“It could possibly be a fatal decision to go back to work,” Chuck Whitener told WCNC Charlotte.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A WCNC Charlotte Defenders investigation is finding unemployment delays are potentially forcing people to risk their health and safety.
Charles Whitener said returning to work could have dire consequences for his family. His biggest concern is catching and spreading COVID-19 to his wife, who has been battling cancer.
However, he said he has no choice because his unemployment benefits stopped, and he can’t get an answer as to why.
Another man, Sam Lynn, quit his job because of health concerns.
One of the men had a doctor’s note, but the other didn’t. Chuck Whitener said his biggest concern is not for himself, but for his wife.
“I’m not afraid of work, I’m just afraid of working in this environment,” Whitener said.
Chuck Whitener said his wife was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
“The chemo just finished,” Whitener said.
Sam Lynn said a worsening heart condition required him to have surgery.
“I was diagnosed with aortic stenosis,” Lynn said.
Both men have been out of the workforce for different reasons. Whitener, a tour bus driver, and his wife, a hostess, lost their jobs in March.
“All the work pretty well ended at that point,” Whitener said.
The same month, Lynn quit his job at a local car dealership.
“I left my job because of fear of contracting COVID,” Lynn said.
Both men struggled with the unemployment system for months. By November, Lynn said he hadn’t received payments from the South Carolina unemployment system.
“I have not heard anything at all,” Lynn said.
In September, Whitener said his benefits stopped in North Carolina’s unemployment system with no clear answer why.
“They don’t know why it’s not going through,” said Whitener.
Whitener said he’s now forced to risk his health and safety, and his wife’s, by re-entering the workforce. He even wrote a letter to the governor’s office about his concerns.
“It could possibly be a fatal decision to go back to work,” Whitener said. “It may be, but that’s the chance I’m going to have to take probably.”
Lynn, on the other hand, had a doctor’s note recommending he stay home or work remotely because of his health condition.
That’s one of the exceptions allowing people to quit their jobs and still potentially be eligible for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
“It’s not like I’m trying to scam the system, I’m unable to work because I had open-heart surgery,” Lynn said.
A day after the Defenders team brought Lynn’s concerns to South Carolina unemployment officials, he got a phone call from a state agent.
“He apologized profusely,” Lynn said.
Then Lynn said he received checks from the state totaling nearly $17,000.
“It was miraculous,” Lynn said. “You just broke that log jam and freed everything up for me.”
However, Whitener is still waiting while he and his wife watch their savings drain.
“We’d be in bad shape at that point, that’s why I’m jumping ahead of the situation,” Whitener said.
He said that means jumping back into the job market.
“I’m kind of dreading it until this situation is resolved with the pandemic,” Whitener said.
Within the past week, Whitener told WCNC Charlotte he was working part-time as an independent contractor for the post office around Christmas, but he has paused that job for now because of his concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.
Since then, Whitener told WCNC Charlotte that after the Defenders reached out to the state on his behalf, unemployment officials have gotten back in touch with him. His benefits have now been paid.