COLUMBUS—Ohio House Democratic lawmakers, led by Reps. David Leland (D-Columbus) and Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo), today introduced 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. Other House Democratic bills to benefit workers include:
- HB 571 (Boggs) to make COVID-19 an occupational disease for first responders;
- HB 573 (Sobecki, Boggs) to make COVID-19 an occupational disease for individuals working outside the home during the declared emergency;
- HB 593 (Boyd, Boggs) expanding unemployment compensation and paid sick leave coverage during the emergency;
- HB 605 (Kelly, Patton) to give frontline workers access to workers’ compensation if they contract COVID-19 on the job;
- HB 633 (Boggs) making COVID-19 an occupational disease for workers in nursing homes, residential care facilities and health care facilities.
“It’s incumbent upon us as lawmakers to give voice to the concerns of Ohio workers. Democrats stand with workers, because when they are healthy, Ohio is healthy, and that’s true now more than ever in the face of this unprecedented crisis,” said Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “Ensuring workers have the options to protect themselves and their families during this time is the right thing to do. We can revive an economy, but we can’t revive people from the dead.”
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 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 guidance issued by the CDC and the Ohio Department of Health during the 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 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 halt their current unemployment insurance benefits or 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.