Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus) and Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) today announced plans to introduce legislation to protect at-risk workers from being forced to choose between returning to unsafe working conditions or losing unemployment benefits. The proposal is the latest effort from House Dems to improve the safety and security of Ohio workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No person should have to choose between their life and their livelihood,” said Rep. Leland. “As we carefully open up, we need to ensure Ohioans can protect themselves and their loved ones."
The Worker Protection Act would ensure that workers who are immunocompromised, over 65, or live with someone who is immunocompromised or over 65 can choose to quit or not to return to work outside of their home without losing access to unemployment benefits. It extends the same right to all workers in environments where employers have failed to follow the safety mandates issued by the Ohio Department of Health during the pandemic.
The bill extends similar protections to people who will have difficulty returning to work because COVID-19 closures have impacted their ability to find childcare, as well as those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms who are in the process of seeking a diagnosis.
Other states like North Carolina, Colorado, and Texas, have specified that those at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 will not be forced to choose between returning to work or losing access to unemployment benefits.
“Working men and women are faced with an impossible choice: either go back to work and risk the health of their families, or lose access to their unemployment insurance,” said Rep. Sobecki. “They shouldn’t have to make that choice. We should respect the dignity of their individual choice to protect their families during this unprecedented pandemic.”
In early May, the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services (ODJFS) created a web portal for employers to report employees who did not return to work so that ODJFS could determine whether to deny any future unemployment claims they filed.
Meanwhile, House Republicans have focused almost exclusively on business owners and industry executives in their push for a wholesale reopening of the state, and questioned how to get Ohioans off unemployment and forced back to work.
The Ohio House 2020 Economic Recovery Task Force heard testimony from over 130 representatives of business and industry, but allowed testimony from just three union leaders and not a single worker who did not also have an ownership role. Similarly, the working groups convened by Governor DeWine’s administration failed to include any worker representation, once again only hearing from owners and executives.