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An acquaintance is employed for a role in housekeeping and is currently on furlough but receiving benefits and unemployment plus federal supplement. Employer called today and demanded they come back to work in landscape (completely different job than they were hired for) and threatened them with loss of employment and refusal to rehire in the future if they don't accept. Is this legal, and if they refuse and lose their job, how does it affect eligibility for unemployment benefits? Location is Virginia, USA.

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A person might have an employment contract with specific start and stop dates, but otherwise in the US an employee can be fired at any time for any reason. An employment contract might specifically spell out particular duties, so if they are hired to weld, they cannot be required to program computers under the conditions of the contract. Explicit contracts with job security and limits on duties that can be assigned are often negotiated for employees by their union. In lieu of any contractual obligations to the contrary, a person can be hired and fired for any or no reason, so a person who is furloughed can be fired, if they don't come back and do something totally different, if that's what the boss requires.

In Virginia, you have to seek employment and accept it if suitable employment is available. Refusing to take a different job would normally disqualify you for unemployment benefits. If the requirements of the employment are impossible to satisfy (e.g. requires an unreasonable commute), you would not be disqualified. It is possible that a landscaping job would not be "suitable" for a person working housekeeping, but far from guaranteed. It is not a valid reason to refuse an offer "because I don't like that job", but "I physically can't lift more than 10 lbs" would be valid, if the replacement position involves lifting 80 lb stones.

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