Pan says otherwise, I won’t be there.

Another Tesla employee told the publication:

They’ve said I will be removed from furloughed status and not be able to collect. But many of us have not collected at all. I actually started isolation a week before Tesla shut down and received nothing except for the two weeks Tesla paid us. But I’ve been out of work since 13 March.

Local law enforcement said today that they don’t plan to intervene at the factory as county officials are reviewing Tesla’s reopening plan.

Electrek’s Take

That’s a big part of the problem with this pandemic and reopening the country. It’s a much broader problem than just Tesla. Several states are incentivized to open quicker to get people off unemployment benefits, which are in record demand right now.

If anything, this is a great argument for universal income, because it’s a bad idea for the incentive structure to push financially motivated solutions to health concerns.

But when it comes to Tesla, specifically, the problem is that Tesla is making employees part of breaking the local shelter-in-place orders in order to not have their benefits taken away.

I don’t think Tesla is using this as “intimidation and threatening tactics” as stated by the employee, but it’s a consequence of their very aggressive stance on reopening the Fremont factory, and they have to let employees know.

It’s not a good look either way.

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