COLUMBUS, OHIO (WCMH) — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order that could end unemployment benefits for those who refuse to return to work, but there are several exceptions for those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
The order was signed last week, and states “When an employee is called back to work in the same position as prior to the Director of Health’s special orders, there is a presumption that the position is considered “suitable work” under the Ohio Unemployment Insurance program.”
The order goes on to say that individuals who refuse to return without ‘good cause’ could have their eligibility put in jeopardy.
‘Good cause’ during the State of Emergency is also defined in the order and includes the following:
- A medical professional’s recommendation that an individual not go back to work because he/she falls into a category that is considered “high risk” for contracting the coronavirus.
- The employee is 65 years old, or older.
- ‘Tangible evidence’ of an employer’s health and safety violation, that does not allow for social distancing, hygiene and wearing protective equipment.
- Potential exposure to the virus and in need of a quarantine period
- Staying home to care for a family member who is suffering from coronavirus or prescribed a quarantine period by medical or health professionals.
Representative David Leland (D-Columbus) has been calling for protections like this for workers and is applauding the order.
“Those people shouldn’t be forced to go back to work,” said Leland. “They shouldn’t have to choose between their life and their livelihood.”
Representative Jeff LaRe (R-Violet Twp.) says there are still questions about these provisions that need answered.
“One of the things that would qualify would be tangible evidence of a safety violation, so what exactly is that tangible evidence?” LaRe asked.
Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services said in a statement today:
"Returning to work during the pandemic is a delicate balance of gradually reopening the economy while providing safe working environments. ODJFS is required by law to ensure that unemployment benefits are issued in accordance with established eligibility requirements. We first encourage employers to engage in dialogue with an employee who expresses reluctance to return to work about the measures that employers are taking to help employees feel safe."
They also said that each case reported to ODJFS will go through a due process examination.
The unemployment system is currently broke, with Ohio borrowing billions of dollars from the federal government last week but Leland said he’s less concerned about the money these protections will cost and more concerned with lives.
“We’re going to have to come to some decisions on how we’re going to fund unemployment in the future and that’s going to be a big issue, but right now the most important thing is protecting people,” said Rep. Leland.
Representative LaRe says a long-term fix for unemployment is also still very much needed.
“The fact that we’re still getting phone calls and emails from constituents that have questions that remain unanswered or gotten themselves hung up in the process, that needs to be a focus moving forward,” said Rep. LaRe.
ODJFS states that no one has been denied benefits due to refusing to return to work while this process was still under consideration.